Anticipating the changes coming with health care reform, UK HealthCare and Norton Healthcare are joining forces, hoping to improve care — especially in the areas of cancer, heart disease, stroke, organ transplants, diabetes and medical training — across the state.
Although the two groups have been in talks for about 18 months, exactly how the partnership will work is not set, said Dr. Michael Karpf, UK executive vice president for health affairs.
The goal of the network, announced Monday, is to establish a broader range of services in response to health care reform, which is expected to dramatically increase the number of people receiving care and change the way providers are reimbursed, he said. According to statistics from Norton, nearly 475,000 Kentuckians will gain coverage under health care reform.
"Health care providers across the country have recognized that they must embrace collaborations that provide high-quality care while emphasizing efficiency and limiting unnecessary, costly duplication of services," Norton Healthcare president and CEO Stephen A. Williams and Karpf said in a joint news release.
Williams added that such cooperation is likely to become a national trend as health care reform rolls out after the first of the year. He said that he expects the University of Louisville to create a similar partnership, resulting in two major networks in Kentucky. U of L is in discussions with Jewish Hospital, St. Mary's HealthCare and Catholic Health Initiatives, said Gary Mans, spokesman for U of L Health Sciences Center.
Williams views the partnerships "as inclusive and not exclusive" and said that Norton would continue partnerships already established with U of L. He anticipates doctors affiliated with both schools working in Norton facilities.
The Norton/UK partnership will require evaluating how the two systems benefit most by working together, Karpf said. During the next six months, working groups will examine the best way to move forward.
Some changes seem obvious and will happen more quickly than others, Williams said. For example, the Norton system delivers about 9,000 babies a year in and around Louisville. But, Karpf said, Norton has no obstetrics training in Louisville. Establishing such training would be one of the first visible changes to come out of the partnership, Karpf said.
Ultimately, the partnership also would expand medical training in other areas, such as neuroscience, primary care and family practice. Norton and U of L have been at odds over neurosurgery training since Norton hired all nine of U of L's surgeons in 2009 and threatened the accreditation of the training program.
By working together, Norton and UK also can improve pediatric care, Karpf said. Cincinnati Children's Hospital is now "poaching" many of Kentucky's most complicated pediatric patients, he said. A joint effort could better compete for research money and the ability to attract top-notch specialists who follow those patients, he said.
UK will be able to tap into Norton's expertise in "accountable care," a key to health care reform. Under accountable care, doctors and hospitals serving Medicare patients get paid based on their ability to hold down overall costs and meet quality-of-care standards. Providers that don't meet those standards could see their Medicare reimbursement rates decrease.
Norton Healthcare was selected recently by the Brookings/Dartmouth University initiative as one of the nation's four pilot sites to develop an Accountable Care Organization. The Norton pilot will serve 10,000 patients.
"The system that we have now really pays for volume — how many times you are treated — rather than value and keeping you healthy," said Williams.
UK HealthCare includes UK Chandler Hospital, Kentucky Children's Hospital, UK Good Samaritan Hospital, Kentucky Clinic, Markey Cancer Center, 80 specialized clinics and 140 outreach programs.
Louisville-based Norton, a non-profit, includes Kosair Children's Hospital, Norton Hospital, Norton Brownsboro Hospital, Norton Audubon Hospital and Norton Suburban Hospital.
Together, the organizations have 16,900 employees serving patients at hundreds of locations throughout Kentucky and southern Indiana.