Organizers of a plan to build a cutting-edge data network in the Chicago area said last week they're launching the "commercial phase" even though the steps to prove the network's worth have been scaled back or put aside.
The Metropolitan Chicago Community Health Information Network said it was turning over daily operations and implementation to the eight-vendor coalition hired to construct and sell the network to hospitals, physicians and others.
The move comes a year after the formation of MCCHIN, a not-for-profit operating company, and the inking of a five-year contract with ChinAlliance.
The vendor group will be trying to drum up interest on the basis of a demonstration phase that fell far short of expectations. The CHIN operating company also never produced a cost/benefit analysis that was supposed to establish the network's value.
In announcing the contract signing last summer (June 12, 1995, p. 15), the CHIN's executive vice president, William Lewis, said the CHIN expected to have six hospitals operating, 20 under contract by the end of 1995 and participation by 500 physicians and one nonhospital healthcare site.
But the test ended last month with only two hospitals, 100 physicians and a diagnostic facility participating.
The main work revolved around the efforts of Advocate Health Care, a regional healthcare network, to connect Christ Hospital and Medical Center in suburban Oak Lawn with a diagnostic center in Palos Heights and with physicians under Advocate's wing.
Bruce Smith, Advocate's vice president of information systems and chief information officer, said 43 physicians are hooked up and 40 more are scheduled to do so this month. He said Advocate sees the initiative as a way to develop its internal data-transfer system, "enabling us to move just a little quicker than we would have been able to move if we had to do everything ourselves."
The initial attraction of the CHIN, by contrast, was its potential to transfer data from one healthcare-related organization to another. As a test site, Advocate had only one outside facility to connect with, St. Bernard Hospital and Health Care Center on Chicago's South Side, and no such connection was forged, Smith said.
Advocate doesn't have a wealth of cost/benefit analysis to share yet, Smith said. And the study commissioned last August to evaluate the test sites was suspended, he said.
But the president of the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council, Earl Bird, said the "demonstration phase helped to demonstrate the technical viability of community health information networks."
The council, a 50/50 partner with the Illinois State Medical Society in the CHIN initiative, spearheaded the project until it spun off the CHIN operating company and installed Lewis, the council's senior vice president, as the top officer of MCCHIN.
At deadline, Bird was not available to comment on the status of the operating company, the decision to turn over the reins to the ChinAlliance, and the employment status of Lewis or the company's CIO, Jack Buxbaum.