Nonprofit seeks value in health info exchange

April 18, 2010
Text Size:

With five West Michigan hospitals as “anchor members,” a new nonprofit is being launched to manage the creation of a health information exchange that would link health care providers, large and small, from Petoskey to St. Joseph.

Spectrum Health, Saint Mary’s Health Care owner Trinity Health and Metro Health are the three local hospitals represented in Michigan Health Connect, a nonprofit created in March. Lakeland HealthCare in St. Joseph and Munson Health Care in Traverse City also are part of the organization. Spectrum Health and Munson are in talks regarding a possible merger.

A health information exchange allows for computerized transactions, orders and records to be shared online across all sorts of health care providers. HIEs are a key component of “meaningful use” criteria required for doctors and hospitals to earn favorable Medicare payments as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

MHC is being led by Executive Director Doug Dietzman, previously a member of Spectrum’s information technology services. The organization is seeking a federal grant that could infuse $15 million to $20 million into the plan, he said.

“Let’s be innovative,” Dietzman said.  “Let’s be strategic and tactical about solving problems for the providers in the community, and then build on that — continually kind of foster momentum to add capabilities to it.”

In 2007, the state of Michigan awarded the Alliance for Health, the local nonprofit health planning agency, a grant to lay the groundwork for an HIE in West Michigan, explained Spectrum Health Senior Vice President and CIO Patrick J. O’Hare.

In the discussions that ensued, he said, Spectrum, Saint Mary’s and Metro Health discovered each had settled on the same vendor — Salt Lake City-based Novo Innovation-Medicity — to provide digital connections for its own health provider networks.

“Through the planning process with the alliance, one of the consultants made a statement that stuck with me,” O’Hare said. “It said, ‘You should capitalize on the investments that are already being made in the community.’ That simple line or statement is really what Michigan Health Connect is based on. We knew it was paramount that we agree not to compete in that space.”

Douglas C. Fenbert, Trinity Health Information Services director for West Michigan and Indiana, said the bottom line has felled many past attempts to create HIEs.

“We want to do a health information exchange on a more cost-effective basis,” he said. “That’s why so many of them have failed over the years: It cost too much money to do this.”

The technology leaders explained that the approach they favor would avoid creating a central database. Instead, the structure would take more of a cloud computing approach, in which patient data would be housed in and captured from participating organizations on an on-demand basis.

Last year, Spectrum Health introduced eSHare to offices of affiliated doctors, providing Web-based delivery of laboratory results regardless of whether the office has electronic medical records. About 150 are now participating, O’Hare said. A survey of them showed that most agreed the computer-delivered reports provided more timely information, was more efficient and saved money, compared to delivery via fax.

Those results are encouraging, Dietzman said.

“It’s got to be based on value, so that you’re willing and wanting to participate and pay money because it’s cheaper for you to do that and better than the way you are doing it today,” he added.

The federal ARRA grant that MHC is seeking would make West Michigan one of 15 communities nationwide to share in $220 million of stimulus money in the federal Beacon Community Program. The program was established to “build and strengthen health IT infrastructure and health information exchange capabilities, including strong privacy and security measures for data exchange,” according to a Department of Health and Human Services new release.

The grant could bring in $15 million to $20 million to help build the HIE, Dietzman said.

“The purpose behind the Beacon grant is that they want to take HIEs across the country that were already moving and want to fund it anywhere from $10 million to $20 million, so it’s a fairly good-sized grant,” he said. “We take communities that are already going, push them to the end game and get them to where they want to go so they serve as beacons for the rest of the country to say that’s what a Health Information Exchange looks like.

“So we took our collaboration and put our submission in. We’ve got things going here and we want to be one of those communities. So now we are just waiting."

Recent Articles by Elizabeth Slowik

Editor's Picks

Comments powered by Disqus