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West Michigan HIE Incrementally Adds Value

September 30, 2010
by Jennifer Prestigiacomo
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Interview: Doug Dietzman, Executive Director, Michigan Health Connect

Michigan Health Connect got its initial start in July 2009 when a few health systems in West Michigan using Medicity’s Novo Grid (Salt Lake City, Utah) decided to share health information. The collaborative was formalized in March 2010 with five main health systems as stakeholders. Doug Dietzman, at the time a program manager with one of the stakeholders Spectrum Health, worked in the beginning stages to deploy Medicity and helped facilitate the burgeoning collaborative. Once Michigan Health Connect incorporated, Dietzman stepped into the executive director role. He recently spoke with HCI Associate Editor Jennifer Prestigiacomo about his HIE’s value-add strategy, as well as his mantra of not trying to do it all.

Healthcare Informatics: Can you give me a little background on Michigan Health Connect?

Doug Dietzman: The health systems here in west Michigan needed to figure out how to connect electronically to the providers out in the community. As physicians were getting more electronic systems in their office, they wanted more connectivity. So, each went down a path to select technology to do that. Here in west Michigan, three organizations independently selected Noble Innovations for their clinical messaging platform that since has been acquired by [Salt Lake City, Utah-based] Medicity. The three organizations here in Michigan, Spectrum Health [Grand Rapids], Trinity Health [Novi], and Metro Health [Wyoming], got together and said, ‘There’s got to be a better way to do this. Can we agree to not compete on clinical data exchange, but instead collaborate with each other and figure out how we integrate the experience for the provider?’ So that started the conversations here.

Lakeland Health Systems [St. Joseph] in Southwest Michigan also had selected Medicity, and they asked if they could join the conversations, and then Northern Regional Health System in Petoskey. Michigan had handed out nine planning grants to define health information exchange in the state, and when the northern region came to the end of their planning exercise, they selected Medicity as well. But when they went back to the state for their implementation funding, the state didn’t have any money for them. And Northern Michigan decided they weren’t going to wait, so they went with us and developed a contract with Medicity as well. So, those were the five initial anchors, and it was all borne out of collaboration.

As we got into this part of the year, it became pretty clear that we couldn’t become a handshake collaborative anymore; we needed to be an [organization]. That’s when we moved to incorporate Michigan Health Connect in the state of Michigan as a nonprofit going for a 501(c)(3) charitable status. Subsequently, we added McLaren Health System [Flint] and Ascension Health [St. Louis, Mo.] as participants as well.

HCI: What was the thought behind making Michigan Health Connect a non-profit instead of a state agency or public trust?

Dietzman: The state has health information exchange activities going on through the Michigan Health Information Network (MiHIN). They received through the ONC [the federal Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology] HIE funding just under $15 million I think for state activities. So, they are defining core infrastructure for the state of Michigan, connecting the different sub-state HIEs together, and creating some services that they can leverage. That was kind of the public side of things. Frankly, one of the reasons that [Michigan Health Connect] came together initially was they felt like they’d be in a stronger position if they collaborated. That [it was important to] deliver the capabilities that were expected of them, rather than be reactive and have something imposed on them. It was a means to leverage their existing investments, rather than potentially lose them.

HCI: Has your organization received any sort of grant money?

Dietzman: We’re 100 percent privately funded now, and we’ll certainly take advantage of grant opportunities as they become available. We’re putting our sustainability model together, and we’ll do grants on a project basis to help us build components of the exchange—but not depend on state or federal grants for ongoing sustainability.

HCI: I read that you’re leveraging existing investments. Can you go into a little more depth on that?