Destination medicine is the natural next step for managed care giants like Intermountain, which has long-espoused that better care costs less, said Grauer.
The idea was conceived by Walmart, which in 2012 began contracting directly with six health centers for heart, spine and transplant procedures. Walmart employees aren't required to get procedures done at these centers, but if they do Walmart pays 100 percent of the costs, plus airfare and lodging for the patient and a family member.
Intermountain's program will work the same way. But instead of contracting directly with employers, the hospital chain will negotiate deals through a go-between, EdisonHealth, a company founded by the same man who established Walmart's program.
The Ohio-based company brings expertise in vetting and negotiating with top health centers. For a fee it also handles employee travel arrangements.
EdisonHealth this month named five "Medical Destinations of Excellence" for heart, spine and transplant surgeries, including: Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa.; Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Mo.; Oklahoma Heart Hospital in Oklahoma City; and Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.
"Employers are starting to recognize that they can't rely on just any provider to properly diagnose and treat these conditions. Often times inappropriate and unnecessary care is harming patients and adding costs," said the company's president Rick Chelko in a press release.
Intermountain is EdisonHealth's sole transplant provider.
Importing transplant patients from other states has a downside for Utahns who will face stiffer competition for the region's limited supply of organs. Donor organs are distributed through regional waiting lists.
But experts believe the impact will be relatively small.
Intermountain and the University of Utah already draw organ transplant patients from Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, where no hospitals are equipped to do the complicated procedures, said Alex McDonald at Intermountain Donor Services, the federally-designated organ procurement network for Utah.
And there are limits to how far patients can travel for transplant surgery, McDonald said. Heart and lung transplant patients, for example, have to live within an hour of their transplant center.
Intermountain has no way of predicting how many referrals it will get through EdisonHealth. The company is "in the beginning stages" of building a network of preferred providers and it could add other transplant centers, said Jess Gomez, an Intermountain spokesman.
But if one 10,000-person company were to send all its transplant patients to Intermountain, that would add three people to Utah's existing waiting list of 700, said McDonald. That's based on the current population-based transplant rate.
"It matters for those three patients, but I don't think it will greatly increase the transplants," he said.
Said Grauer, "We're certainly not going to circumvent any of the organ distribution rules; all this is subject to the availability of organs, of course. and we know there's a shortage but we're doing more and more with living donors."
Intermountain also will likely be doing more with destination medicine, exploring more direct-employer contracts, he said. "It's a growing trend as employers and insurers look for better ways to provide high quality care at a more affordable price."
Intermountain Healthcare's Transplant Program offers heart, kidney, liver, and pancreas transplants at Intermountain Medical Center and bone marrow transplantation, which is performed at LDS Hospital.
Data on Intermountain's wait times and survival rates can be found at the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients.
Donor? There's an app for that
A New York organization with a satellite office in Utah is planning to launch a new app for smartphones Wednesday that will give Utahns another way to register as organ donors. Read about it here.