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The power, and potential dangers, of health associations

Collaboration meets consolidation.

Amid a furious wave of mergers and acquisitions among health systems in the past decade, some of the leading hospitals, local clinics and other care centers have begun joining forces to expand their geographic and medical reach, attract patients and reduce costs.

“As health care becomes more regional, as health care becomes more restrictive with limited plans, we’re looking for more opportunities to partner with local health care systems to create a dispersed national network of providers,” said Dr. Dr. Joseph Cacchione, interventional cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic who also helps oversee the clinic’s National Network of Associated Health Centers.

This type of relationship offers a number of advantages. For one thing, “there’s a lot of cross-fertilization going on online, and a lot of people are taking advantage of each other’s expertise,” Cacchione said.

These partnerships also don’t restrict access to care, said David Notari, CEO of Innovation Health, also known as Inova, a health care system that partnered with major insurer Aetna in 2012.

“My product that I have is a wide national network,” Notari said. “I actually had my knees replaced a year and a half ago in Philly… I was following the doctor who had the best results. That’s where I wanted to go.”

To avoid diluting the Cleveland Clinic brand, “we built a process to put hospitals through a thorough process, looking at their quality and also understanding the culture of these organizations and if they overlap,” Cacchione said. “We’ve moved on to doing cultural assessments of these programs before we launch them.”

The Cleveland Clinic, he added, has actually “divorced three hospitals” that it found weren’t a good match.

“You can’t buy the brand,” Cacchione said. If it were that easy, he added, “our sales team couldn’t sell that to an employer” considering joining the Cleveland program.

“Association is the way to go. It is definitely the most profitable and the most efficient in the future,” Notari said. “Don’t be afraid to be different in the market and challenge the status quo.”

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