BREWER, Maine — Thousands of Bangor area residents afflicted with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and lung disease stand to benefit from a new partnership among the area’s doctors, hospitals and other health care providers.
With a new grant of almost $12.8 million in federal stimulus funds, Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems on Thursday announced Bangor’s designation as one of 17 “beacon communities” nationwide by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. The money will be used to improve the health of Mainers with chronic illnesses by enhancing their clinical management and by linking their electronic health records to a network of collaborating hospitals, primary care offices and home care agencies.
The three-year program will target people who experience frequent hospitalizations and emergency room visits because of poorly controlled medical conditions, according to Catherine Bruno of EMHS, the executive sponsor of the project.
“These are the high-risk, high-cost patients who will benefit the most from the program,” Bruno said Thursday at a rollout announcement at the Lafayette Family Cancer Center on Whiting Hill in Brewer. The event featured state and federal officials as well as representatives of eight of the local organizations that are participating in the collaboration.
Those organizations include Eastern Maine Medical Center and its affiliated medical practices; St. Joseph Healthcare, Penobscot Community Health Care; The Acadia Hospital and Community Health and Counseling Services.
Patients selected to participate in the program will be asked to sign a consent form to have their medical information shared among the partnering organizations. They will be assigned a “care coordinator” at their primary care office who will provide extra attention in managing their medications, diet and activities and in monitoring signs that their chronic illness may be taking a downward turn.
The goal is to make patients’ medical information readily available to all care providers and to use that information to maintain optimal health and to catch worsening symptoms before they get serious.
Participating patients will be surveyed every six months to determine how well the program is working.
Dr. Robert Allen of Penobscot Community Health Care praised the project for bridging the historic competition between Bangor-area doctors and hospitals. Allen, who has worked in the area for more than 30 years, said the time has come for health care providers to “collaborate rather than fight” in order to improve the health of Maine residents.
Aaron McKethen of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology said the federal government is looking to the 17 beacon communities to employ innovative health information technology to improve the quality of patient care.
“We are looking to these [beacon] communities … to blaze new trails other communities around the country can follow,” he said.