Two Michigan health information networks will combine operations by the end of the year.
Under an agreement, Grand Rapids-based Great Lakes Health Connect would initially operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of East Lansing-based Michigan Health Information Network Shared Services, commonly known as MiHIN. During 2020, the two companies will then work out details and a final structure for the integration of Great Lakes Health Connect into MiHIN.
The planned merger of the two nonprofit organizations occurs as national industry trends push health information networks to offer greater capabilities and connect more broadly, said Doug Dietzman, executive director at Great Lakes Health Connect.
Facing those pressures, leaders at both organizations decided getting together was the best route for the future, rather than competing with each other and creating service redundancies.
“That presents some challenges or opportunities to us individually that together we’re much better able to focus on,” Dietzman said.
Health information networks electronically connect providers from across health care — from hospitals, physician practices, diagnostic labs, and rehab and long-term care centers, to health plans and pharmacies. The networks allow the partners to securely access, transmit and share patient data and records.
A merger also eliminates lingering confusion in the state’s health care market about which health information network to use, he said.
“We’ve been dancing a little bit and bumping into each other. As we look forward, that’s not going to get better,” Dietzman said. “It makes sense to take what we both do really well and do it as a combined entity, rather than continuing to do it separately. We are better and it eliminates some of the questions in the state about ‘who do I work with’ or ‘when do I go there and when do I go to the other one?’ We’ll just get rid of all that.”
News of the planned merger has been well received, MiHIN Executive Director Tim Pletcher said today. Since announcing the deal Thursday, Pletcher has found it “really interesting how many ‘hoorays’ and ‘yays’ and ‘oh, this is awesome’ and ‘finally’” responses he’s heard — “to the surprise of both Doug and I.”
Eliminating the confusion among care providers that “they had to pick one group or the other” could represent the biggest benefit of the merger, Pletcher said.
“Very often, just because of the historical evolution, folks felt like they were kind of in one camp or another. The biggest win is everybody is going to be able to work together now,” he said. “I don’t think either organization realized how much confusion our co-existence was creating in the market.
“Now they can pick us both and go forward.”
MiHIN has been largely focused on establishing infrastructure across the state, or serving “as the backbone” for sharing health information, Pletcher said. Great Lakes Health Connect has worked on providing health information services and what Dietzman describes as “the last mile” for connections between care providers.
Working as one, the MiHIN and Great Lakes Health Connect can venture into services and areas that neither had the capital, talent or resources to do on their own, Pletcher said. He cites as an example extending statewide Great Lakes Health Connect’s service and database for advanced care and end-of-life directives for client patients.
MiHIN can also marry an extensive infrastructure its built around provider directories with Great Lakes Health Connect’s “best in class solution” for managing patient referrals.
“We have the opportunity to make some things happen that neither organization could quite make happen across the state,” Pletcher said. “There are concrete, high-value activities that we want to make scale across the entire state.”
Both organizations arose out of a major national push more than a decade ago to improve the interoperability of health care information technology systems at care providers.
Great Lakes Health Connect today works with 129 hospitals, more than 4,000 primary care physicians, specialists, and affiliated providers and organizations. The organizations employs 44 people and generated revenue of about $8 million in its most recent fiscal year.
The health information network launched in 2009 as Michigan Health Connect, founded by a coalition of health systems that included Spectrum Health, Mercy Health parent corporation Trinity Health, Metro Health, Lakeland Health in St, Joseph (now owned by Spectrum), and Northern Michigan Regional Health System in Petoskey. The organization merged in June 2014 with the former Great Lakes Health Information Exchange, a competing network, to form Great Lakes Health Connect.
MiHIN launched in 2010 as a public-private partnership with seed money from the Michigan Health Information Technology Commission to better connect organizations such as state agencies, health insurers, major hospitals, labs and more than 1,700 pharmacies, Pletcher said. MiHIN employs 125 people and generates annual revenues of about $20 million.
Both organizations will maintain their present offices and staffs in Grand Rapids, East Lansing and Ann Arbor.