/ Modified apr 2, 2012 7:31 a.m.

TMC Joins Docs, Clinics in New Health Care Model

Treatment strategy will use electronic records to improve service, lower costs

Tucson Medical Center is part of a new network of more than 200 doctors, plus health centers such as El Rio and Marana Healthcare, which aims to reduce health care costs while improving care.

The new network, called Arizona Connected Care, is one of many "accountable care organizations" starting this month throughout the country. Banner Health, the state's largest private health care network based in Phoenix, is part of another such organization.

To reduce costs while improving healthcare for patients, all caregivers in Arizona Connected Care will use electronic records. TMC officials say that will help reduce redundancy in care.

Terry Allen sits on the board for the new organization, among several medical professionals. He says he will serve as the voice for patients.

Allen says he knows from experience that communication improves medical care and says he thinks electronic medical records will make a big difference.

"Once that's in place, I think you're going to have doctors, physicians, clinics, labs ... that can communicate better and access patents' records better than they can now," Allen says.

"Coordinating that care has amazing cost saving opportunities," TMC CEO Judy Rich says.

One example is in the emergency room.

"If somebody had something done in their doctor's office a week ago, and we see them in the emergency department a week later, if we knew what had been done a week ago and we can find it instantly, we might not have to do it again," she says.

That can lead to less aggressive treatment in some cases, and more preventive care, Rich says.

That's a plus for patients, and it may make a difference for doctors, too, says Dr. Jeffrey Selwyn, a primary care physician who is part of Arizona Connected Care.

"I can really spend more time with a patient about specific issues than I used to be able to do. And the reason I can do that is because I have a multidisciplinary team with me," Selwyn says. The team he speaks of comes from the information he will get from a patient's electronic medical records.

Patients whose doctors are part of Arizona Connected Care don't have to do anything to be a part of the network. They should receive a letter from their doctor explaining the new system, but patients can opt out of the program.

Another component of the cost-savings model is hiring nurses and health coaches, Rich says. They will closely monitor patients to ensure adherence to treatment and prescription plans, which reduces the chance of a patient's readmission to the hospital. Readmission is expensive, and preventable, Rich says.

The accountable care organization model, known as ACO for short, is promoted in the federal Affordable Care Act, which the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing. If the court overturns the health reform law, Rich says it will not prevent Arizona Connected Care from operating.

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