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Friday, 13 January 2012 10:36

Michigan Health Connect puts collaboration in front of competition

Written by  Rod Kackley
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GRAND RAPIDS — A West Michigan couple adopts a three-year old boy and finds out four years later that the child’s gall bladder had been removed before the adoption.

Now the couple has to take a binder that they fill with their son’s medical history from doctor to doctor, hospital to hospital, to make sure that care providers are up to date on their child’s condition and know what testing has been done, what medication has been given, “so we don’t have to try all of those things over again.”

This is exactly why Michigan Health Connect (MHC) Executive Director Doug Dietzman believes the work his organization is doing is so critical. The child from the example is his little boy.

“Our goal is to eliminate that binder,” Dietzman told MiBiz. “We want to get families out of the position of having to be the ones to tie the medical community together.”

MHC is a regional health information exchange formed by competitive health care providers. The group members decided that, to better communicate and get patient data where it needed to go, they would collaborate instead of compete.

“Our focus is to get data where it needs to go, when it needs to be there, taking care of people by breaking down all of those paper information silos that exist,” said Dietzman.

MHC was founded in 2009 when Spectrum Health, Trinity Health and Metro Health discovered they were using the same vendor’s clinical messaging technology. They decided to back-burner competition in favor of collaboration, and so was born Michigan Health Connect, a Regional Health Information Organization (RHIO) that facilitates and manages Health Information Exchange (HIE) services in Michigan.

Lakeland Health Services, Northern Michigan Regional Health System, McLaren Healthcare and Ascension Health, representing its five ministries in the state, came on board at about the time HMC was formally launched in March 2011.

Dietzman said MHC benefited from a fortuitous shared mindset in the local health care scene. “The dots connected in just the right way,” said Dietzman. “It doesn’t do docs any good to all put systems in their offices if they can’t speak to each other.”

The groundwork or foundation for this revolution was built a few years ago, thanks to federal stimulus money. Dietzman said there was a lot of money and attention focused on “how we were going to build these things.”

Spectrum, Trinity and Metro realized that “either something from the outside (e.g. Washington) was going to be done to us,” or they could proactively work together and create their own system. Obviously they chose the latter path.

There are plenty of similar organizations that do what MHC does. Here’s the difference. Michigan Health Connect is the only one that is 100-percent privately funded. They don’t depend on federal stimulus money or any other grant-funding models.

“We are sustainable based on the dollars that our member organizations are giving us,” explained Dietzman. “We decided early on that we would start this thing as a business, adding value that people are willing to pay for and not be dependent on grant money that is certainly going to go away some day.”

“This really is a West Michigan model where people put their money where their mouth is,” said MHC Business Development Manager George Bosnjak.

MHC is the largest health information exchange in the state, according to Bosnjak. “I think we are going to play a significant role in reducing costs and gaining efficiencies in the system.”

However, this is not something that is impacting what individuals pay for health care today. As Dietzman cautioned, this is not a six-month process that ends with dramatic cost and price reductions.

There is so much to be done first. There are so many questions to be answered. For instance, everyone complains about health care services being duplicated, but no one has been able to define “duplication, no one can establish that baseline for us,” said Dietzman.

Dietzman said the impact of moving a system like this out of a regional mindset to a state or even national model could be tremendous. For example, he said to think about the potential offered by the medical and research institutions on Medical Mile in downtown Grand Rapids.

“They (doctors and researchers) need to send information back and forth across Michigan and eventually across the nation. That can’t be done without the steps that we are taking right now,” he said.

What MHC is really looking at is clinical integration. A patient can be touched by a number of health care providers in a number of locations and the only way to bring this all together is with “something bigger than all of us,” said Metro Health CEO Michael Faas.

The real question is can enough health care providers be networked. The less a health care provider knows about a patient’s history, the less likely that person is to get the right care.

“It (MHC) is really the ability to have the right data to the right location to the right person at the right time to do the most good,” said Faas. “And that is to take care of the patient with the right care.”

This all comes down to what Dietzman thinks is most important. If health care providers can do a better job of sharing information, it could mean one less medical test, one less binder of information and one less poke with a needle for his little boy.

Read 2477 times Last modified on Monday, 13 August 2012 13:40

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