Common goals are a key to success for any business venture. But for a merger, negotiating common goals and how best to achieve them is especially critical. I saw this again in the case of the Great Lakes Health Connect (GLHC) — a very recent merger of two major Michigan substate HIEs: Great Lakes Health Information Exchange (GLHIE) and Michigan Health Connect (MHC).
Michigan has had multiple sub-state HIEs organized by regional markets. While this was a conscious strategy several years ago, many health care leaders had come to question it over time. However, the obstacles seemed too difficult to overcome, and inertia prevented change. So the two major HIEs grew and became stronger and more competitive. Provider organizations in some regions were torn between the two and faced limits in the data they could access. Other organizations sat on the sidelines waiting for one to prevail.
Last summer, a few of us decided it was time to act. We wrote a Memo of Understanding (MOU) that was approved by our respective boards and we formed a joint oversight steering committee.
We met regularly for months over the winter. I had some white knuckle drives through winter storms to Lansing where we met. I go to a lot of meetings, but I can say that even with the hour drive to and from Lansing, the meetings of our joint oversight committee proved to be some of the most productive and focused meetings I’ve been in. Our goal was increased collaboration as we exercised due diligence on whether we should merge.
What do mergers have in common?
- First, we needed to agree on common goals. We are all committed to improving health outcomes and health care value for patients, providers, organizations and the communities we serve. Intuitively we all knew we could do this better and more efficiently as a combined organization.
- We had to determine the right business model, services and functions we’d provide. We shared many similarities and some differences so we needed to agree on what the combined whole would look like.
- We had to select a vendor platform, a critical decision that involved a wider group of constituents. We all had made investments in interfacing with the platform of our respective HIE. And when it comes to technology, side-by-side comparison is required.
- We had to agree on who would lead the new organization. We were fortunate that the executive directors of each of the HIEs had worked very collaboratively and effectively throughout the due diligence phase of our work.
- Other key areas needing decisions were staffing, organization structure, HR and legal issues.
- And finally, we had to confront the important issue of the cost of the merger. Were we going to see cost efficiencies in the long run? Could we ensure that member organizations weren’t investing a second time in interfaces?
Why are mergers so difficult? It comes down to give and take, negotiation and focus on the common goals.
The joint oversight steering committee believed that we had worked through all the issues and done what’s right for the provider organizations we serve, and our patients. Our merger plan was approved unanimously in May by both the MHC and GLHIE boards.
As of July 1st, Great Lakes Health Connect is the new merged Health Information Exchange, including 80 percent of the state’s total licensed beds, 120 member hospitals, 20,000 physicians, 3,000 clinics and offices.
Now the real work begins. There is plenty of transition work ahead but we’re poised for success.
I have served on the GLHIE board for the past year and a half. I’m honored to have been elected to the new GLHC board. Over the next year, I will share our experience and lessons on this great step forward as Great Lakes Health Connect evolves.