Collaborative initiative shares the health

February 15, 2005

Today's technology makes it possible for increasingly large networks to share medical information, and HIMSS attendees received an inside look at one Tuesday: a regional collaborative initiative operated by the Massachusetts Health Data Consortium. The initiative promotes the interorganizational exchange of healthcare data using information technology, standards, and administrative simplification. The role of the collaborative is to deliver the goal in seven to 10 years.

Today's technology makes it possible for increasingly large networks to share medical information, and HIMSS attendees received an inside look at one Tuesday: a regional collaborative initiative operated by the Massachusetts Health Data Consortium. The initiative promotes the interorganizational exchange of healthcare data using information technology, standards, and administrative simplification. The role of the collaborative is to deliver the goal in seven to 10 years.

"MA-SHARE is an embryonic RHIO (regional health information organization) formed to make accurate clinical information available wherever needed in a safe, efficient, and cost effective manner," said Dr. John Halamka, an emergency physician and chief information officer for CareGroup. "We may be the first regional operation to get a state Medicaid body to share its data."

The consortium has attracted 35 hospitals, medical associations, and insurance carriers interested in collecting medical information under one umbrella.

"When you want to put together a RHIO, think governance," Halamka said.

MA-SHARE has a chair, a CIO, three seats each for hospital representatives, health plans, physicians, state government, and other healthcare organizations, and one seat each for employers, academia, technology association, and the state legislature.

"The current delivery system is not meeting expectations for quality, safety, access, outcomes, or cost," said Carl Ascenzo, chief information officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. "Change under business-as-usual is painfully slow."

The challenge lies in fundamentally changing healthcare for providers, payers, employers, and patients, Ascenzo said.

First, all participants must recognize that the system is broken and no amount of tinkering at the margins will fix it.

"Using couriers instead of mail to get MRI results does not address the fundamental issue," Ascenzo said.

It can be done, however, and advances in technology make it possible, he said. Increasing costs and quality pressures are driving government, payers, providers, employers, and patients to seek long-term solutions, and a climate of collaboration exists.

"We have applications from 38 communities that want to be one of three pilot sites, including one with two hospitals that are eager to share data with each other," Ascenzo said.