Grant Backs Health IT Initiative

July 12, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Planning for an information system that would link health care providers in 13 West Michigan counties will get under way with a $379,565 year-long grant from the state of Michigan

Gary Newell, executive project director for the nonprofit Alliance for Health, said the state actually has promised $677,630 over 18 months — assuming the line item survives the budget process in Lansing

"The outcome is to develop a business plan for the health information exchange in the 13-county area," said Patrick O'Hare, senior vice president and chief information officer at Spectrum Health, one of three "tri-chairs" of the Alliance for Health's Health Care Vision 2020 initiative that is focusing on technology.

Newell said the Health Information Network would allow health care providers of all types, such as hospitals, physician practices and clinics, across counties served by Alliance for Health to access patients' medical data.

The grant is one of eight totaling $4.5 million released by the Michigan Departments of Community Health and Information Technology last month. Newell said the goal is to create Regional Health Information Organizations across the state, which would be supported by a HealthInformationExchangeResourceCenter at MichiganStateUniversity

In West Michigan, O'Hare said, four committees will look at financial, legal, technical and clinical aspects of creation of the regional HIE. He said the group will start by reviewing what information clinicians need and want, then choosing the technology required and considering how to pay for it.

"It's a complex field for which the technology has started to advance in the market to allow successes," he said.

Tying together everyone, from a paper-based, one-doctor rural practice to health systems already using electronic health records, is a challenge, he added. "What kind of plan can address the needs of practices with very robust information technology to those with little technology? In some cases, the outlying areas don't even have broadband.

"It's not necessarily a single technology. It might be a combination of a number of technologies."

Newell said the Alliance for Health is currently seeking volunteers for the four committees. Other "tri-chairs" are Dr. Paul Ponstein of Mercy General in Muskegon and Dr. Greg Forsely of Saint Mary's Health Care.

Communication and trust will be crucial in developing and HIE for West Michigan, the men agreed. Attempts in other parts of the country have faltered when providers and the community were unwilling to buy into the plan, O'Hare said.

"There are three major barriers in getting this done, and No. 1 is money," added Newell, a former legislator from Ionia. A business plan will be part of the planning process, he said.

"No. 2 is the involvement of people who need to be involved in the process. This is a bigger hurdle to overcome than raising the money. The systems that have had problems seem to revolve around not getting enough people in the health care community involved in the process.

"No. 3 is public acceptance of the electronic exchanging of health information," Newell said.

The grant comes at the same time as the Alliance for Health's Health Care Vision 2020 group is working with a $600,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to plan for computerized ways of tracking patient care in common chronic illness with an eye toward improving care quality.    

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