Utah health leaders sharing ideas for cutting costs
Utah • Intermountain Healthcare, U. of U. sponsor seminars.
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Federal health reform has been criticized for doing little up-front to control health care costs.

But embedded in the law are new rules and financial incentives that are forcing industry leaders to imagine a health system that emphasizes quality over quantity — a day when providers are paid not for prescribing unnecessary tests and hospital stays, but for keeping you out of the hospital.

Touting successes on this front, both Intermountain Healthcare and the University of Utah are sponsoring seminars this week.

Publicly praised by President Obama as an "island of excellence" for producing exceptional clinical outcomes while keeping costs low, Intermountain — Utah's largest hospital chain — has received a steady stream of requests for site visits from other hospital chains.

To keep up with mounting demand, the nonprofit decided to accommodate them all at once, inviting nearly 200 industry leaders to a two-day conference that kicks off Thursday at the Zermatt Resort in Midway.

Attendees are paying up to $425 to learn Intermountain's secrets, what's worked and what hasn't.

"We'll focus on many case studies from our organization, and hope to have open discussion with our colleagues from around the nation and the world," said Charles Sorenson, Intermountain's president and CEO.

The organization's vertically integrated design — Intermountain is both the provider and payor through its insurance arm SelectHealth — makes it easier to coordinate a patient's care.

With diabetes patients, for example, the insurance side reminds patients to show up for tests, while inside the hospital a diabetes care manager coordinates appointments, making for seamless hand-offs between primary care doctors and specialists.

Behind the scenes, meanwhile, providers are encouraged to mine patient data for clues to clinical practices that produce the best outcomes.

"They are nationally if not internationally known for their evidenced-based medicine," said David Okabe, Chief Financial Officer of Hawaii Pacific Health.

With four hospitals and physician groups spanning 44 outpatient clinics, Hawaii Pacific is the largest health system in Hawaii, owning about a third of the market, said Okabe. Some of its staff have attended previous Intermountain seminars, but industry changes have the health organization now considering getting into the insurance business, Okabe said.

That might entail contracting with Intermountain, said Okabe, stressing, "It's really an exploration at this point. We want to know their capabilities."

Intermountain has no immediate plans for breaking into other states' insurance markets, said a spokesman Daron Cowley.

The U. meanwhile has invited a panel of experts on Thursday to talk about its research on medical homes, an approach that involves matching patients to a single provider who meets all their acute, chronic and preventive care needs. The event runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Health Sciences Education Building Alumni Hall, room 2120. It is free and open to the public.

kstewart@sltrib.com