CHIME Fall Forum Interview Series: Doug Dietzman, Executive Director, Great Lakes Health Connect – Part 2

This is the 2nd part in a two-part interview. Read part 1 here.

Brian Sterud, CHCIO, FACHE

Doug Dietzman, Executive Director, Great Lakes Health Connect

There are two parts to the health information exchange value equation: how do you add to it, and how do you demonstrate that value? Doug Dietzman, Executive Director at Great Lakes Health Connect, knows this all too well. Leading Michigan’s largest HIE means listening to what providers and organizations need, and creating solutions they can easily integrate to create more connected communities. In this interview, Dietzman discusses how being a nonprofit has made GLHC more in tune with their consumers; why he welcomes the scrutiny that’s put on HIEs; and the unique approach GLHC takes to demonstrate the value of their services. Dietzman also touches on top of mind topics such as the recent hurricane disasters and how HIEs are a vital part of our emergency preparedness.

The establishment of patient identity needs to originate at registration within the provider organization, where care is being delivered.  It will always be more difficult and messy to fix it on the backend.

We need industry consensus around a single security certification process that will satisfy all healthcare participants. 

As a neutral community-focused organization, HIEs sit in the middle of the health plans, hospitals, primary care offices, public health, and all the other physical, behavioral and social service organizations involved in healthcare.  There are compelling reasons why and simple ways how these industry stakeholders can all work together to do the right thing for the people we all serve.

Campbell: I’m going to shift gears, to a topic that’s of interest to a large audience, and certainly has a lot of differing opinions and confusion around it: Patient Identification. What I’d like to get at is how that’s managed within the HIE today, what tools you might leverage, what ideas you have. Mike Gagnon, from Nevada HIE, spoke about some of the vendors he’s talked to about facial recognition, as that’s become more ubiquitous, and whether it’s on private industry to solve, or the responsibility of government. Keeping politics aside, I’m more interested in how it’s technically facilitated at Great Lakes Health Connect and some of the advanced things you’re doing in that regard. Could you touch on any patient matching issues that you may have, and how those are automatically or manually resolved?

Dietzman: I don’t know that we’re doing much that’s different from everyone else.  Medicity remains our virtual health record platform; the MPI that we’re using is through them as well. We don’t have resources dedicated to maintaining or fixing patient identity issues, as we don’t encounter a great deal of those issues on a daily basis. As such, from an administrative and use standpoint, what we’re hearing from our customers is it’s not a huge problem that’s getting in the way of what they need to do. There’s a lot of work we can do in the HIE that doesn’t even require an MPI to be involved in the first place. We do have an analytics environment where we’re doing some patient matching for those purposes, but overall, not a huge issue for us.

It’s interesting that some are trying to solve the problem on the backend. It seems to me that when we talk about patient identity, it needs to originate and start at the registration within the provider organization because that’s where the care is being delivered. If we’re trying to fix it on the backend, it’s always going to be more difficult and messy. In my mind, we’re giving the wrong people the wrong care, potentially, if the patient is misidentified. Palm scanners, facial recognition, and other biometric devices would be the easiest way to solve this. From a social standpoint, there may be some problems with that. We need to make sure we’re treating the right person at the point of care. If we’ve accurately captured it at that point, the backend reconciliation should be much more straightforward. As such, I don’t see this necessarily as an HIE problem.

Campbell: That’s a great perspective. Thank you for sharing. Switching topics again, SHIEC held an annual conference at the end of August, and I was curious of insights gleaned and takeaways from the event.

Dietzman: I’m on the board of SHIEC (Strategic Health Information Exchange Collaborative), and was recently re-elected to a second term, so I’ve been involved with the organization for a while. The conference itself was great. The conference was bigger than the year before. I was encouraged by the energy and the sharing of ideas. It wasn’t just about us getting together and drinking our own Kool-Aid. The ONC was there for all three days, and a number of vendors came to show their support, and have meaningful conversations with the group, which was great. I heard a lot of positive feedback on the quality of the content and conversations. I thought it was another good step forward for the organization. We’ll have some big expectations to fill next year down in Atlanta.

Campbell: That’s fantastic. What were the themes that dominated the event and what problems were tackled at this year’s conference?

Dietzman: Patient Centered Data Home (PCDH) was a big topic; specifically how PCDH can serve as a mechanism for how we can connect SHIEC Member HIE networks on a national level. This was important conversation for helping people understand how SHIEC Member organizations are demonstrating success within our regions. Another was a series of updates on how various organizations are doing things. For instance, Dan Chavez of San Diego Health Connect led a session on how his group is supporting emergency medical services, and how other HIEs can replicate their program. In the breakouts, there were a lot of topical presentations that gave provided ideas and helped us understand behavioral health use cases. Some of the folks from the Nebraska Health Information Initiative (NeHII) shared what they’re doing around prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) with controlled substances and medication databases. Exchanging ideas, collaborating, and being able to have meaningful conversations with industry peers is always helpful.

Campbell: Thank you for elaborating on that. Sounds like it was an invaluable event. I look forward to next year’s conference. That said, I always like to weave in practical stories of use cases where they’ve been impactful. I know you probably share those among staff to develop an understanding of the true impact of the HIE. If there’s one that comes to mind that you could share with us about how Great Lakes has made a difference in the lives of patients that would be great.

