Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 8, 2013

Editorial: State says system will help info exchange


Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — It seems simple enough: improve patient care and lower costs by providing a way for health professionals to work together to share information about treatments and ways to overcome common hurdles.

The other half seems just as straightforward: ask insurance companies to streamline their payment systems so they are easier for medical professionals and patients to use while saving money. And who — particularly when insurance companies are involved — doesn’t want to save money?

It’s all part of a Michigan Department of Public Health effort to create what are being called “community integrated health systems” or “community hubs” where medical professionals could work together to provide better care for patients.

“So when you’re working with a patient and have a social” issue, you can turn to the community hub for ways to deal with that issue, Melanie Brim, a public health deputy director with the Michigan Department of Community Health, told a group of health providers at Munson Medical Center this week.

If the plan is approved, community hubs would be established for professionals to work collaboratively to improve patient outcomes, she said.

“If they hear consistently that people can’t get to appointments because there is no transportation, that becomes something this collaborative would try to address.”

Paul Winkler of Old Town Psychological Services said easier access to medical records would be helpful, for example, when he’s treating someone with depression.

Michigan was awarded a $1.7 million federal grant in the spring to design the health model; it’s still in the planning stages, said Brim.

Twenty-five states are planning or testing ways to do what Michigan is trying to do, an effort being funded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The state expects to try out some elements even if Michigan can’t get additional funding.

It’s hard to understand why, when we tweet, twitter and e-mail non-stop we need to establish more ways to share information. But tweeting or emailing isn’t necessarily collaborating, and a lot of medical professionals are likely hampered by the kinds of information they can’t share about patients under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPPA.

State officials have asked Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Priority Health and other insurance firms for ideas on how to simplify billing and pay for the new plan. Why universal billing models don’t already exist is a mystery, but improvements would be welcome.

This is all about learning to communicate in ways that matter on a day-to-day basis; let’s hope we don’t have to spend millions and create a new bureaucracy to figure out how to do that.