Aetna Inc.'s pending $500 million acquisition of health information exchange vendor Medicity Inc. is part of the insurer's preparation of its infrastructure to support accountable care organizations envisioned in the health care reform law.

That's the view of John Osberg, principal at Informed Partners LLC, a Marietta, Ga.-based consulting firm. Salt Lake City-based Medicity will help Aetna complete "last mile" connectivity to physician desktops, he says.

Ingenix Inc.'s acquisition last summer of HIE vendor Axolotl Corp. increased interest in the payer community to exchange data with physicians, Osberg notes. Ingenix is a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, whose holdings include one of the nation's largest health insurers.

More HIE vendor acquisitions could soon come because of a recognition that there's only a few really good assets in the HIE space, Osberg adds.

Medicity has a solid track record in the emerging HIE field, which appeals to Aetna as it seeks to diversify its services, says Michael Mytych, principal at Health Information Consulting LLC in Menomonee Falls, Wis.

As Aetna examines how accountable care organizations and comparative effectiveness research will change the industry, it needs the technology capability to better communicate with physicians. Medicity offers that capability, plus the knowledge of how providers communicate with each other, Mytych says. And that knowledge will give Aetna a greater understanding of how they can influence physician decision-making.

Asked if providers will have privacy concerns from insurers owning HIE vendors, Mytych sees Aetna and others being very careful to not scare away doctors from closer collaboration. "Aetna can't just go in there and look at provider data," he contends. "I don't think they'd be that stupid or that Medicity would let them."

Hopefully, he adds, the payer relationship won't hurt Medicity's business opportunities.

--Joseph Goedert

 

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