Do you remember using the internet in the mid-1990s?  Before search engines had been invented?  Before you had Google, Yahoo, Altavista, and so on?  How much harder was it to find stuff on the internet?  Did you use the Web as much as you do today?  Was it even practical for you to do so?

Health records face a similar predicament now as the internet faced back then. Today, there are millions of electronic files and reams of records across thousands of medical facilities in the US alone. Rarely is it that one person goes to the same doctor – or even the same medical center – for all of their health care needs. Most patients’ records are scattered throughout various medical systems and doctor’s offices all across hometowns and states — even across the country.  All lying there, unused and largely inaccessible, like orphan gems on the old internet.

Enter CommonWell Health Alliance.  CommonWell has created a working, functioning service to find all records associated with a patient, no matter where the care is delivered.  We call it our “Record Locator Service”, or RLS, and it’s a key component that enables CommonWell to put the person at the center of health data exchange.  Like the search engine of the late 1990s, the RLS is not just another nifty website; it creates a fundamentally different experience.  It gives providers and the people they serve  the opportunity to find and use patient data that truly impacts the quality and experience of care for the patient and the physician.

Last week, I met with a Congressional working group about the need for this type of service. As Congress and the government agencies put their collective willpower toward the problem of health data exchange, I reminded them that while the internet had strong government involvement in its early formation (having stemmed largely from DoD’s DARPAnet), some of the fundamental experiences like the search engine (and Facebook, Mint, Twitter, etc.) were formed as a result of the government’s prescient approach of letting the private sector collaborate and innovate.

In a similar vein, even as government plays a strong role in narrowing down things like technical standards selection in health IT today, they must create space for the types of innovations that can take the user experience to new levels — to levels that no central body can imagine beforehand.

Otherwise, industry-changing innovations may be thwarted prematurely.  Thanks to collaboration and innovation, we built an RLS.  And that is changing the paradigm for health data access much the way search engines changed the way we use the internet.

Jitin Asnaani, Executive Director – CommonWell Health Alliance