In the past several months, there’s been some wringing of hands and some pronouncements of glasses-half-empty concerning health reform and technology innovation.

For us glass-half-full types, here’s something to consider…

15,000 physicians in the state of Michigan began to electronically link up today. The new online service has been developed by Covisint, whose roots are in the automotive industry. Covisint’s client is the Michigan State Medical Society, which looks to the new MSMS Connect network to enable the state’s 15,000 doctors to do e-prescribing, secure messaging, and practice management online. You can learn more about the project here. Covisint is a subsidiary of Compuware.

The service will be live to all on January 1st and will be free to all practicing physicians in the state of Michigan.

While Covisint is developing similar projects in Minnesota and Tennessee, the project in Michigan is driven by physicians, for physicians.

The Michigan project is especially impressive given the fact that the state’s economy has had, arguably, the most dramatic downturn among the 50 United States. A direct impact of the state’s depressed economy is the loss of employer-based health insurance. Michigan ranks #1 in the number of people losing employer sponsored health insurance, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute issued on October 9. 2008.

According to EPI’s report, The Erosion of Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance, over 639,000 Michiganders lost their health insurance between 2001 and 2007. 561,000 Pennsylvanians lost insurance in the six-years, making the Keystone State #2 in employer-based insurance losses. Overall, over 2.7 million Americans lost their employer-sponsored insurance between 2001 and ’07 in 41 states.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: We Americans chose not to do health reform in the Clinton era, when the middle class was richer and more comfortable than we are today. Michigan’s physicians show us that we can innovate when we’re in a downturn. That state’s economy has been down much longer than most other states. The MSMS has taken the initiative of bringing electronic health transaction capabilities to mainstream, community physicians, even in the midst of economic slowdown.

The point — a view shared by both Barack Obama and John McCain — is that information technology must surely be part of re-imagining American health care. Good for Michigan for taking a big step toward realizing a statewide health information infrastructure. And good for Covisint for taking what it learned in the auto industry and transferring that knowledge to health care.

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