For healthcare to successfully complete its move from fee-for-service to a system that rewards quality, a new, enriched data standard is required and the industry knows it. In fact, the need is so well known that there’s good news —a standard already exists. It’s called the Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN); it lives in the constructs of what is called the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN); and there’s even an established standards body that has taken charge (GS1). The bad news is, GS1 reports that less than 0.001 percent of healthcare-specific item content within its GDSN is publicly available today.

So, if all industry players, including Uncle Sam, recognize it, what’s the hold up?

Manufacturers fear commoditization. While they see the value in an improved data standard, they don’t like the idea that the adoption of a 14 character product code will make it easier for their customers to analyze cost, identify equivalent alternatives and measure value. In other words, there’s a belief that such transparency may not be good for business, despite the positive experiences of the few manufacturers that have already embraced it.

For instance, take Cook Medical, an Indiana-based manufacturer of medical devices, biologic materials and cellular therapies. It was one of the first to implement a unified barcode system globally. For more than two years now, all Cook Medical products coming out of North America have carried a GTIN. They’re not only experiencing greater efficiencies in their own supply chains, including superior demand planning performance, but their customers are enjoying a significantly improved buying experience.

But they are the exception. The rule goes more like this: Most manufacturers, even those that have declared their allegiance to GS1, are still refusing to share the necessary information. Software solution providers and the group purchasing organizations who dominate the industry’s supply chain keep asking for it, but their requests are often ignored.

Thankfully, healthcare providers have a significant voice in the matter and they’re using it. Several of the industry’s largest integrated delivery networks (IDNs) not only expect their suppliers to adopt and include GTIN values to facilitate the transparency they require, but they’re re-evaluating their clinical information systems to make sure they can accept and use GTIN information in their workflows (so that outcomes-related data can be more easily captured, operationally integrated and played back).

For example, the supply chain leadership at UPMC, one the nation’s largest IDNs, invested in a highly progressive Cardiovascular Information System (CIS) that was largely based on requirements that ensured GTIN data capture at the point of use.

Michael DeLuca, an executive with Pittsburgh-based Prodigo Solutions (the company that co-developed UPMC’s CIS solution), expressed his frustration in a way echoed by executives at GHX, McKesson, MedAssets and frankly, most all of the industry’s supply chain solution providers. “Manufacturers’ attempts to foil independent value analyses simply can’t hold up. And while the industry hasn’t reached a consensus on the solution, the known benefits enabled through an enriched data standard, like GTIN, are going to be front and center in quality-based reimbursement and other payment models. Compliance is inevitable.”

An enriched data standard –GTIN– is essential to healthcare’s successful transformation. The idea that some manufacturers would continue to deliberately interfere is worse than short-sighted, it’s self-destructive.