Health care is entering a second curve, panelists say

The health care industry is in a transition phase, moving from simply caring for people when they’re sick to keeping them well.

A panel of local and state health care experts at the Southern Colorado Economic Forum this morning said the industry was entering what it calls “curve two,” a different way to deliver care.

“It’s the way health care has to go,” said Rulon Stacey, president of the University of Colorado Health and CEO at Poudre Valley Health System, new partners for Memorial Health System. “We’re moving toward lower costs, driving variation out by focusing on best practices and sharing data.”

New reimbursement pilots mean that doctors and hospitals will need to collaborate to keep patients well, and will get rewarded for doing so. It’s a move away from fee-for-service, which Penrose-St. Francis Health Services CEO Margaret Sabin said was a good thing.

She pointed to an experiment at Penrose, which self-funds its own insurance plan. The hospital spent a little more on premiums, and started a wellness component.  Claims fell from the hospital’s 2,800 staff members.

“Here’s the real story,” she said. “Short term disability costs were down 26 percent. Workers’ compensation claims were down, and productivity was up. We saved $1.6 million.”

But health care is also about creating a culture, and Army Col. John McGrath,  head of the Evans Army Medical Center at Fort Carson. He said military health care was also taking on a wellness approach.

The Army has started medical homes, with patients seeing the same doctor every time. They’ve also opened clinics in the community to ease overcrowding and care access for civilian providers. And they’re working on clinics for chronic disease management that also include fitness components, he said.

“I know people don’t think the Army cares about costs,” he said. “But we do. We’re as concerned about it as anyone.”

The new direction could mean more money and economic development opportunities, said Charlie Sweet, executive director of strategic planning and initiatives at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

That’s because the Memorial Health System – UCH lease agreement not only includes a branch medical campus at UCCS, it also includes a component to enhance opportunities for clinical research at the University.

“We’re not a research university, but we do have research going on at UCCS,” he said. “And now the relationship gives us the ability to engage and grow that research. It will give us access to patients and allow people here to apply to research programs.”

The branch medical campus has been on UCCS’s wish list for years – and will be a reality in a matter of just a few years. The campus needs approval from the Joint Commission first.

But once it gets started, 24 third- and fourth-year students will be going to clinical rounds in Colorado Springs and the surrounding community,

“We’ll even have students as far away as Pueblo,”  he said. “We’ll have administrative offices and classes at the Lane Center for Health, but the students will be out in the community.”

The goal, the panel said, is to turn health care into an exported product.

“If you can bring people in from outside the community, then you’re exporting health care the same way you export a widget,” said Stacey. “And it becomes an economic driver. In Fort Collins, Poudre Valley gets about 40 percent of its patients from outside the region. Memorial gets 18 percent. There’s growth there.”

And there’s room for friendly competition too.

“When Memorial gets stronger, the community gets stronger,” Sabin said. “One of the things that has concerned me is people leaving the city to get health care somewhere else. If we have two strong hospitals in the community, two options, then we can get people to buy local. And that will equate to stronger economy in the city.”