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SCL Health System: Picking the right accountable care partner

Posted May 02 2013 9:56am

by Richard Lopes

It's no secret that we must become more accountable for the care we provide patients for their healthcare dollar spend. It is exciting that as an industry, we are coming together to create new partnerships and ideas to accomplish these goals.

Last month, SCL Health System (SCLHS) announced the formation of a joint venture with Univita Health, an expert in home-based care management and delivery, that, when fully implemented, will deliver a high-value continuum of care for patients and extend our healing mission beyond the walls of our hospitals.

The current healthcare environment, especially as reform regulations are enacted, compels organizations to look beyond the fee-for-service model to pay for performance. But equally important to my organization was finding the right partner with not only the expertise in accountable care but also a company whose values align with our own stated mission.

Our partnership is unique in that, as a nonprofit faith-based organization, we have had very little experience partnering with highly innovative, privately held companies like Univita. And yet, what makes this partnership so valuable, especially for the patients we will ultimately serve, is that we are each able to bring our own strengths to bear--Univita's processes, protocols and expertise taking risk for patient populations with our high-quality, person-centered care.

We wanted to align with a partner committed to delivering better quality outcomes and patient care experiences while complementing our spiritual approach to healing in the communities we serve.

Very soon, certain acute care patients admitted to a Denver-area SCLHS hospital will receive this level of care from the time of admission through hospitalization and discharge and during their entire home-recovery process.

For example, upon admission to the hospital, SCLHS clinicians work alongside Univita's specially trained nurses to manage care and consult with the patient and his or her family. When the patient is discharged and returns home, a Univita specialist will visit, perform a comprehensive assessment and oversee all components of care to ensure recovery continues. Other components of our program will include home infusion delivery and the management of durable medical equipment.

Working together, we are able to prevent complications, unnecessary readmissions and remove excess costs from the system. For the patient, and their families or caregivers, they are able to focus on their healing in what's often the safest, most comfortable environment possible--their home. Too often in the business of healing, we lose sight of how important the patient experience can be in the recovery process. Added emphasis here will reap dividends for every stakeholder in the care continuum.

To ensure we found the right partner, we engaged in dialogue with Univita and invited the organization to our offices in Denver to participate in a significant amount of workshops and brainstorming sessions as we plotted exactly how we wanted to impact the home care market. They were committed partners from the outset, and that commitment made a potential joint venture much more appealing.

Soon, we began a planning process as if we already were partnering to deliver integrated care. This allowed both organizations an opportunity to get to know each other and highlighted exactly how our cultures and values aligned. The collaboration also afforded SCLHS time to get comfortable partnering with a for-profit organization and really understand how that would impact our own system.

Obviously, economic and regulatory factors will continue to drive a long-overdue market-wide transition to accountable care. Hospitals and health systems will continue to compete to deliver the best possible outcome at the lowest possible cost without sacrificing the patient care experience.

As players in the market come together to bring about new entities, it's important to maintain sight of your own identity and how ultimately that identity serves the patient and community. We are pleased to say that we have found such a partner and look forward to the greater service we will soon be able to provide, together.

Richard Lopes, M.D., is senior vice president of health networks at SCL Health System in Denver.

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