With a booming population growing past seven million people, the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area sits just behind New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago on the list of the United States’ most populous cities. With another million expected to be living there in the next decade, it’s also one of the fastest-growing populations in the United States. Such a situation is bound to create healthcare issues, and Texas Health Resources—a faith-based, nonprofit healthcare delivery system that ranks as one of the largest in the country in terms of patients served—has faced its share of strategic operational challenges in the past few years.
But 2016 saw the formation of Southwestern Health Resources, a partnership between Texas Health and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UTSW). Aaron Bujnowski, senior VP of strategy and planning, is excited for the possibilities. “It’s really an astounding way to think about what we’ll be able to push forward,” he says. “We now stand together as one integrated clinical resource . . . from your basic-level community care all the way up to the highest level, transplant type of care that [Southwest] does in its hospital.”
The two organizations, which announced the partnership in October 2015 and officially launched it in April 2016, have formed a clinically integrated network of over 3,000 physicians for the metroplex. These physicians serve twenty-seven hospitals and 300 clinics across sixteen counties, with Texas Health contributing the majority of primary-care doctors and UTSW doing the same for specialists. “They are a tremendous healthcare jewel here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area,” Bujnowski says of UTSW, one of the largest medical schools in the country. “They were looking for an opportunity to expand what they do best, which is turn out incredible capabilities in cancer, neuroscience, gastroenterology, and physiatry.”
“It’s really an astounding way to think about what we’ll be able to push forward. We now stand together as one resource . . . from your basic-level community care all the way up to the highest level.”
UTSW cannot use any state dollars for clinical care, so the union is decidedly a partnership, rather than an acquisition or merger. There is a joint operating company that incorporates the Dallas-based hospitals, but each side keeps its assets. “So we are fully integrated, even though we are owned by individual organizations,” Bujnowski says.
What does “fully integrated” mean for Southwestern Health Resources? They aspire to be a national example of high-performing clinical integration, with superior outcomes that benefit an entire community. One important component—in fact, one of the first to take place once the partnership was official—was electronic alignment that moves data easily between the two systems. “We see tremendous value in being able to share data with our physicians,” Bujnowski says. “And on top of that, we’re working on the critical-care pathways to make sure those things are tied together as well.”
Perhaps more important, at least from the community’s side, is the physical alignment of the systems. Will someone walking into a Texas Health facility get a smooth transition to a UTSW specialist if that’s what is needed? “That’s part of the integration we’re doing right now,” Bujnowski says. “We’re laying out that clinical pathway.”
Along those same lines emerges what he says has been a central strategy from the start: how to develop true population health. Known for focusing on illness prevention so that treatment is ultimately unnecessary, the movement will be represented in Southwest Health Resources by way of a population-health-services company, as well as a population-health research center.
“I can really see that core of physicians, PAs, and others that will, with time, build that ability to truly care for populations,” Bujnowski says.
Alignment in a partnership as unique as this one must go even deeper to succeed. The differing bases of Texas Health and UTSW result in some expected variances. But as healthcare costs continue to rise at a rate three to four times higher than the consumer price index, consolidations abound on all sides of the industry.
As Bujnowski sees it, this integration is well positioned to create better care models that actually change the way people act, behave, and are treated.
“Not only will inpatient costs be reduced, but we’ll reduce the total cost of care—both for individuals and employers,” Bujnowski says.
“Preventing readmissions, preventing ongoing issues . . . we have already started to see tremendous outcomes. And we want to expand that influence out.” AHL