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Sunday, 14 April 2013 22:00

Michigan Health Connect continues growth spurt

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GRAND RAPIDS — Thanks to new regulations in health care and a push for the implementation of new technology, one locally based health information exchange has found room to grow.

In its fourth annual report, the Grand Rapids-based Michigan Health Connect (MHC) said it now serves 66 hospitals, 1,575 medical offices and more than 8,000 individual providers. That includes collaborative projects in Grand Rapids with the Kent County-based Children’s Healthcare Access Program, First Steps, as well as Spectrum Health’s Center for Integrative Medicine.

Just this month, MHC signed its first health plan, Priority Health. MHC will immediately notify Priority Health when one of its 600,000-plus members is admitted to or discharged from a hospital — or when a member visits an emergency room — so the insurer can begin processing claims.

The Michigan Health Connect update was the focus of the First Friday Forum on April 5 sponsored by the Alliance for Health, which helped cobble together MHC in 2009 when three independent health systems in West Michigan — Spectrum Health, Trinity Health, and Metro Health — realized they had all licensed the same vendor’s clinical messaging technology and had plans to deploy it to many of the same community provider organizations.

Continued growth of the health information exchange (HIE) has led to the integration of data from isolated systems to a more coordinated statewide structure. MHC has grown into the lead HIE across the state and remains the only exchange to be connected directly to state government in Lansing.

“Collaboration does not eliminate competition,” said Doug Dietzman, executive director of Michigan Health Connect. “MHC was born from a coalition of different health systems and remains a shining example of what collaboration can achieve.”

Dietzman noted his group reached out digitally to the state of Ohio last month with the announcement of an agreement with Columbus, Ohio-based CliniSync to exchange patient information. What this means is patients who receive care in Ohio can have their health records sent securely through Direct Project, the nationwide health information network, to their primary care physician in Michigan using MHC as the electronic bridge.

Ohio is also the home to the Cleveland Clinic, which draws patients from around the Midwest for specialty care such as heart bypass surgery.

MHC increasingly is serving as the middleman to connect health care providers with first responders, like emergency medical services, Dietzman said. MHC also serves the same role with more than 40 different companies that develop emergency medical responder (EMR) software for health care systems and providers. Some 1.1 million messages to 245 EMR providers are processed by MCH each month, he said.

MHC has only begun to digitally connect the state’s gigantic health care industry and is doing it with services the market demands, Dietzman said.

“We’re a private exchange not taking state or federal dollars,” he said. “So we’re very focused on adding value that our customers will pay for.”

Projects in development include an immunization query system for the state of Michigan; transfer protocols for medical images and medication histories; transaction identification, part of a pilot for patient care coordination; a middleman service to serve as a communications clearinghouse for dozens of ambulance services in the state; and connections for advanced care planning.

Also participating in the forum were two current MHC users: the Children’s Healthcare Access Program of Kent County known as First Steps and the Center for Integrative Medicine at Spectrum Health.

Dr. Corey Waller, an emergency and addiction medicine specialist at Spectrum, said he’s employing a new model of care to assess and treat high-frequency patients from area emergency departments and coordinate treatment regionally using the exchange.

“With MHC, it’s easier to pull down patient records and reduce the time frame,” Waller said. “It used to take two months to update records. Now it takes days. It’s physicians not accessing records in real time that are causing patient problems. Moving forward with HIE is imperative.”

First Step, which provides Medicaid health care support for expecting mothers and newborns, uses MHC to keep better track of all its paperwork as well, said Operations Manager Rebeca Velazquez.

“It allows us to provide better care and reduce costs,” she said.


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