UPMC Kicks Off Competitive HIE

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has kicked off a new HIE connecting its properties with other health systems in western Pennsylvania.  The project, which should bring together access to more than 7 million patient records, goes into direct competition with that being launched by major state health insurer Highmark Inc.

UPMC’s HIE, ClinicalConnect, brings together its facilities with clinicians at Butler Health System, Heritage Valley Health System, Altoona Regional Health System, Armstrong County Memorial Hospital, Excela Health, Jefferson Regional Medical Center, St. Claire Hospital and Washington Hospital. While reports don’t describe how ClinicalConnect is being funded, you’ve gotta believe the $9 billion UPMC is fronting a lot of cash.

This move sets up an interesting competitive situation on the state, a fairly unusual one given that it’s built around an HIE.

Right now, UPMC is the 2,000 pound gorilla of western PA. Meanwhile, $14.6 billion Highmark is one of the dominant health insurers in the state. And now they’re going head to head on the HIE front. Mean ol’ Highmark has publicly announced its intention to build a system with UPMC’s bitter rival West Penn Allegheny Health, and as part of its plans, expects to launch a statewide HIE that could conceivably bypass UPMC’s regional effort.

When asked by a reporter whether the two HIEs can work together, their spokespeople basically said “Humph!” and denied that anyone cared about competition.  Oh yeah, we definitely believe that.

What interests me about this hoo-haw is that it both organizations seem to see their HIE as critical to their delivery network development efforts. While it makes perfect sense, it hasn’t been a big theme in HIE discussions to date. (My sense is that most hospital CIOs have seen HIEs as plumbing rather than a value-add.)

Interesting stuff here. I’m eager to see what happens next.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • What are the two competing Pennsylvania HIEs for that would cause one to invest $9B in an HIE?

    1) they are competing to acquire and lock up more patient-level health data, the most valuable data commodity for sale
    2) they are competing to lock physicians and health professionals into their EHR systems/networks to acquire the health records of their patients; again because health data is the most valuable personal information in the Digital economy

    This “competition” in Pennsylvania clearly has little to do with anything patients might need or want, such as better care or coordinated care or the ability to control access to their most sensitive personal information.

    The only kind of data exchange that is legal and should be used for exchanging health data is direct exchange between two physicians or health professionals (or between a patient and a health professional) after a patient gives meaningful informed consent for their data to flow for treatment or research.

    The best model for data exchange is offered by the “Direct Project”. See: http://directproject.org/. It enables us to share our health information between two health professionals and email physicians. The Direct Project enables “participants to send authenticated, encrypted health information directly to known, trusted recipients over the Internet.”

    Patient Privacy Rights (PPR) endorses the “Direct Project” as the ONLY legal, ethical, and secure way for sensitive patient information to be exchanged. The public will not trust HIEs or national data exchange models unless patients control the disclosures of their sensitive health records.

  • There is a bit more to this story. The real issue is that Highmark is purchasing rival network West Penn Allegheny Health. When news of the purchase came out about a year or so ago, UPMC threatened to cancel its contract with Highmark that was set to expire June 30, 2012. UPMC has been working on its own HIE for quite a while (longer than Highmark), and the HIE just became another rivalry between UPMC and Highmark. It is very interesting that HIE is caught up in the middle of the fight over consolidation, it is definitely a new phenomena. For info about the issues between the organizations see http://pittsburgh.about.com/od/health/i/UPMC-vs-Highmark.htm.

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