Three cheers for MAeHC

The Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative (MAeHC) has come a long way since its founding in 2004. The idea then was to bring together the main stakeholders in the Massachusetts health care system to improve quality, safety and efficiency through the rollout of electronic health records (EHRs) and health information exchanges (HIEs). Unlike other superficially similar iniatives, this one came with $50 million (thanks to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts) and a well thought-through plan. What that meant was full financial backing for physicians adopting EHRs, removing a key barrier to uptake.

Three communities: Brockton, Newburyport, and North Adams, have now been wired up — and have the distinction of being the only three communities in the US where all physicians have EHRs. MAeHC has demonstrated results on the ground and sustained broad backing among health care stakeholders, which is leading in turn to strong support in the legislature to expand the experience statewide. That’s taking the form of $25 million in next year’s state budget, with the likelihood of more to come in future years.

The Boston Globe editorialized in favor of MAeHC last week (see Better data for better health) and MAeHC CEO Micky Tripathi provided additional thoughts on his blog (see Thank You, Boston Globe). Micky is justifiably proud of the progress to date but points out that we are just at the start of realizing the possibilities of e-health:

When the US military launched the first Global Positioning Satellite in 1978, its goals were limited and clear: Improve the ability of the military to coordinate the movement of weapons, troops, equipment, and supplies. Now, thirty years later, GPS is being used in military and commercial ways that its designers could never have imagined, and each year seems to bring even more uses. Similarly, when the first commercial cellular telephone was launched in Japan in 1978, they probably had only the smallest inkling of the kinds of innovation that would still be taking place thirty years later. If anything, even after three decades of use, the pace of change wrought by these technologies is not slowing, it’s getting ever-faster. In 1978, the year that GPS and commercial cellphones were born, Microsoft was 3 years old and had 2 now famous employees, and the founders of Google and Yahoo were barely in elementary school.

Like GPS and cell phones thirty years ago, connecting up an entire health care community is a clear, discrete, “step-up” that provides tools that didn’t exist before to change the way things are done. And like those technologies, providing the tools is only the first step, because they’re only tools — the creative energies of the people who use those tools will spur innovations in these three communities over the next 10, 20, and 30 years that we can’t even hope to understand through the foggy lenses of today. That type of “creative destruction” isn’t something that any of us can or should want to architect in a year or two or three.

Congratulations to Micky and the whole MAeHC team.

July 7, 2008

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