Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative Selects Three Pilot Communities

The Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative (MAeHC) announced that it has selected Greater Brockton, Greater Newburyport, and Northern Berkshire to participate in a 2-3 year demonstration project to test the effectiveness and practicality of implementing electronic health records (EHRs) on a communitywide basis. The communities were chosen from a field of 35 applicants, which was narrowed to six finalists last month.

The ambitious program is backed by a $50 million funding commitment from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. The collaborative has 34 member organizations, including physicians’ and nurses’ groups, hospitals, health plans, the state government, provider and technology associations, and business, purchaser and public interest groups.

The Collaborative’s CEO, Micky Tripathi was hired from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), where he and I were colleagues. While at BCG, Micky was on loan to the Indiana Health Information Exchange where he led the launch of a similar community-wide effort in Indianapolis.

Community-based initiatives are a good way to go:

  • With strong local leadership, a community can bring together disparate providers into a real care system, enabling patients to benefit from coordinated care
  • Having an intensive, local effort enables participants to gain critical mass and thereby enjoy benefits faster than in a less intensive rollout over a broader geographic area (e.g., statewide)
  • Once communities are wired up individually, it will be reasonably straightforward to link them into a wider network

It’s extremely encouraging that the Collaborative received strong applications from so many communities. The downside is that with only three winners there will be a lot of disappointed communities that won’t want to wait until the demonstration projects are done. The Collaborative will try to help other communities, but it may be stretched too thin.

Implementing EHRs across the whole state could cost $1 billion, according to the Collaborative. In the near term, it might make more sense for communities that haven’t been selected to take initial steps that fall short of a full-blown EHR. Enabling electronic prescribing, online communication of lab results, and doctor/patient messaging are relatively low cost, high impact examples that can begin to connect a community to itself.

March 28, 2005

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