Saint Thomas Health recently announced a three-way joint venture to create a nearly $100 million diagnostic imaging network, dubbed Saint Thomas Outpatient Imaging. The web of eight imaging centers and more than 40 physicians is one component of the accountable care organization that the nonprofit health system is creating.
Thanks to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which calls for Medicare pilot programs to test accountable care organizations, they’ve become something of a healthcare buzzword. In the absence of a standard definition, ACOs are commonly described as a group of healthcare providers that comes together in an organized structure to take responsibility for the care of a patient population. Together these providers share in the cost of caring for patients and — as most hope — any savings generated by keeping patients well.
Saint Thomas Health Services CEO Michael Schatzlein, MD, is non-specific about exactly how STHS’ ACO might look, beyond saying he wants STHS to adopt a patient-centered medical home structure — effectively becoming “Middle Tennessee’s medical home.”
In that model, patients would form ongoing relationships with their physician’s office, whose job it is to keep that patient well through typical visits for illnesses and follow-up care, plus more proactive preventative service and education on topics like nutrition and exercise. In the event a patient needs services beyond the office provider’s scope, the physician’s staff will help the patient navigate through procedures like diagnostic imaging, surgery, or a hospital stay by coordinating care with those other healthcare providers in the ACO.
STHS is going to test the concept on its own patients first, predicting it will keep its patients healthier at a lower cost. Though, Schatzlein notes, “We’re doing this because it’s the best way to deliver healthcare. If we don’t save a nickel, I’ll be happy.”