June 18, 2018
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Data key to reducing health care costs, says state official

By Meg Haskell, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — When the state of Maine last year provided a modest financial incentive for its roughly 40,400 employees to seek health care services from one health care institution over another based on clinical, safety and patient satisfaction data, it didn’t take long for the sanction to have its desired effect.

Within months, the unidentified second-tier provider had improved its performance and state employees no longer had to consult their pocketbooks about where to get their health needs met.

Speaking at a breakfast meeting on Thursday hosted by Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, Frank Johnson, executive director of employee health and benefits for the state, used the episode to illustrate how employers can get more effective care for their workers and help drive down the cost of health care in Maine by using available provider quality information.

The meeting at the Spectacular Event Center focused on the emerging national trend toward collecting health data and using it to promote effective care, reduce medical errors, and hold down the cost of health care services. The expansion of health information technology plays a key role in the recently enacted national health care reform law and has recently drawn more than $10 million in federal funding into Maine.

Keynote speaker Dr. Karen Bell of the nonprofit MassPRO health care improvement organization in Massachusetts said the U.S. health care system suffers from a number of problems, causing it to rank highest among all nations in spending and among the lowest in terms of value. A lack of communication between providers, administrative inefficiencies and problems of fraud and abuse are among the problems that can be improved through the expanded use of health information technology, she said.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 directs at least $35 billion to health care providers who implement electronic medical records and share key patient data with other clinicians while ensuring the security of personal information, Bell said.

In Maine, larger hospitals, public clinics and physician practices have already invested in developing internal electronic medical records. Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems has spent about $75 million over the past 10 years to take patient care electronic, according to Chief Financial Officer Dan Coffey. The systemwide project includes a program for sharing digital X-rays across the seven-hospital system, a computer-based system for monitoring intensive care patients from a central location, and an electronic ordering system for physicians that flags allergies, drug interactions and other essential factors in patient care.

Since the beginning of this year, the nonprofit Health InfoNet project has received more than $10 million in federal funding to develop a statewide network for sharing key patient information drawn from providers’ electronic records. The Health InfoNet system, currently piloting a two-year demonstration, shares test results, allergy information, diagnoses, prescription histories and other essential records among 16 hospitals and a southern Maine primary care practice, ensuring that up-to-date information is available for patients seen at more than one site.

Health InfoNet Executive Director Devore Culver said Thursday that a recent federal grant of $4.7 million will be used to help independent Maine physician practices and community hospitals purchase the hardware and software needed to participate in the statewide network.

Health InfoNet is in the process of coordinating with Gov. John Baldacci’s Office of Health Policy and Finance but will remain a private organization, Culver said.

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