Shumlin decries VITL media campaign

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin is criticizing a decision by Vermont Information Technology Leaders to purchase advertising time during this year’s Super Bowl, saying the money could be better spent on improving care for Vermonters.

VITL, a nonprofit organization that looks to advance health care reform through information technology, has been designated by the state to operate the Vermont Health Information Exchange. It is not, however, a part of state government, and has its own board of directors and staff. The group is largely funded through grants.

VITL helps health care providers adopt and use IT systems, with the goal of improving the quality of care delivered and boosting patient safety while reducing costs.

According to VITL, allowing providers to exchange health information means they have the ability to see a more comprehensive, accurate and current medical histories of patients. That means better care by avoiding duplicate tests and errors in prescribing medicines.

“Many Vermonters joined me in being disappointed that state and federal funds were being used for an advertising buy during the Super Bowl. This should highlight the need for the Green Mountain Care Board to regulated VITL’s expenditures,” Shumlin said Sunday.

Gov. Peter Shumlin proposed in his budget address last month that VITL and the health information exchange it operates be put under the authority of the Green Mountain Care Board, which regulates health care in Vermont. That would mean the GMCB would have oversight of VITL’s budget.

Gov. Peter Shumlin

Gov. Peter Shumlin

The organization recently announced an awareness campaign to boost its exposure. A public survey the group conducted revealed that Vermonters have a high level of awareness of electronic medical records but a much lower awareness of VITL.

VTDigger reported last week that VITL spent $13,000 of a $30,000 ad buy for a commercial to air on local affiliates during the Super Bowl. According to the VTDigger report, that is part of the $195,000 marketing campaign the group has planned.

Shumlin said VITL should be working with health care providers to boost participation in the Vermont Health Information Exchange, not appealing directly to patients.

“VITL’s doing great work and they’re helping electronic records contain health care costs, but the providers using the service should be educated to encourage their patients to sign consent forms. The notion that you go direct to the patients seems misguided. It just seems like an inappropriate expenditure of $200,000,” he said.

The governor said he believes his feelings have been conveyed to VITL officials, who could not be reached for comment on Sunday. And he hopes lawmakers will also see this as a reason to bring VITL under the GMCB’s authority.

“I’m sure that they’ve heard about my disappointment. I think that the answer is that the Green Mountain Care Board does a great job of regulating costs and asking tough questions about debatable expenditures. Let’s make sure that the Green Mountain Care Board has the same authority over VITL,” Shumlin said.

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