Michigan medical society to launch health IT exchange

The MSMS-sponsored network will be offered free to society members in hopes of driving adoption of information technology.

By — Posted Nov. 24, 2008

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The Michigan State Medical Society is creating a physician network that intends to connect 15,000 physicians across the state.

Medical societies across the country have been advocating health IT adoption in recent years. But generally that involvement has been limited mostly to offering practical advice or tips on choosing the right system. MSMS Connect will be the first network sponsored by a statewide medical society. It will be offered free to its members. Nonmembers will be charged a yet-to-be-determined fee.

"This will give all physicians who are members and some who are not the opportunity to move into a world of information technology in as big of a way as they want," said Greg Forzley, MD, chair of the MSMS board of directors. Dr. Forzley is also the medical director of informatics for Saint Mary's Health Care and Advantage Health Physicians Network in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Dr. Forzley said the network will meet each physician where they are in technology adoption and create a one-login network to which several systems can be connected. Through the system, which he describes as a portal, physicians can access applications including lab results, e-prescribing, patient registries and regional health information exchanges. Physicians can also message one another through a secure communications system.

Dr. Forzley said this is a first step to full access of online health information and that other services will be added as they become available. Physicians can pick and chose which applications they would like to have access to.

For those starting out slow, it's a way to "test the technology waters," Dr. Forzley said. "It lets them think about how to use technology without the requirement of big investment and the opportunity to scale it up when they are ready."

Dr. Forzley said the plan for the network evolved after the medical society completed its report, "The Future of Medicine" about three years ago. Ten areas were identified as ones that needed to be addressed, and EMR adoption was one of them. As a result of the report, Dr. Forzley said the society decided to look into creating a medical information exchange.

"I think it's really important to engage the medical society in this work," said Janet Marchibroda, CEO of the Washington D.C-based eHealth Initiative and its foundation. Both are nonprofits whose missions are to improve quality and safety in health care through technology.

Marchibroda said the key to driving adoption is physician involvement, so it makes sense to have a physician organization driving the efforts.

What's usually done

Generally, statewide or other large-scale regional health information organization efforts have not sought out state medical societies as direct partners.

Chris Voigt, executive consultant for the health care practice of CGI, a global IT service consultancy whose U.S. headquarters are in Fairfax, Va., has worked with CareSpark, a health information exchange that covers the Appalachian region of Tennessee and Virginia. Voigt said neither the Tennessee Medical Assn. nor the Medical Society of Virginia were asked to participate in the exchange. But he said it has received enormous support from the medical community.

CareSpark was one of a dozen exchanges chosen by the Office of the National Coordinator to take part in a national information exchange pilot program.

Russ Miller, senior vice president of the TMA, confirmed that the society was never asked to be involved with CareSpark and thinks that some physicians are resisting getting involved with it because of the unknowns of the required technology. He said TMA's role is to explore and evaluate all the options and provide its members with the information needed to make a sound decision.

Caremark is "taking the build-it-and-they-will-come approach," Miller said. He added that the Michigan society did its homework and made the right decision to build the network slowly.

MSMS Connect is expected to be ready for use in January 2009. The society's technology partner is Detroit-based Compuware Corp.'s Covisint subsidiary.

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