There are twenty-seven acronyms in Margalit Gur-Arie’s “History of Healthcare Interoperability.” 27! (That’s nearly 2% of the article.) She keeps a straight face throughout the piece, but it reads almost like a parody—the interop landscape is complicated. Byzantine, even.

As you know, the CommonWell Health Alliance aims to straighten this all out. Once health IT systems can communicate seamlessly with each other, healthcare providers will have easy, fast, and secure access to the clinical history for their patients, patients won’t be frustrated by filling out the same paperwork over and over, human error will be mitigated, and care will improve for everybody.

With that in mind, I’m very pleased to report that we watched the national health IT ecosystem move substantially closer to that vision of real, sustainable interoperability during the recent CommonWell Connect-a-thon, an event at which our goal was to test and officially certify products from each of the seven participating members for use with the CommonWell services.

These two fellows (Paul Clip from RelayHealth and George Cole from Allscripts) were clearly quite excited to see documents from one EHR system being retrieved successfully from another member’s system. Because our teams at RelayHealth have been focused on building the infrastructure that enables this effort, I have to admit that I got almost that excited too when I first saw documents from athenahealth, McKesson, Greenway and CPSI becoming available from one EHR interface for the first time.

Jackson Moore is a Quality Engineer at Sunquest, the leading provider of laboratory information systems products for healthcare, and after participating in the event he remarked about how pleased he was with the efficiency we gained from being in the same place at the same time. “Our consolidated efforts began to come together and I was able to see how impactful CommonWell will be for patient care.” And George Cole (who’s been given the honorific “Mr. Connect-a-thon”) said, “Multiple members, working together from one location, all towards a common goal, can achieve in two days what would otherwise take months. Location, location, location.”

This is more than just a room full of people staring at laptops. This is a group of technologists from seven different health IT companies who are actively working together to improve the healthcare experience for a significant percentage of American patients. And as additional health IT companies join the effort, this percentage will grow.

Getting a bunch of competitors in a room can create some tension, of course. But collaborating for the common good was the charter for CommonWell from the beginning, and this was taken seriously by everyone involved. One participant remarked that “we saw competitors working together in a respectful, professional way.  It was encouraging to see different companies’ teams working to solve issues amongst each other, and it was especially interesting to get insight in how users will actually see CommonWell working.”

Technical and security issues were resolved quickly and smoothly, thanks to good planning by the organizers of the event, and CommonWell managed to certify almost all of the participating systems for use in the initial launch beginning in 2014.

The spirit of teamwork was further illustrated by some members’ contribution of software intended for use by the rest—significantly, Cerner graciously developed a patient enrollment web application which has lowered resource requirements and other barriers to participation in the Alliance.

It was the day before Halloween and some people managed to have fun, too.

RelayHealth sincerely aims to continue to build on the preexisting work of the standards bodies and other previous efforts in this direction, ultimately improving the overall quality of care nationally.

This Connect-a-thon proved that the interoperability vision for CommonWell is technically feasible—and one could even say it’s close at hand. I speak for the RelayHealth development teams when I say that we’re honored to work with talented developers, QA analysts, strategists, and product teams from our fellow member organizations as we build, scale, and secure services that power our shared vision.

Photographer: Bonnie Hautamaki, RelayHealth

About the writer: Doug Chase is a senior product manager at RelayHealth. Doug is a technology generalist, which means he knows one thing about lots of different things. Not enough to be productive in any role other than Product Management. When he’s not at work he’s usually with the band Instant Empire.