Lakeland joins GR hospitals in health info exchange program

November 23, 2009
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Lakeland HealthCare has joined Grand Rapids’ three acute care hospitals in developing a health information exchange to share patient information.

“We were very pleased we were invited to the table,” Lakeland Vice President and CIO Emil Gallay said. “The nice thing about our situation is that basically we’re on some of the same platforms already.”

Software from Medicity, a Salt Lake City company, has emerged as the leading platform for health information exchange records in West Michigan. Gallay said that Lakeland started using the software even before Spectrum Health purchased it. The HIE product came from a company called Novo, which Medicity purchased about a year ago.

“The irony of it all is that they came to us a few years ago because they heard we were using Novo at the time,” Gallay said. “(They) went ahead and purchased the product, and have far outdone us. They have really taken the product to the heights that we want to get to. So we’re kind of riding that coattail of all the things that they’re implementing. We can gain from that because we are on the same platform.”

With a 2008 budget of $344 million, Lakeland HealthCare has two acute care facilities, the 254-bed Lakeland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph and the 89-bed Lakeland Community Hospital in Niles, plus the 44-bed Lakeland Specialty Hospital in Berrien Springs, two skilled nursing centers and assisted living, and two more locations in St. Joseph for outpatient services. The community-owned nonprofit is building a $13.5 million cancer center.

Gallay said Lakeland often refers patients to Spectrum Health, making an HIE a useful link.

A health information exchange is a software platform for exchanging patient record information between a variety of health care entities, such as hospitals, nursing homes, doctors’ offices and emergency rooms. Earlier this year, Grand Rapids’ three hospitals announced they would cooperate in developing an HIE system.

The task had been receiving state financial support, but that fell away as Michigan’s budget woes grew. Now, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has pledged billions to help hospitals and doctors implement electronic health records, an important component of an HIE.

The Lakeland health system, including the eight physician practices it now owns, is still working on improvements for sharing information in a digital format, Gallay said. For example, the hospital can make laboratory and radiology results available to about 10 doctors’ offices online, but the offices cannot yet upload orders for such tests, he said.

The hospital system is working on bringing electronic medical records to the doctors’ practices it owns, likely using the same software as Southwest Medical Group, a large multi-specialty practice.

Lakeland also is working with physicians who don’t yet have electronic medical records to provide a Web-based solution for lab results, a system that Grand Rapids hospitals are already implementing.

Lakeland still belongs to the Southwest Michigan HIE group with the Battle Creek Health System, Borgess Health and Bronson Health in Kalamazoo and Oaklawn Hospital in Marshall. But that group is not as far along in the process as the Grand Rapids hospitals, Gallay said. He said Lakeland this year hired Beacon Partners, a health care consulting company with offices in Boston, San Francisco and Toronto, to help it select a vendor for in-house electronic medical records.

“We are just in the process of looking for an electronic health record,” Gallay said. “We’re still paper based. We don’t have electronic health records from the standpoint of a clinician doing orders, nursing documentation, those kinds of things.”

He expects to select a vendor by mid-2010 and implement a system by the end of next year.

Stimulus funding has helped Lakeland push computerization to the forefront, Gallay added. Between the hospital and the doctors, he estimated stimulus funding at $6 million to $7 million through 2013.

“I think stimulus funding has helped push it to more of the front of the train,” he said. “It’s not been high on our list, but the stimulus now has given us some more impetus. It’s there, so let’s go ahead do it and achieve that. It’s much better than getting the penalties at the back end of the stimulus.”

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