West Michigans Healthy IT

March 27, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDSMichigan has a long way to go before it has a comprehensive, cooperative system of electronic health records. The good news is that Michigan’s efforts toward that end are ahead of the rest of the country. And, by a number of measures, West Michigan is on the cutting edge of health care information technology.

These findings come from a study recently undertaken by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the Partnership for Michigan’s Health, a consortium of hospital and physicians’ groups. The aim of the study was to prepare an inventory of the state’s current implementation of health IT.

West Michigan fared well. Two of the five large acute care systems recognized as leaders in IT adoption are represented in Grand Rapids: Spectrum Health and Trinity Health, parent organization to Saint Mary’s Health Care. Likewise, two of the five smaller acute care IT leaders are also in West Michigan: Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services and HollandCommunityHospital

The study also inventoried the IT capabilities of ambulatory facilities. Among the 15 leading ambulatory health centers, seven are in West Michigan

Although Metro Health is developing a comprehensive electronic record system in its ambulatory centers and its new hospital facility in Wyoming, it was not listed among the top health systems for their adoption of IT programs.

In addition to highlighting the organizations that are ahead of the curve, the inventory also shows areas in need of improvement. While many Michigan health care providers are making advances in their own individual IT capabilities, the study shows that the ability of those systems to “talk to each other” is lacking.

“As hospitals and health systems invest in necessary improvements, it is imperative that we move toward common standards that prevent costly redundancies,” Spencer C. Johnson, president of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, said in a statement. “Key to this is sharing of health care information and the interoperability of electronic health records.”

The inability of the systems to communicate and interoperate has less to do with the decisions made by the health systems, and more to do with regulation. There is currently not a single government- or industry-mandated standard for electronic health records, as there is for other information technology such as cellphones or Wi-Fi networks.

The study identified numerous barriers to the implementation of universal electronic health records. The inventory shows varying computer systems, “a mix of nonstandard data elements,” inconsistencies in vocabulary and terminology, a need for greater participation by pharmacies, and the lack of a method of identifying patients without compromising security or violating privacy laws.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan said the results of the inventory will be used by Michigan Health Information Network and CyberMichigan, two organizations currently working on building a statewide, interoperable health care IT network.

It is critical that we invest in systems that interrelate,” said Dennis Paradis, a representative of the Partnership for Michigan’s Health. “This inventory can help us identify some common directions to go in the future.”    

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