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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

E-health Pilot Program Is “The Big One”

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Dr. Robert Jandl of the Williamstown Medical Associates
North Adams – A $50 million investment in creating electronic medical records systems for three state communities is the equivalent of “the big one,” said Dr. Robert Jandl, a physician affiliated with the Williamstown Medical Associates, during an April 26 press conference.

Jandl made the comment during a noontime conference sponsored by Northern Berkshire Healthcare and the Massachusetts e-health Collaborative and held at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Jandl joined NBH CEO John Cronin, North Adams Regional Hospital President Dr. Bruce Nash and e-health collaborative CEO and President Micky Tripathi as the event’s featured speakers. About 85 community members, physicians, and health care professionals attended the conference.

Development of an e-health records system could be the most dramatic health care services improvement in years, Jandl said. Jandl identified what he termed a “huge disconnect” between primary care physicians, specialists, emergency room doctors, and other medical professionals, which may create an information void when trying to treat patients.

Northern Berkshire Healthcare CEO John Cronin


“That is lousy care, the way our system has evolved,” he said, and noted the inability of doctors to easily transfer information from one office to another. “We know we are not doing a great job at preventing adverse affects and complications from treatment. I really think that this is the big one.”

Electronic records offer a wealth of possibilities ranging from allowing immediate physician access to a person’s medication and health history to tracking successful–or less successful-modes of treatment on a population-wide basis, he said.

The pilot program funding was awarded to the city and the communities of Brockton and Newburyport last month by the Massachusetts e-health Collaborative. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts corporation provided the revenues.Tripathi explained why the North Adams area was selected as a participant and offered some background information about the project and the collaborative. Pilot program inclusion was a very selective process, Tripathi said.

“Why North Adams? We wanted a community that was fairly tightly knit with physicians who share patients,” Tripathi said. “We were also looking for strong leadership and we found that here across the board.”

Micky Tripathy, president and CEO of the Massachusetts e-health Collaborative


Tripathi said that the collaborative members detected an “openess” among medical professionals to the idea of e-health records. The collaborative launched after the American College of Physicians conducted a series of seminars and concluded that they themselves should develop an e-records system. The group was seeking funding for such a project at about the same time as Blue Cross/Blue Shield officials decided to devote $50 million to a similar project. The entities assembled 34 medically-invested groups at a meeting in Cape Cod, and that meeting secured the unanimous support of all those invited. The collaborative was established as a result of the meeting, and its Board of Directors includes officials associated with Blue Cross/Blue Shield as well as administrators of companies including the Tufts and Harvard Pilgrim health insurance providers.

The collaborative plans to fully fund the e-health record systems from the development of hardware and software to the integration and implementation of each system, Tripathi said. System benefits and problems will be reviewed, including the costs and the investment return, with the return expected to outweigh the costs, he said.

“We really are in a real dramatic time of change in health care,” Tripathi said. The highest standards of privacy and confidentiality will be met, he said.

North Adams Regional Hospital President Dr. Bruce Nash


Nash spoke about the day-to-day experiences of physicians who may be faced with an unfamiliar patient unable to communicate effectively.

“It is a nightmare to figure out, when a patient comes in [to the hospital], what that patient is taking [as medication],” Nash said, and added that acquiring a medical and personal history can be extremely difficult.

The situation is reversed and equally challenging when a patient leaves the hospital and attempts to explain hospital treatments to primary care doctors, he said.

“One reason physicians are so excited about this is that the information will be available to them [when needed],” Nash said.
Cronin described the pilot project as “the like of which we’ve never seen.”

The city will become a “learning laboratory” as the project gets underway and the lessons may impact the entire country, he said.

“I think this project, when it is at completion, will change the way we care for patients,” he said. “Today, all we do is tinker with the margins. This gives us the tools to create impact.”

A formal pilot program kick-off is scheduled for May 13 at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Newburyport. Gov. Mitt Romney and Dr. David Brailer, the country’s first National Health Information Technology coordinator, are expected to attend, Tripathi said.

Tripathi noted that the $50 million being used for the Massachusetts pilot project equals what was made available to the NHIT in 2004 for the entire nation. “And the [U.S.] Senate took that away,” Tripathi said. “It’s truly unique, what we have here in Massachusetts. We have national attention. People are saying ‘you cannot fail in Massachusetts. We are watching you.’ And we have high hopes.”

Susan Bush can be reached by phone at 802-823-9367 or e-mail at suebush123@adelphia.com.
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