By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — AboutHealth announced via press release Tuesday the addition of Marshfield Clinic Health System (MCHS) to its network of now eight health care providers. The other providers already a part of AboutHealth are Aspirus, Aurora Health Care, Bellin Health, Gundersen Health System, ProHealth Care, ThedaCare, and UW Health.
Jerard Jensen, general counsel for MCHS, described AboutHealth as a clinically integrated “system of systems.”
“A clinically integrated system is a group of providers, which attempt to improve the value proposition, deliver a high or higher quality care at a lower cost, and they do that by collaborative efforts, sharing data, proven protocols, and process, which improve efficiency across the board,” Jensen said. He added that the AboutHealth members would share best practices and together learn from each other in order to provide the best care possible.
“Data sharing can produce lower costs, maybe not directly but by pointing the parties in the right direction,” Jensen said, citing MCHS’ finding — via a survey conducted by the Wisconsin Medical Society — that improving preventative dental care correlates to reduced emergency room admissions. This is an example of the type of information that could be shared among the AboutHealth group, the idea being that one party’s knowledge could strengthen all parties.
Clinical integration, Jensen said, will foster relationships among insurance companies, medical facilities, and care providers or physicians, and those relationships are designed to develop opportunities to lower cost and improve quality of care for patients and improve the overall health of the population.
“The combination of insurance, physicians, and facilities/hospitals can be combined in ways which can reduce the overall cost,” Jensen said. “With collaboration among the three pillars of the equation, you have a much better chance of achieving the total savings, which are then realized by the insurance company and passed onto the patient in the form of reduced premiums.”
Jensen said that he expected aggregated research data would be shared among AboutHealth member organizations but not personal medical records of patients. He added that it was likely AboutHealth would work with insurance companies to offer products that would include all AboutHealth providers in their provider networks. Then individuals who purchase those products could get service throughout the statewide AboutHealth system, in effect creating a “super system.” He added that this would also be attractive to employers with employees in multiple locations throughout the state.
Tuesday’s press release from AboutHealth said, “The system provides access to care for about 94 percent of Wisconsin’s population and serves patients in neighboring Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota.”
Jensen said that MCHS may sacrifice some autonomy by joining AboutHealth at least in certain situations.
“To some degree all the members lose some measure of autonomy to the extent that AboutHealth would decide to go into a particular program or product because the members would have to commit their providers to participate in that product. However, the members are the people who select the products, the programs that AboutHealth will engage in,” Jensen said. “In one sense, yes, there’s a small loss of autonomy. In another sense it really isn’t because the members are actually selecting the products that they are all going to commit their providers to participate in.”
Jensen said that MCHS is still a competitor with the AboutHealth members with which it shares territory but that the members are also all colleagues.
“It’s not about the competition. It’s about the collaboration,” Jensen said. “We’re all trying to be better at what we do, and we can all help each other be better.” He added that the members of AboutHealth could compete and collaborate at the same time, and while the members may compete, the partnership could also make all of the parties stronger.
“This is not a moratorium on competition. Competition will continue. It’s an opportunity to collaborate on another level above the place where we compete,” Jensen said.