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September 14, 2005


AUGUSTA- Governor Baldacci joined members of the Dirigo Health Agency Board of Directors, the Maine Quality Forum Advisory Council, and other supporters to celebrate the two year anniversary of Dirigo Health Reform becoming law. At the State House ceremony, Dr. Robert McAfee, Chair of the Dirigo Health Agency Board of Directors, and Dr. Dennis Shubert, Director of the Maine Quality Forum also detailed a new quality initiative that furthers the goals of Dirigo Health Reform: to make Maine the healthiest state in the nation through improved access, quality and affordability of health care.

"Today marks a celebration," said the Governor. "Two years ago this week Dirigo Health Reform became law. Since that time, working together, we've seen remarkable success in moving toward our goal of achieving universal access to all Maine people, improving the quality of care delivered to all of us and reducing its costs."

The Governor outlined Dirigo Health Reform's success. DirigoChoice was launched with Anthem as a partner, and the program has grown statewide. The Governor noted, "8,100 people representing over 650 small businesses and 1,300 sole proprietors are proud DirigoChoice participants. Over 3,000 individuals and sole proprietors are on a waiting list that will be opened again for enrollment on January 1st DirigoChoice is working and improving access to health care in Maine."

Dirigo has made considerable strides toward bringing down health care cost growth for all. The Governor focused today on the efforts designed to build on hospitals' leadership to improve patient safety statewide with a new Maine Quality Forum program called the Safety Star Recognition Program.

"We all know that medical errors are a national crisis and Maine is not immune," said the Governor. "Hospital-based mistakes are the 8th leading cause of death in the United States. Last year, in Maine, 15 people died potentially avoidable deaths in our hospitals. Others were the victims of medical mistakes such as surgeries performed on the wrong area."

"Despite these cases, our hospitals have been leaders in working with State government to develop a mandatory reporting system so that when mistakes occur they are documented and we learn from them to improve practices in every hospital in Maine. I applaud the Maine Hospital Association in building safer institutions."

Dr. Dennis Shubert said, "We need to recognize those people and those systems that invest in patient safety. The Safety Star designation will identify hospitals that lead the way in patient safety to potential patients. The Maine Quality Forum, with insight from its Advisory Council and also hospital and nursing representatives, has identified 28 of those safe practices that are part of the Safety Star certification. We are particularly thankful to representatives from the Maine Hospital Association that have helped us tailor this effort to support their own ongoing efforts to improve patient safety within hospitals."

Hospitals that choose to seek Safety Star certification will apply to the Maine Quality Forum. Then, a team of professionals with expertise in health care quality and safety will verify compliance with Maine Quality Forum established thresholds for the 28 safe practices. Those organizations who achieve this award will have met or exceeded the thresholds established. Applications will be accepted this autumn and the first awards are anticipated in early 2006.

"Our final goal with the Safety Star Award is to alert Maine people to their role in improving their outcomes in the care they receive," said Dr. Shubert. "We are also encouraging the public to be active patients- ask questions, share information that your care giver may not know. Each patient knows their medical history best. Speak up about medications and treatments that have caused you a problem in the past. Most importantly, be an active participant in developing a treatment plan that you know will work for you. The message here is that you have a responsibility in your own care and that is to speak up and be an active patient."

Combining the Safety Star certification program with more engaged patients are crucial steps to achieving the best possible quality of care in Maine- a fundamental goal of Dirigo Health Reform.

November 2004

Maine Quality Forum Web Site Announced

(Augusta) The Maine Quality Forum (MQF) unveiled its web site today. The MQF web site marks a major step towards meeting the Governor's and Legislature's vision of improving the quality of health care through the Dirigo Health Reform Act. A primary thrust of the web site is making data available to the public that is specific to provider quality.

"The MQF web site is very important as we seek and achieve improved quality of care," said Dr. Dennis Shubert, Executive Director of the Maine Quality Forum. "The information we provide will help patients choose quality providers and learn of the best treatment options. It will also help providers stay on top of medical news and give their patients the best and most informed care."

The MQF web site includes data showing that health care quality and treatments vary geographically across the State. Variation, or differences, in frequency of treatments suggest that physicians do not agree on the best approach for treating a given condition. This may indicate that unnecessary surgery is putting patients at unnecessary risk. For instance, surgery to clear fatty deposits from blood vessels feeding the brain (carotid endarterectomy) occurs up to 176% more often in northern Aroostook County than expected. And, surgical fusion of the lower spine to treat chronic back pain occurs 124% more often in Lewiston than expected. These levels of variation are very unusual and demand further attention by the local medical communities.

"Thess data are not new to the provider community and the analysis techniques are widely accepted," said Dr. Shubert."We're presenting the data as a call to action for Maine communities to recognize these variations in care and seek explanations and corrective action if needed. Making this information public and useable is important because people with a specific condition need to feel confident in their treatment choices. They must understand alternatives and risks."

The MQF data also shows that in many Maine communities, potentially avoidable hospitalizations occur more often than is necessary.This may be due to poor access to preventive care, lack of insurance coverage, improper utilization of treatments requiring hospital stays, and to an inadequate emphasis on treating and preventing chronic diseases.Chronic diseases like heart and lung disease, cancer, and diabetes are largely preventable. Despite large numbers of potentially avoidable hospitalizations, research shows that only 60% of needed care is actually delivered.

"These circumstances suggest we are not providing our citizens with all the care they need," said Dr. Shubert. "Greater focus on chronic care and proper utilization are sure ways we can improve the quality of health care and the quality of life in Maine. The MQF web site is an important tool for raising awareness of the issues and promoting action."

The Maine Quality Forum is advised by a 17-member council consisting of provider, business, insurer and consumer representatives from around the State. MQF is a major initiative of the Dirigo Health Reform Act. Dirigo Health is a comprehensive reform of the State's health care system addressing costs, quality and access.

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