Children's hospitals partner with community providers to coordinate care

Consolidation within the healthcare industry made headlines last year and promises to be a hot topic in 2016 as well, particularly as pediatric healthcare providers consolidate to improve care coordination, according to the CEO of a major children's hospital.

Throughout the country, pediatric facilities are embracing consolidation, Christopher Dawes (pictured), president and CEO of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, told FierceHealthcare in an exclusive interview. For example, he said, some larger freestanding children's facilities "are beginning to get bigger because they're either acquiring smaller children's hospitals or creating their own campuses in separate regions."

Stanford Children's Health, for its part, has entered joint ventures with two community-based health systems in the area, Sutter Health's California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and John Muir Health in Walnut Creek to expand pediatric specialty services in their respective communities. The network is also expanding access in the Northern California area with pediatric specialty centers in Emeryville, Capitola, Los Gatos, Fremont, Palo Alto and the newest specialty services center in Sunnyvale, which opens in May.

As a result, Dawes said, "this has created a network that cares for over 500,000 patient visits a year, and has also driven a significant increase in inpatient care." Indeed, Stanford Children's Health's outpatient pediatric activity has tripled while inpatient pediatric activity has also grown considerably, he said.

The partnerships, Dawes explained, allow community hospitals to provide pediatric services within their communities. Part of the success of such ventures, he said, has been meticulous attention to cultural alignment between parties when such consolidation occurs. For example, "we hired a medical director who understands our community-based practice," he said. The Lucile Packard approach to consolidation has been to "come alongside" new partners rather than taking over for them, Dawes explained. "We don't come in and say "okay, everything's gonna change now'. We do everything we can to make sure they still are driving the bus."

Going forward, Dawes said, one of the most important aspects of consolidation to keep in mind is "you have to create a health delivery system on where the system is going, not where it is today." The nature of healthcare delivery is shifting in real time, he said, and leaders who fail to plan ahead do so at their peril.

In the meantime, Dawes and other healthcare leaders are lobbying for the Advancing Care for Exceptional Kids Act, bipartisan legislation that would improve care delivery and coordination for Medicaid pediatric patients with complex conditions. An increase in such patients has led numerous hospitals to dedicate specific clinics to their care, many of which operate at a loss, FierceHealthcare previously reported.