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Group Health, Providence announce collaboration

Health systems to use common electronic records platform

Group Health Cooperative’s team of family doctors and Providence Health Care’s array of specialists are joining together to form a medical model that will care for people from birth to the nursing home.

The two health systems call their collaboration an “innovative health care delivery system.”

Executives say the move is not a response to a similar organization being built by competitor Deaconess Medical Center and the Rockwood Clinic.

Although Group Health has long sent its patients to Providence hospitals, including Sacred Heart Medical Center, the agreement announced Thursday goes much further. Physicians from both groups will work as partners, working with common electronic medical records platforms and in-system referrals.

Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, chief executive of Providence, said the initiative will help both organizations adapt to health care reforms that require higher care standards at lower costs.

Hospitals and clinics have been bracing for such reforms. Across the country and in Spokane changing reimbursement schemes and uncertainties have led to a rush of clinic buyouts by larger hospital systems.

This new partnership is different. It is not a financial merger or acquisition, said James Hereford, executive vice president of Group Health’s group practice division. He said the Seattle-based health and insurance organization wanted to broaden services to its 65,000 patients in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

The partnership should cut some redundancy and excessive costs that are commonplace when patients bounce from doctor to specialist to hospital.

The agreement is still being developed.

While Group Health has its own specialists in the Puget Sound region, the organization does not have such a network in Spokane which leads to fragmented care, said Dr. Brad Pope, Group Health’s medical director for Eastern Washington.

Group Health has about 45 family doctors at work in five regional clinics. Providence employs about 135 specialists at its two big Spokane hospitals and one each in Colville and Chewelah.

Patients should notice few changes, said Dr. Tom Schaaf, assistant district medical director for Group Health’s Spokane region.

The alliance will not affect Group Health’s current operating agreement with Rockwood.


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