The value and importance of partnerships in healthcare

By Dennis Knox

As healthcare continues to get more complex and as consumers continue to demand more accessibility, affordability and accountability, a new crop of joint ventures, partnerships, alliances and assorted affiliations have begun to dot the landscape and shift the center of gravity.  

The most headline-grabbing of these often involves entrepreneurs or venture-backed companies who are entering the healthcare space in record numbers as they see potential for profit in an industry that consumes more than 18 percent of the U.S. economy. National payers such as Aetna, CIGNA, United and Humana are grabbing headlines through new forms of vertical integrations that are disrupting the industry and redefining how healthcare is paid for and delivered in America.

But far away from the spotlight, local hospitals are heeding the call as well. New

partnerships and alliances are being formed in communities across the United States as hospitals turn to collaboration and innovation as a way to improve quality care, extend their brand and strengthen their organization’s strategic positioning. The best of these alliances create true value for their patients and make a meaningful impact in the market.

We know this firsthand. And we are thankful that we do.

In 2014 our hospital forged a clinical collaboration alliance with Oregon Health & Science University designed to elevate the delivery of health services in the region. OHSU is Oregon’s only academic health center whose operations include three campuses, adult and children’s hospitals, clinics across the state and state-of-the-art research facilities.

The affiliation between our two organizations is an outgrowth of several previous successful collaborations in cardiology and orthopedic care.. It is also an outgrowth of our longstanding belief that building partnerships with other healthcare organizations, community groups, civic leaders and local residents is the best way to understand and respond to the needs of our community, to continually upgrade the quality of life in the community, and to improve access to quality of care to all those we serve.  

Our alliance with OHSU is not a merger or acquisition, and Mid-Columbia Medical Center remains an independent hospital overseen by a local board of directors. But affiliating with OHSU as we have enables us to offer a more comprehensive range of primary and specialty care services. By filling gaps in specialty care with highly trained members of the medical and teaching staffs of OSHU, we have found a more cost-effective way to expand the availability of specialty and subspecialty care so our patients can stay close to home for care whenever possible.

This is all possible because in OHSU we found a like-minded organization and corps of physicians who believe, as we do, in empowering people to become partners in their health care and in the importance of professionalism, respect, dignity and confidentiality in all interpersonal relationships.

Today, all of the primary care providers at our hospital are part of OHSU. The expertise and resources they bring gives our patients local access to the breadth of specialists and other resources that might not typically be available in a community of our size. What’s more, as we embrace a new era of electronic health records, our alliance with OHSU ensures that patients who receive care both locally and at OHSU experience seamless treatment. And as we look to a future of telemedicine, our participation in the OHSU Telemedicine Network has enabled local physicians to easily connect with OHSU specialists in ways that speed the decision-making process and enhance the care for long-distance consultations in a number of areas including stroke, pediatrics and newborn patients.  As a result of this experience, we have now developed our own telemedicine program and are taking our specialty services to eastern Oregon and South Wasco County.

As the future unfolds, it is incumbent upon every hospital to chart its own future in ways that are consistent with its mission, help assure long-term sustainability and support positive change in local healthcare. For many hospitals, creative partnerships are the key to unlocking those doors and in building a healthy community, not just for today but for tomorrow.  

Dennis Knox is president and chief executive officer of Mid-Columbia Medical Center, a Planetree Patient-Centered Hospital in The Dalles, Oregon.

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