June 22, 2018
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Maine health-record network prepares for launch

By Meg Haskell, BDN Staff

Maine’s pioneering statewide health records network will go live later this month, connecting 15 hospitals, three health clinics and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to a pipeline of patient information.

The two-year demonstration of HealthInfoNet aims to prove that maintaining clinical access to a continually updated stream of electronic patient information can improve care and lower health care spending. In addition, the system is expected to help detect and track outbreaks of infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, Lyme disease and the 2009 H1N1 swine flu.

“This really is not a health information technology project,” said Devore Culver, HealthInfoNet’s executive director. “This is a health care delivery project. What we’re doing is trying to deliver better care.”

Only Delaware has implemented a similar statewide network, Culver said, but that state’s system is limited to laboratory data only.

Health information about more than 400,000 Maine patients already has been loaded into the HealthInfoNet system from affiliates of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems in Brewer, Central Maine Healthcare in Lewiston, MaineGeneral Medical Centers in Augusta and Waterville, and MaineHealth in Portland. In addition, medical practices affiliated with Martin’s Point Health Care in Portland — including practices in Bangor, Brunswick and Portland — are participating, along with the public health laboratory of the Maine CDC.

Beginning at the end of this month, the information will be made available to key clinicians at participating sites, Culver said Monday. Those “clinical champions” — doctors and other providers who are assigned to integrate the system into the patient-care setting — will be the first to make use of the data, he said, and will help others start using the system in their practices.

The primary goal is to allow a doctor in Portland, for example, to treat an unfamiliar patient from Presque Isle with ready access to that patient’s updated medical information such as chronic illnesses, allergies, prescription medications, recent laboratory and imaging test results, surgeries and more.

Mental health diagnoses, substance abuse treatment and HIV status are not included.

Patient information from participating clinical sites was added to the HealthInfoNet system starting in December. The information is added and updated unless individual patients “opt out” — formally decline inclusion. Culver said information about HealthInfoNet — and how to opt out — continues to be provided in waiting rooms, at registration desks and in other patient areas.

“Our goal has been to make consumers aware, to provide them with enough facts to make a good decision about whether this is for them or not,” Culver said. The decision to opt out can be exercised at any time, he added.

“If you wake up tomorrow and tell us you don’t want to be in, we remove any clinical data that’s already there and block any new data from going in,” he said. About 2,000 Mainers have opted out of the system so far.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine CDC, said Monday that the ready availability of laboratory results that confirm reportable diseases will help doctors take better care of their patients. HealthInfoNet, she said, promises to reduce the lag time between the confirmation of a specific disease or organism and the patient being placed on appropriate therapy.

In addition, Mills said, the technology promises to improve the reporting of infectious diseases, facilitating the state’s job of detecting and tracking outbreaks of food poisoning, sexually transmitted diseases and other public health concerns. Such illnesses often are underreported, she said, because individuals at local clinics and laboratories do not always take the time to report them.

“So if all cases of [the food-borne illness] salmonella, for example, are automatically reported to the state lab, we reduce human error, patients get better care, and the Maine CDC gets better details about the outbreak,” Mills said.

“The biggest and best step the health care system in the U.S. can take is to assure that more people’s records are attainable electronically,” she said.

Funding for HealthInfoNet includes $1.7 million from the cash-strapped General Fund in the current biennium. Culver said the hard-won appropriation represents the state’s recognition of the project’s potential to improve care and reduce spending throughout the health care system, including in the publicly funded MaineCare program. MaineCare is the name of the state’s Medicaid program for low-income and disabled residents.

At the federal level, the Obama administration has dedicated $2 billion for state-level projects such as HealthInfoNet, but Culver warned that the federal funding will be used up swiftly. Other funding for HealthInfoNet has come from contracts with participating providers and from grants through the Maine Health Access Foundation, a philanthropic organization founded with the proceeds of the 1999 sale of Maine’s nonprofit Blue Cross and Blue Shield programs to Anthem Insurance.

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