Howard Schapiro, MD, is chief clinical integration officer at the UVM Medical Center Partners.

Howard Schapiro, MD, is chief clinical integration officer at the UVM Medical Center Partners.

Soon, the four hospitals that make up the UVM Medical Center Partners – the University of Vermont Medical Center, Central Vermont Medical Center, CVPH Medical Center and Elizabethtown Hospital – will change their names to reflect their partnership in the also-renamed University of Vermont Health Network. Why is this important, or even necessary? It matters because this change marks a significant step in the evolution of health care delivery in Vermont and northern New York.

Health care in this country is in the midst of a period of tremendous change – changes in how patients pay for care, how insurance companies cover those costs, how government reimburses providers and hospitals, and how those providers charge you for their services. Those of us in the provider side of this loop have been charged with doing everything smarter, better and at a lower cost. The goal of our health care partnership – four separate organizations that have joined together – is to answer this challenge in a way that offers all patients in our region access to the best elements of both academically driven and community-based health care. That focus on consistent high quality and accessibility across all parts of our network is at the heart of all our work.

We are addressing this challenge by integrating many of the elements of our hospitals. Integration can be as simple as having departments at each institution band together in a “strength-in-numbers” strategy to reduce how much we pay for equipment, services and supplies. We have been using this strategy for the last couple of years, and it has saved our network millions of dollars.

Integration can also be as complicated as deciding what medical services are offered where, and by whom. This process is called clinical integration, and we began this work last year by integrating cardiology services and physicians in the northern New York and Burlington areas. Before we look at services in other parts of the network, however, we are bringing together doctors and administrators from all four hospitals to create rules for how this work will proceed. This huge undertaking gives those in our organizations who will be most affected by these changes a voice in how changes will be made. These workgroups are talking not just about where services and clinicians will be located, but how physicians will work together, how resources will be made available, how the health care providers we employ will be recruited and retained, and how we can harness the power of the teaching and research mission at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM to benefit the entire network. This is critically important work, and I am honored to be leading it along with Dr. Claude Deschamps, who leads the physician practice at the UVM Medical Center.

Coordinating the operations of four separate organizations – each with different processes, cultures, services, focuses and personnel – is a daunting task. But more important is the mission we all share: to provide outstanding health care to the people of our region, and to do it for a reasonable cost as close as possible to where our patients live.

Changing our names lets you know that we are working on this mission as collaborators, not competitors. It tells you that the best possible care, shaped by the latest research and clinical advancements, is available to people in all our communities. It indicates that our mission includes the incredibly important work of educating the next generation of health care providers, both in the classroom and the clinic. Finally, it represents our commitment to bring both heart and science to be the best we can be, whenever and wherever you need us.

Howard Schapiro, MD, is chief clinical integration officer at the UVM Medical Center Partners, soon to be the University of Vermont Health Network.  

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