Pennsylvania is set to sign a contract with a Michigan-based information technology contractor to build the backbone of the state's new health communications network, a system that will allow for the exchange of patient data among doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and insurance companies.
Truven Health Analytics, based in Ann Arbor, is in line to build what's being called Pennsylvania's "community shared services" network, a platform that will allow all of the state's existing health information exchanges to communicate with each other and swap data.
The contract, which was agreed upon in March, is being reviewed by the state Attorney General's office. If approved, the contract should take effect by June. The work is valued at $8.9 million over five years.
Truven, formerly known as the Healthcare business of Thomson Reuters, was purchased by Veritas Capital last year for $1.25 billion. The company is building similar health exchanges in West Virginia, Georgia, Alabama and elsewhere.
The "shared services" contract is the key to a statewide system that connects hospitals from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, and parts in between.
"This whole project is about helping the patient," said Alix Goss, program coordinator at the Pennsylvania eHealth Partnership Authority, the agency established to build and maintain the state's health information system.
Advocates of health information exchanges (HIEs) say the systems have the potential to improve outcomes and save money for the U.S. health care system, finally fulfilling the promise of the decades-long push toward electronic medical records. In theory, such light-speed access will help cut down on duplicative diagnostic tests, allow doctors to retrieve clinical data in a more timely manner, and cut down on fraud by spotting patients who rove from doctor to doctor looking for painkillers.
Critics say the systems -- and electronic medical records in general -- are an unproven boondoggle that cost billions of dollars, but haven't been shown to improve health.
Different states are building their HIEs in different ways. Some are more centralized, but Pennsylvania is essentially building an umbrella network that will allow existing or under-construction exchanges to communicate with each other and retrieve patient data -- a "network of networks," among unaffiliated regional HIEs, in the state's words.
Highmark is building such a system, for example, connecting hospitals in its new Allegheny Health Network with MedExpress urgent care clinics and other providers. Highmark had announced in 2012 that it was partnering with Verizon, but that partnership has since dissolved and Highmark is looking for a new vendor to develop its exchange.
The ClincalConnect HIE, meanwhile, draws data from UPMC and eight other regional hospital networks.
Pennsylvania is home to 11 such networks, at varying stages of completion. All of them will be able to share discharge summaries among participating providers by the end of this year.
The HIEs now operating or under construction are: ClincalConnect, Highmark's, the Keystone Health Information Exchange, Pinnacle Health System's PHS Connect, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Health Information Organization, the Lehigh Valley Health Network HIE, St. Luke's University Health Network, Monongahela Valley's Vale-U-Health HIE, Main Line HIE in Philadelphia, Vantage HIE in Meadville, and one based in Lancaster.
The Highmark and Vantage HIEs plan to be statewide exchanges, while the rest will operate regionally.
Once the state contract is final, Ms. Goss said, Truven will configure one of its existing products to meet the agency's specifications: The state needs -- among other features -- a provider directory, a records-locator service and a "consent registry" that tracks which patients want their records to be shared and which do not.
The Pennsylvania eHealth Partnership Authority, which grew out of the Pennsylvania eHealth Collaborative Advisory Committee, had its first board meeting last month.
It is in the process of building support for -- and awareness of -- the statewide exchange, hoping to convince patients to opt in rather than opt out, said Deborah Saline, communications and outreach director for the authority.
The authority is also conducting a statewide survey to gauge public knowledge about health information exchange. Results of that survey will help the authority hone its message, Ms. Saline said.
Bill Toland: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2625.