Oak Street Health, Interwell Health launch joint venture to offer primary care in dialysis centers

Oak Street Health is extending its reach into dialysis care through a new joint venture with kidney care management company Interwell Health.

The new venture, called OakWell, will offer primary care to end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) patients directly in the dialysis center.  

Oak Street Health is a Medicare-focused primary care provider that operates 170 centers across 21 states and could soon be under the umbrella of CVS Health. The pharmacy retail giant announced in February plans to buy Oak Street for $10.6 billion, pushing the company's healthcare ambitions into primary care.

The two companies say the approach of offering ESKD patients coordinated care from a primary care team and nephrologists all in one place aims to reduce hospitalizations, increase kidney transplantations and improve outcomes to lower the total cost of care.

“There is a significant opportunity to leverage the time spent by dialysis patients in-center to improve their overall quality of life,” said David Buchanan, M.D., Oak Street Health's chief clinical officer, in a press release. “Receiving personalized, preventive primary care from expert care teams can positively impact patient health. We are thrilled to launch this innovative joint venture to remove barriers to comprehensive care for people living with kidney failure.”

OakWell will initially begin offering care services in Chicago, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth dialysis centers in the third quarter of 2023.

When a patient receives in-center dialysis treatment, they spend around 12 hours each week in a dialysis center, often making it difficult to attend primary care and other healthcare appointments. Dialysis patients often have other complex chronic conditions and would benefit from preventive primary care, executives said.

Last year, Interwell Health completed a three-way merger with Fresenius Health Partners and Cricket Health to form a new value-based care company focused on services for the earlier stages of kidney disease. 

The merger combined the expertise in value-based kidney care contracting of Fresenius Health Partners, a division of Fresenius Medical Care North America, InterWell Health’s network of more than 1,600 nephrologists and startup Cricket Health’s technology-enabled care model and patient engagement platform. Fresenius Medical Care is the world's largest operator of dialysis centers.

The independent new company, valued at $2.4 billion, now operates under the Interwell Health brand. 

At the time of the merger, Interwell Health executives said the company aims to set the standard in value-based kidney care by partnering with a patient's nephrologist, improving their care delivery throughout the entire spectrum of their journey with kidney disease.

People living with kidney disease have incredibly complex needs, said Robert Sepucha, CEO of Interwell Health, in a statement.

“We are uniquely positioned to support these patients and are making great strides through our physician partnerships and connectivity to dialysis centers. We know that value-based care only really works when we transform the whole system, which is why we're so excited to partner with Oak Street Health," Sepucha said.

With a dedicated care team, OakWell providers can closely manage patients' chronic conditions and help them avoid missed dialysis treatments, according to the companies. Care teams also can conduct video visits along with additional services such as behavioral health and renal pharmacy support will provide complete, wraparound care.