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Gov. Deval Patrick, Massachusetts
Dr. Harry Rubash observes as Patrick sends his health data to Baystate Medical Center.

Regional News/Northeast: Massachusetts launches statewide health info exchange, and other news

By Modern Healthcare
Posted: October 27, 2012 - 12:01 am ET

BOSTON—Massachusetts launched a statewide health information exchange that will allow healthcare providers to share electronic health information as they seek to improve coordination of care, lower costs and increase patient safety. Gov. Deval Patrick successfully sent his health data from 907-bed Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston to 659-bed Baystate Medical Center in Springfield as part of the launch. “In Massachusetts, we believe that access to affordable, quality healthcare is a public good, and launching a secure, cutting-edge health information exchange is an important step in delivering on that,” Patrick said in a news release. The Massachusetts Health Information Highway, the name of the state's exchange, has received $16.9 million in funding from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Medicaid. “By expanding our connections and access to health information, we have the opportunity to be more efficient and, most importantly, to improve the quality of care for our patients,” Massachusetts General Hospital President Dr. Peter Slavin said in the release. Participants in the exchange can connect using Direct messaging-enabled electronic health-record systems, local area network devices or secure e-mail portals, according to the Massachusetts e-Health Institute. The exchange is expected to be rolled out in three phases, starting with provider-directed exchanges of EHRs. Participating providers include Atrius Health, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Partners HealthCare.

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BOSTON—Steward Health Care System entered into an agreement to refer Level 1 trauma patients to two Partners HealthCare System hospitals: 907-bed Massachusetts General Hospital and 777-bed Brigham and Women's Hospital. Partners will also assist Steward's 189-bed Good Samaritan Medical Center, 133-bed Morton Hospital and 207-bed Holy Family Hospital to achieve designation as Level 3 trauma centers. “This will significantly expand our ability to keep clinically appropriate care in our communities,” Dr. Michael Callum, president of the Steward Medical Group, said in an internal letter. Partners has the capacity to accept referrals from Steward's emergency departments, spokesman Christopher Murphy said. About 1,000 Steward patients require Level 1 trauma care annually, he said. “We chose to work with Partners HealthCare because it has the necessary capacity and experience to deliver coordinated trauma care to our patients and to support the advancement of trauma services in the communities that Steward serves,” Callum said. Steward doctors will communicate directly with Partners physicians and patient information will be electronically transmitted between the hospitals, Murphy said. The agreement went into effect Oct. 1.

PHILADELPHIA—A state-run health insurance exchange is unlikely to be ready for a scheduled January 2014 rollout, Pennsylvania's top insurance regulator said. Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine said development of the online exchange—a key element of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—has stalled because too many questions about its cost and other operational details remain unanswered by the federal government. “We're not going to rush headlong into this and make poor choices,” he said. Besides running their own exchanges, states have options that include jointly running exchanges with the federal government. If Pennsylvania does not choose one of those options, the federal government will operate an exchange in the state starting in 2014. There is no penalty for launching a state exchange later. Advocates for uninsured and under-insured people had hoped for a state exchange tailored to Pennsylvanians' needs, but said a federal exchange would be satisfactory so long as it provides high-quality insurance. A 2011 study by a state Insurance Department consultant conservatively estimated that at least 2 million Pennsylvanians would use the online exchange to shop for and buy individual health insurance policies. “We went pretty far down the line,” but still lacked definitive guidance, Consedine said. “At this point it's going to be extremely difficult” to get a state exchange up and running in the next year. Consedine was appointed by Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who as state attorney general joined his counterparts in other states in an unsuccessful court challenge to the Affordable Care Act.

St. Vincent Hospital, Erie, Pa.
Under an agreement for an integrated delivery network, Highmark will invest $25 million in St. Vincent, right, including $5 million for capital projects.
ERIE, Pa.—St. Vincent Health System would join a Pittsburgh insurer's fledgling integrated delivery network under a newly announced agreement. Trustees of St. Vincent approved a letter of intent that would add its 454-bed hospital to the network Highmark is seeking to build around its proposed acquisition of West Penn Allegheny Health System. Highmark's deal for West Penn Allegheny landed in court this month after the struggling Pittsburgh health system said it would break off the agreement. Highmark spokesman Michael Weinstein said the insurer and St. Vincent would finalize terms of the agreement in the coming months, which must then be approved by Pennsylvania's attorney general and Orphans' Court. Highmark is also awaiting approval for its affiliation with 373-bed Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Jefferson Hills, Pa. Highmark's plan for a new parent company, which would include an insurance subsidiary and another subsidiary for provider operations, is also undergoing regulatory review. West Penn Allegheny, Jefferson Regional Medical Center and St. Vincent would operate under the provider subsidiary. Under the agreement with St. Vincent, Highmark agreed to invest $25 million in St. Vincent, including $5 million for capital projects and pledged investment of more than $40 million after the close. Highmark entered the agreement with St. Vincent to maintain competition in the Erie healthcare market and bolster local healthcare delivery, Weinstein said. On Oct. 22, St. Vincent announced a clinical affiliation with the Cleveland Clinic Heart and Vascular Institute. The Cleveland Clinic has entered similar agreements with several hospitals and systems across the U.S.

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