A Chicago-area provider coalition's insistence on retaining strategic control of a proposed community health information network played a key role in its selection last week of a prime contractor to build and run the CHIN.
A selection committee organized by the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council chose a vendor group calling itself the ChinAlliance, which is headed by healthcare software vendor Shared Medical Systems and includes seven other information-transfer and telecommunications companies (Aug. 29, p. 12).
In September, the Chicago provider coalition had narrowed the choice of prospective vendors to the ChinAlliance and Ameritech, a Chicago-based telecommunications company. Ameritech had gained an early edge in CHIN development with Milwaukee's Wisconsin Health Information Network. Its recent strategy has been to take charge of building a CHIN in a market and recoup its investment in fees for access and transactions.
The Chicago coalition was formed in part as a defensive move against that so-called "vendor-driven" approach, said William Lewis, the metropolitan council's senior vice president. A key qualification of any vendor partner was its formal agreement with a line of authority that places strategic direction and operational control in the hands of a provider-controlled company, Mr. Lewis said.
Both vendors originally supported that model of organization, but about two weeks into the final selection process, Ameritech representatives "seemed to change their direction," he said.
Instead of supporting a community board with final say, Ameritech proposed that the board should be advisory and that all contracts would go through Ameritech for approval, Mr. Lewis said.
Ameritech spokeswoman Begay Atkinson said the structure proposed by the provider group would add a "bureaucratic decision process that might get in the way of moving forward" on CHIN organization and operation.
She said Ameritech's corporate structure already performed some of the functions that a separate operating company would duplicate. Ameritech proposed to resolve concerns about community control by agreeing to price caps in advance and working out other governance issues through a detailed contract.
But the Chicago coalition determined that Ameritech "changed their thinking in such a manner that we would not feel comfortable working with them," Mr. Lewis said.
A steering committee's final report said that the SMS-led group was capable of delivering all the technical links and software sophistication necessary to create an electronic network linking hospitals, physicians and payers.
The vendor alliance now must negotiate a contract and develop a business plan, an effort that is expected during the first quarter of next year.