Mercy Health program’s focus on primary care saves millions

A Mercy Health effort to improve coordination of care saved the federal Medicare program over $15 million during 2014, according to the nonprofit hospital network.

Called Mercy Health Select, a group of about 1,400 health care providers, including Mercy Health and affiliated doctors, have invested in better electronic medical records systems and obtained certification for primary care locations. To date, Mercy Health has 115 certified patient-centered medical homes, which means those doctor offices use a team approach to managing care and promoting health and wellness.

Mercy Health has also hired about 90 nurse care coordinators to meet with patients, help set health care goals and follow-up with them on appointments and medicine regimens, said Dr. Brent Asplin, senior vice president and co-president of the Select group.

As a result, Mercy Health Select lowered the cost of care for about 64,000 Medicare patients last year in five markets such as Cincinnati, Springfield and Lima to the tune of about $15.4 million, Asplin said.

Total savings nationwide exceeded $411 million, according to U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“That’s great news for taxpayers and beneficiaries,” Asplin said.

He added that the amount of savings was high enough to rank Mercy Health in the top 10 out of 333 organizations participating in the federal program nationwide. Costs were not the only factor evaluated. Programs that had high care quality rankings as well as proof of lowering costs were also able to get some of the money back from the government too.

“We think by doing a better job of taking care of people in their chronic conditions outside the hospital, they’re going to have better outcomes, better experiences and their overall cost of health care is going is to be lower,” Asplin said.

Mercy Health Select was first started in 2012 and has expanded to now include approximately 70,000 patients of the government-backed health plan for older adults, according to the network.

Asplin, who has a second role as chief clinical officer for Mercy Health, credits the results to three key drivers: rethinking how primary care is delivered; looking at how care is delivered not only in hospital settings, but also after patients are released from the hospital; and better hand-offs and transitions between health care providers. Mercy Health also strived to reduce lengths of hospital stays, and unnecessary tests and procedures, for example, he said.

“Traditionally those are areas where we haven’t done a great job in health care,” he said.

Mercy Health Select, also known as an accountable care organization, is run by committees of doctors.

The local hospital program’s contract with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid ends this year, but Mercy Health has applied to participate again, Asplin said.

“Many of these ACOs are demonstrating that they can deliver a higher level of coordinated care that leads to healthier people and smarter spending,” said CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt in a written statement.

Cincinnati-based Mercy Health operates hospitals in Fairfield and Springfield. It is Ohio’s fourth largest employer overall of about 31,200 people, according to Ohio Development Services Agency.

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