Michigan Health Information Shared Services and Great Lakes Health Connect on Friday announced they would combine resources into a $28 million organization with 169 employees and 80 interns that could become one of nation’s largest and most effective health information networks.
The nonprofit MiHIN and GLHC have signed a term sheet agreement for the proposed integration with the goal of combining operations by end of 2019, officials said in a telephone news conference with reporters. Full integration will take six months, they said.
A health information network is designed to help make it easier for hospitals, physicians and other health care companies exchange electronic patient data through secure online connections. Data includes hospital admissions, discharge and transfer information. By more closely coordinating patient care, tracking chronic conditions and reducing duplication, providers can lower costs and boost quality, experts say.
Nationally there are more than 234 health information exchanges, but only a small percentage receive sufficient revenue to cover expenses. Eventually, state or regional exchanges are expected to interconnect to form a national health information exchange. Information-technology challenges and different operating systems have slowed development.
“This strategic integration stays true to both organizations’ missions to continuously improve health care quality, efficiency and patient safety by promoting secure, electronic exchange of health information with the best available technology,” Tim Pletcher, MiHINs executive director, said in a statement.
“Both of our organizations have helped establish Michigan as a national leader in interoperability, and now we have the opportunity to work together on future innovations in this field,” he said.
Doug Dietzman, CEO of Great Lakes Health Connect, said Great Lakes and other health information network organizations have spent the last decade trying to make interoperability of health care data work for members. He said the merger will allow both organizations to work together to expand the services they offer.
Pletcher said examples include increasing the number of advanced directives the merged organization can share with members, creating a larger provider and health care directory, expanded patient records and referral management services.
“We have watched each organization succeed on its own, but there comes a time when you have to reflect and examine why we’re working independently on the same mission. We asked ourselves, ‘Would we be stronger together?’ The answer was undoubtedly, ‘yes,’ ” Dietzman said in a statement.
Great Lakes, a Grand Rapids-based organization that was formed in a 2014 merger with Michigan Health Connect, one of four health information networks in Michigan, includes 129 hospitals, accounting for 80 percent of the state’s total licensed beds, along with 20,000 physicians, 3,000 clinics and offices. Its 2019 revenue was a little less than $8 million.
Dietzman said Great Lakes shares health record data for more than 5 million people.
East Lansing-based MiHIN, which received seed funding in 2009 from federal government HI-TECH Act, is a public-private nonprofit entity created to coordinate online health data from entities such as Great Lakes, Michigan state agencies, hospitals, pharmacies, health plans, physicians and other providers. Revenue totaled $20 million this year, he said.
“As individual entities, MiHIN and GLHC have served a vast majority of the state; in some ways together, and in other ways independently. By uniting, we can deepen our impact, and will be more strategically aligned for ongoing national efforts and regulations being announced, such as the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA),” said Pletcher.
Pletcher said the merger, in which Great Lakes will become a subsidiary of MiHIN, will allow both organizations to retain their home offices and not result in any layoffs. He said MiHIN expects to hire an additional 36 employees over the next year.
On Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s recent veto of $1 million in funding for MiHIN, Pletcher said he hopes the state funding is restored. “It was not a motivation for this (merger),” he said.
In 2006, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm approved a plan to create nine sub-state health information exchanges — online databases that allow competing medical providers to instantly share patient information in a secure format — and encourage the exchanges to experiment and grow within their regions.
Over time, because of lack of funding and competitive pressures, some exchanges closed and others merged.
In 2014, Great Lakes merged with Michigan Health Connect, which included the University of Michigan Health System as a member. Great Lakes members included Beaumont Health, Ascension St. John, McLaren Healthcare Corp. and Trinity Health.
Four other smaller HINs are in operation, including the 15-hospital Upper Peninsula Health Information Exchange and Ingenium Health Information Exchange in Bingham Farms.
Pletcher said the other HINs are smaller organizations that contribute data to MiHIN. “They are part of integrated health systems, accountable-care organizations or physician organizations. We get independent ADTs from other groups, but there will be just one HIN in the state,” he said.
The Michigan Health and Hospital Association has been advocating the past six years for a single HIN to serve all hospitals, health care organizations and providers.
Pletcher said he has heard positive feedback from health care organizations in the state about the planned merger. “The industry seems ready for complimentary activities (between the two organizations) to come together,” he said. “Some things we do overlap, but many things we do are complimentary.”