Dietzman: Let me give you two quick ones. We’ve been working with a community mental health organization here in Michigan, over towards Ann Arbor, and their use of our Virtual Integrated Patient Record (VIPR). We’ve been challenged with the consent laws and other legal frameworks to accept behavioral health data into our virtual health record. What we did in this case was to make sure their behavioral health care workers were provided with physical health information on their patients. There is no regulatory restriction there, and having access to that information informed their ability to care for the folks they were seeing in the CMH. The Director, Mike Harding, talked about one particular lab test that they would order on a regular basis for their patients. Once they gained access to the community health record, they could see the results of past testing, eliminating the need to run an additional panel. He estimated that their organization was able to eliminate about 200 tests a month because the necessary results were already in the record. This translated to a savings of $72,000 a year for them!

The other example is a center in Grand Rapids that works with a complex population; folks that have physical, behavioral, substance abuse, or other issues that drive frequent visits to the emergency room. We implemented the community health record with them as well. Their workflow and process was for the entire staff to meet as a team first thing in the morning, before patients started arriving. They could then review the records of everyone scheduled for that day to get a sense for each patient’s status and needs. On one occasion, a woman was scheduled for an appointment, and had requested a referral for a CT scan to help identify the cause of some head and neck pain she was experiencing. When they looked in her record, they realized that the previous week she had presented to all three emergency rooms in town on successive days, and had received CT scans during each visit! On one hand, this is not a great story. It highlights the work we have yet to do to inform different care settings and avoid unnecessary, redundant, and potentially dangerous treatments. But also, in this case it empowered those providers with the information they needed to intervene and quickly identify that there was something more going on with this patient. They were able to bring behavioral and social resources to bear on her behalf, and address the root cause of her complaint, rather than continuing to blindly treat the symptoms of her complaint.

These are just a couple of examples of how tools provided by the Health Information Exchange are being used to help people do things differently.

Campbell: Great, thank you for sharing those. Wrapping things up, I know earlier in the year you received a HITRUST distinction for security and privacy and that’s a topic that you take very seriously as an HIE. Could you touch on that topic, maybe conversations at SHIEC to that regard or any insights or points you want to make, regarding security and how that’s managed, and how you continue to evolve, as cyber threats manifest?

Dietzman: GLHC has a responsibility to be just as diligent about data security [if not more-so] as any of the large health systems that we work with. Gaining the HITRUST designation provided us with the assurance that we’re doing the right things where security is concerned. More importantly, this demonstrates to our participants that we can pass that highest level of scrutiny from an independent third party organization, considered the gold standard in this area. It doesn’t guarantee anything. As you said, the threat changes on a continual basis. But HITRUST shows we’re doing all we can to stay in front of those threats. One of the challenges, and some of the conversation that we’ve had within SHIEC and elsewhere, is the lack of a standard industry-wide security certification. There are some health plans, for example, that require HITRUST while others say HITRUST isn’t sufficient and require a different certification. HIEs are in a position, depending on their participants, to have to “check all the boxes” in order to be compliant. This is very expensive, and frankly not realistically possible. So, from an industry standpoint, I’d love to see some kind of coalescence around a particular security standard that we could all align behind. It’s not the security requirement that’s hard, they’re all essentially the same. Going through the process multiple times is a challenge. Having to do it six to eight times to get through all the different varieties is exhaustive.

Campbell: Certainly, there’s a lot of effort that’s involved in penetration testing, just to ensure you’re whole and don’t have any paths to exploitations. One topic that we didn’t touch on that I’d like to conclude with, is a little bit of bio about yourself, how you came to Great Lakes, your background, and how you got into healthcare IT.

Dietzman: Well, I got into it by happenstance. When I graduated, my dad was in retail and I went to work for a retailer for about a year, then I moved to another part of the country and got linked up with Anderson Consulting. When I showed up, I was a green rookie, and they said, ‘you know what, we need people that can breathe down at Aetna in their employee benefits division,’ and I qualified. I started working on some projects there, doing PowerPoint presentations as a young guy, and at some point the partner came up, after a little bit, and said, ‘you know what Aetna’s buying these things called HMOs down in Texas, we’re not sure what this managed care thing is, so go down, spend 30 days in the library and learn everything you can about managed care and all these terms that they’re throwing around and come educate the rest of the team so we can provide better service.’ And I did, and once I spent 30 days pouring through the details of the industry it kind of became my thing. I was hooked.

I spent most of my career, from that point, in managed care, mostly in health plans. I worked for a couple different health systems serving in different capacities: Project Management; IT; Management Consulting. I then worked with Spectrum Health, in Grand Rapids, MI, helping them develop connections to the providers in the community, delivering results and doing other things that they needed. A conversation started with other hospitals in town who were using the same technology about how we could do things better and collaborate around this clinical data exchange. They asked me to facilitate the conversation and then, once we decided to become a real entity and incorporate in 2010, they asked me to lead the effort and see if there was a business model and how the organization would go forward from there. It was just me, and so from 2010 forward it’s just been growing one person at a time, to try and solve problems, and figure out how we can build a model that will sustain itself. For me it was cool, I’d been in health plans, I’d been in hospitals, I’d been in primary care offices. It seemed to me that there was a way for all three legs of that stool to work together in a way that could advance healthcare outcomes. As an exchange, we get to sit in the middle and work with all the legs of the stool to figure out how we can share data and do the right thing for patients. It’s a great way to bring all of that experience together.

Campbell: That is so profound. Thank you for sharing. It’s always fascinating to learn of the turns and twists in someones career, and how that shapes, not only who they are, but the organizations that they lead.