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August 22, 2014 at 12:14 PM

Group Health to team with Swedish, end partnership with Virginia Mason

After two decades of partnership with Virginia Mason Medical Center, Group Health says it plans to send its HMO patients to Swedish Medical Center.

The 10-year arrangement, announced Friday but not quite finalized, will send maternity patients now seen at Group Health’s Capitol Hill location to Swedish beginning next spring, and other hospital patients to Swedish’s First Hill and Cherry Hill campuses beginning in February 2016.

Group Health patients will be cared for by Group Health’s physicians at Swedish. Dr. Steve Tarnoff, Group Health Physicians president and chief medical executive, said doctors at Group Health have a long history of successfully working side-by-side with doctors at major hospitals throughout the state.

Group Health President and CEO Scott Armstrong said the decision followed a 10-month process that looked at cost, patient experience and quality of service. It also considered the cultural fit of the two systems to be a good match, despite differences.

“Our health-care industry has to change, and there are big, hard decisions that individuals who are leaders have to make,” Armstrong said. The arrangement affects about 60,000 Group Health HMO patients and 120 Group Health doctors who now see hospital patients at Virginia Mason.

Virginia Mason considers itself a leader in cost and quality, but doesn’t have maternity services. Armstrong said the relationship with Swedish will consolidate Group Health’s adult inpatient services for Seattle-area members in one hospital system, which the co-op’s leaders believe will be more efficient and reap economic rewards. In addition, Swedish and Group Health use the same electronic medical-records systems, although that issue wasn’t a major factor, said Dawn Loeliger, Group Health’s executive vice president for strategic planning and deployment.

Tarnoff said Group Health patients’ access to services, including voluntary termination of pregnancy, “death with dignity” services and access for gays and lesbians, will not be compromised by Swedish’s connection to Providence Health & Services, a Catholic health-care system.

In making the decision to go with Swedish, Group Health also evaluated proposals from Virginia Mason and the University of Washington.

Group Health cooperative, an HMO, doesn’t use the fee-for-service model common at Swedish. But Tarnoff said the “culture of Swedish is changing, as well.”

June Altaras, chief operating officer for Swedish Seattle, which includes the First Hill and Cherry Hill campuses, said the two systems, in working on the agreement, have found “a lot of similarities in our cultures.”

“All health-care organizations have the same challenges — delivering that triple aim: the best quality possible, access, and affordability,” she said.

Particularly in maternity care, she said, she expects the two systems to learn from one another, with Group Health’s family-based approach on one end and Swedish’s experience with high-risk cases and high-tech on the other. “That’s the best of all worlds for our community,” said Altaras.

Comments | More in General news | Topics: fee-for-service, Group Health, June Altaras

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