July 16, 2004

Center for Better Health tapped by Governor for TennCare project

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Mark Frisse, M.D.

Center for Better Health tapped by Governor for TennCare project

Gov. Phil Bredesen

Gov. Phil Bredesen

Gov. Phil Bredesen announced July 9 a new health care technology pilot project aimed at improving medical delivery to TennCare patients and reining in costs of the $10 billion service.

The project, eHealth Initiative, will be coordinated by the newly formed Regional Informatics Program, part of the Vanderbilt Center for Better Health.

Mark Frisse, M.D., has joined Vanderbilt to lead the program.

The pilot will start in Tennessee's southwest corner in Shelby, Tipton and Fayette counties; 18 percent of TennCare enrollees live in Shelby County alone. The plan will build on Vanderbilt's experience with electronic medical records and computerized order entry systems.

It will enable every TennCare provider in that area —12 hospitals, clinics and public health offices — to access patient records, allowing participants to see specialists and each facility with seamless continuity. Economically, the savings lie in preventing duplicate diagnostic tests and eliminating drug prescribing errors.

Bredesen, speaking to a crowd of reporters at the FedEx Technology Center in Memphis, said he thinks eHealth Initiative can spread across the state.

"Technology is improving virtually every aspect of our daily lives. It's time we start making better use of it to improve patient care and to save money in our health care system."

At the press conference, Bredesen praised Vanderbilt's leadership in biomedical informatics, alluding to WizOrder, StarChart and StarPanel, computer-based record systems that Vanderbilt has built over the past several years.

"Vanderbilt has been unusually successful in using informatics tools to improve health care," said Bill Stead, M.D., associate vice chancellor for Informatics, responding to Bredesen's announcement. "This success stems from our combination of biomedical informatics research with joint clinical-informatics teams that collaborate to develop tools and optimize workflow. We now need to extend the benefits of this approach beyond Vanderbilt."

A first step toward that end happened in 2001, when WizOrder was licensed to McKesson, making the software program available to other institutions under the product name Horizon Expert Orders.

The second step, Stead said, establishes a group of regional informatics programs, based out of the Vanderbilt Center for Better Health. The self-supporting research team will bring Vanderbilt's architectural and process approaches to bear on projects like the pilot across the state and the nation.

"We expect to develop extensible models for improving the health care system," Stead said. "Over time, we hope the effort will make data about our patients from their other providers available to help our decisions and extend our 'rapid prototyping' lab beyond our walls."

Frisse will take the helm of the new program with informatics experience in academic and industry environs.

He most recently was a vice president with the healthcare technology company First Consulting Group's clinical transformation practice and before that was chief medical officer and vice president of clinical information services at Express Scripts.

He received medical and management degrees from Washington University, where he was also a professor and an associate dean, and a master's degree in medical computer science from Stanford. He is board certified in internal medicine.

As for eHealth Initiative, the nitty-gritty work began Frisse said, on July 9 when he joined state representatives and constituents from the tri-county project's "charter member" healthcare members. The group met with the governor before the public announcement.

"This project has the interest of the executives and clinicians throughout the region and the country. They perceive a need to address the important safety and quality issues that arise when patients seek care in multiple health care facilities. Interest is growing and both the region and the state have expressed a high degree of commitment to this project," Frisse said.

Bredesen has pledged $6 million to $10 million for the pilot project alone, and his office, with Vanderbilt's help, has applied for federal grants.

"I consider myself a very good investor," said the governor, who made his personal fortune as an HMO entrepreneur. "We've put $10 million into this, so I expect to get a lot out of it."