ACA prompts groundbreaking, unlikely healthcare partnerships

An unlikely partnership helps two Seattle healthcare facilities offer treatment after hours.

Swedish Medical Center Foundation put down the start up money for Country Doctor Community Health Centers to open a weekend and after-hours clinic for patients who previously went to the emergency room for nonemergent care--right next to Medical Center's Cherry Hill hospital, the Seattle Times reported.

The Swedish Foundation provided $200,000 to start the clinic, and leases the building to Country Doctor for $1 a year, while the clinic provides its own staff--a partnership which other organizations may want to consider in the wake of healthcare reform. 

As the Affordable Care Act pushes hospitals to focus on value, not volume, both Swedish, which now can offer nonemergent after-hours alternatives for patients, and Country Doctor, which can afford to take part because more people now have health insurance, benefit financially from the partnership, according to the article.

"Before the ACA, hospitals were kind of silos and the alternative providers were silos," says Howard Springer, Swedish's administrative director for accountable care services, but now both parties have incentives to collaborate with one another.

Country Doctor facilities focus on primary care and low-income patients on Medicaid or without insurance, and can better help those patients, while Swedish can focus more on inpatient and specialty care, and make room in the emergency department for patients in need of immediate care.

Medicaid expansion means more after-hours clinic patients will have insurance and the Medicaid reimbursements will keep the clinic running. However, federal regulations prevent Swedish ER staff from referring non-emergent patients directly to Country Doctor next door. But the hospital does plan to promote the clinic in the neighborhood so the next time patients need non-emergent care they might try it.

"We're trying to change it with this--this was intentional," Springer told the Times. "This is a kind of trust walk. There is no reason for us to be competitors. There is every reason for us to be partners."

Collaborations between hospitals and urgent care centers are catching on. Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, a multispeciality healthcare organization based in Burlington, Mass., decided to forego the expense of creating its own urgent care facility and instead collaborated with CareWell Urgent Care, FierceHealthcare previously reported. The new partnership, which launched in January, allows Lahey patients access to medical care at a lower cost and frees up the hospital's emergency care staff to focus on critically-ill patients.

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