Two local administrators, Art Blank, President and Chief Executive Officer of MDI Hospital, and Charles Hewett, Ph.D., Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of The Jackson Laboratory, have been chosen to help oversee the development of a statewide health information network.
The two are serving on the board of HealthInfoNet, a non-profit organization formed in 2006 to develop a data network that will permit rapid access to patient-specific healthcare information. The board is comprised of a cross-section of stakeholders, including representatives from large health systems and small hospitals, private insurance, the physician community, consumer groups, employers, public health, and state government.
“The development of this network will connect silos of information currently in place,” explained Mr. Blank. Those “silos” include the electronic patient information that already exists in many healthcare systems but is unavailable to providers outside each system due to the lack of a statewide network.
“We’re already at the forefront of collecting and analyzing healthcare information,” said Mr. Blank, adding that Maine is one of only three states establishing such a system. Many healthcare organizations have implemented electronic medical records, and organizations such as the Maine Healthcare Management Coalition are using health information to promote best practices, safety, quality and cost savings.
When completed, the system will be designed to integrate with an emerging regional and national health information infrastructure.
“With an interconnected system in place, physicians throughout the state will have access to the right information at the right time,” explained Mr. Blank. Information gathered through the system will be used with the patient’s consent, and rigorous security measures will be implemented to prevent unauthorized access.
The benefits of such a system include cost savings, improved patient safety, enhanced public health, and improved quality.
“Large employers like the Hospital and The Jackson Laboratory that spend millions of dollars on health insurance have a vested interest in the development of a system that will provide such savings,” said Mr. Blank. “And because this system has the potential to reduce business expenses, it is invaluable to the economic development of our state.”
Cost savings, according to a recent study, could be over $50 million per year. This includes $40 million from a reduction in unnecessary prescriptions, $3.8 million from fewer unwarranted laboratory tests, $7.5 million in savings from reduced needless diagnostic studies, and $2.72 million from a reduction in adverse drug events.
In addition, a reduction in adverse drug reactions will improve patient safety, while the ability to track infectious disease will improve public safety efforts. And, by helping to ensure the provision of evidence-based treatment, the system will improve the quality of care.
One significant challenge in implementing the system is funding. Financial support for HealthInfoNet’s start-up was provided in part by the state and grants. A pilot project, which will connect the four major healthcare systems in the state and other smaller organizations will begin this year at a cost of approximately $7 million. “We have a budget request into the legislature of $2 million in the next biennium,” explained Mr. Blank. “We’re also looking at federal grants and other sources for funding.”
However, Mr. Blank points out that implementation on a statewide level will require support from those who will benefit financially from the system, including insurers, the government, and others who pay for health insurance. “We have to find a way to get those who will most benefit from this system to help pay for it,” emphasized Mr. Blank.