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11/2/2011
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Michigan HIE Puts Sustainability Into Play

South East Michigan Health Information Exchange joins Nationwide Health Information Network Exchange, also helps Social Security Administration improve eligibility processes.

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South East Michigan Health Information Exchange (SEMHIE) is one of dozen HIEs across the country working with the Social Security Administration (SSA) to help streamline processes involved with disability benefits eligibility. Recently, Ann Arbor, Mich. based SEMHIE hit a couple of milestones in its project, which will be important for the exchange's future expansion.

At the same time, the recent successes of SEMHIE are helping SSA get closer to its goal of reducing the average national wait for disability determinations from 457 days to only one to two weeks, through the exchange of pertinent patient information electronically, rather than on paper.

SEMHIE recently demonstrated that it can securely supply a checklist of electronic health record (EHR) data from two of its participating members, Henry Ford Health System and OakWood Health System, into a continuity of care document used by SSA to determine disability eligibility of patients, said Mick Talley, a SEMHIE director and its treasurer, as well as program manager for the SSA contract.

SEMHIE also recently passed conformance and interoperability testing by the Office of National Coordinator, and is now able to hook into the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) Exchange, of which SSA is part. SEMHIE's connection into NHIN also gives SEMHIE a gateway to share data with about 20 other federal agencies and other entities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Veterans Affairs, said Talley.

[EHRs can be difficult to get right. Make sure to avoid EHR Worst Practices.]

Interoperability with NHIN could be critical for SEMHIE to be part of public health surveillance projects in the future, as well as help injured or disabled U.S. veterans who are treated at VA hospitals to also electronically apply for SSA benefits, said Talley in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare.

SEMHIE's membership includes six major health systems in the region. Besides Henry Ford and OakWood, other participants include Beaumont Hospitals, Detroit Medical Center, St. John Health System, and Trinity Health, as well as various providers, payers, employers, quality organizations, safety net providers, and healthcare professional associations.

While SEMHIE launched in 2010 under a $2.9 million contract with SSA, the aim is to have SEMHIE expand and become a mechanism for cost-effective and secure patient data exchange among all healthcare providers in southeastern Michigan, including hospitals, clinics, and doctor practices, said Talley.

Talley realizes that other HIEs across the country have struggled with business sustainability once their initial seed money or grants run out. SEMHIE is keen on coming up with a business plan that won't have it fall under the same fate as some others .

While SEMHIE is a non-profit, it can run various services to turn a profit--and that's where sustainability can come, Talley said. That might include fees from member healthcare organizations sharing data over the network, said Talley, who proclaims he's "not an IT expert."

Talley's experience is in financial services, and that's positioned him to understand the challenges of healthcare data exchange, especially the regulatory aspects, he said.

While the financial services industry is light years ahead of healthcare in its adoption of IT, there is a big similarity between the two. "Both industries have intense regulatory requirements to keep patient and customer data safe and secure," he said.

"I always thought that healthcare needed its own ATM network" or something akin to that, said Talley. The aim of SEMHIE is to "provide a cheap, easy, simple safe way to share data," said Talley, who is also a director of the University Bancorp of Ann Arbor, and its lead independent director and chairman of the audit committee.

For its part, University Bank is providing SEMHIE with office and conference meeting space to support the exchange's efforts. Bank staff, include IT workers, are also mentoring SEMHIE as it continues to ramp up its technology and services capabilities, said Talley.

In the meantime, healthcare providers in the region have been moving ahead with EHR implementations and expressing interest in data sharing, said Talley. "There's no foot dragging in southeast Michigan," he said.

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