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DHMC Boosts Care, Cuts Costs

Lebanon — Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center is among the minority of health care providers in a nationwide pilot program that managed to improve the quality of care while lowering the cost of delivering it, according to first-year results .

The Pioneer Accountable Care Organization program, which was developed at Dartmouth College and adopted into the Affordable Care Act in 2010, aims to encourage doctors and hospitals to lower costs while maintaining high-quality care, as measured by 33 benchmarks established by Medicare. In return, the savings are rewarded through a financial arrangement with Medicare.

All 32 ACO health care providers — DHMC being one of them — improved patient care on quality measures, according to data released Tuesday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but only 13 produced shared savings with the CMC.

“It’s really exciting for us,” said Barbara Walters, executive medical director at DHMC.

After one year, Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s aggregate savings was $1.7 million, according to a DHMC press release. Under the shared savings arrangement, DHMC will receive a little over $1 million.

Not all that participated experienced the same success. Although providers have three years to achieve the program goals, seven providers that did not produce savings notified the CMS that they intend to move on to a different model. Two providers shouldered losses, about $4 million between them. And another two indicated their intent to leave the pilot program, according to the data released Tuesday.

Walters said a combination of preventive needs, services and personalized data and patient follow-ups factored into DHMC’s first-year success, but she added that it’s too early to definitively determine where the savings came from.

The savings will give DHMC the ability “to hire more great health care providers,” she said, as well the ability to reinvest in data-support systems that keep track of patient information.

Walters said she believes the medical providers that intend to leave the ACO program were committed to the cause of preventive care and reduced-hospitalization time. They just hadn’t found “a model that works yet in their internal market,” she said.

Over the next two years of the program, Walters said DHMC will further collaborate with New London Hospital and draw the maximum utility from available resources.

Bruce King, CEO of New London Hospital, said this pioneer program represents the future of health care, and wasn’t daunted by Tuesday’s mixed results.

His hospital, which joined DHMC in late January in the ACO model, is only a few months into the program and wants to learn as much as possible from other participating institutions.

Down the road, King said he envisions New London Hospital “building more of a medical home, more of a team model.”

“As we get more data and experience, we will be able to see more of how we did,” he said. “What we’re going to do is utilize the good experience from Dartmouth.”

Zack Peterson can be reached at 603-727-3211 or zpeterson@vnews.com.