Though Montana is the fourth largest state in square miles, its population of 1 million is about the same as Rhode Island’s. While the immediate benefit of a health information exchange—faster and more complete data flying among providers--is obvious for such a far-flung population, the state has its eye on even bigger things.

HealthShare Montana, the state health information exchange, expects to have almost 30 organizations interfaced to its system by June, and may eventually carry information on almost everyone in the state. At HIMSS, Executive Director Brad Putnam will talk not only about the logistics of that task, but about what HealthShare Montana is planning to do with the data besides expediting its exchange.

Montana wanted an HIE that was voluntary for both providers and patients, as well as financially self-sustaining.  “If you don’t have a legislatively forced model, you have to create value or you’ll get zero participation,” Putnam says.  

HealthShare Montana will use an open source platform called i2b2 (short for “Informatics for Integrating Biology and the Bedside) developed at Partners Health Care in Boston under a grant from the National Institutes of Health. Putnam says the platform will allow the organization to manipulate large sets of de-identified data and layer it with other sources—for example, census, grocery store purchase data, or EPA information on toxic waste cleanup sites. Putnam says the platform will make it possible to identify factors that make one person healthier than another, and to flag anomalies for further investigation.

“For doctors, being able to see outcomes across a large patient base will be a huge advance,” says Putnam. “They usually have a gut feeling, but it doesn’t always turn into reality.”

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana is bolstering the financial benefit of the HIE by offering medical-home incentive payments for taking care of patients in certain risk categories and measurably improving their health. Putnam says that as providers come on board the HIE, they’ll be able to easily identify the patients who qualify for medical home and other incentive payments, and also to track their progress.

Education session #143, “Converting Data into Actionable Information,” is scheduled for 9:45 a.m. on March 6.

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