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Collaborations on the rise between Utah and French health care systems

The U.S. health care system is often compared to European systems in unflattering terms, yet European countries are also under increasing pressure to increase their quality of care and efficiency.
The U.S. health care system is often compared to European systems in unflattering terms, yet European countries are also under increasing pressure to increase their quality of care and efficiency.
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The U.S. health care system is often compared to European systems in unflattering terms, yet European countries are also under increasing pressure to increase their quality of care and efficiency. Many are looking to the United States for innovative, proven solutions. There is much that we can learn from each other. A newly formed collaboration involving Utah’s Intermountain Healthcare and the French government is providing one vehicle for that learning.

Last February, senior leaders from Intermountain were invited to France to meet with that nation’s top health care officials, including the French vice-minister of health, senior government health policy leaders, physicians, and the leader of health insurance for the Paris region. At these meetings, French officials were keenly interested in how medical services are provided in Utah and in adopting many practices used here.

Utah is increasingly renowned for the quality and value of its health care. For instance, a study released last year ranked Utah among the top two states in the nation for health care value. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Utah also has the lowest per capita healthcare costs in the nation. Even after correcting for Utah’s younger population and good general health habits, Utah’s benchmark efficiency compares favorably to that of most European nations. This underscores the high value of health care in Utah at a time when the U.S. and other nations are struggling to achieve such value more broadly.

France and the U.S. share the pressures of rising costs, the need to cover more people, and growing public anxiety over who will get which services and who will pay the bill. Those pressures are driving our care delivery systems toward each other. The U.S. has moved in the direction of universal health care coverage. In France, some public hospitals are testing market-based approaches, with private care delivery competing with traditional government-run hospitals and clinics.

That’s where the partnership emerged. The French health care system is collaborating with Intermountain’s Institute for Healthcare Leadership for three purposes: First, to create a similar institute in France to study and promote best practices. Second, to create a version of Intermountain’s Advanced Training Program (ATP) in Healthcare Delivery Improvement and implement that program nationally. Over the past 24 years the ATP has trained more than 5,000 senior physicians, nurses, and administrators who travel to Utah from around the world to study proven methods to achieve “the best medical result at the lowest necessary cost.” Third, the Intermountain Institute and the new French institute will engage in joint learning opportunities — health care delivery research — about “best care” strategies. We will study similarities and differences in care delivery patterns, with the aim of improving both systems.

These collaborations provide an extraordinarily valuable opportunity for improvement. We will bring different areas of expertise and demonstrated excellence, then merge our measured experience. All teach and all learn. Sometimes knowing the hows and whys of what doesn’t work, learned in the school of hard knocks, is as important as understanding what does work.

The French, for instance, started focusing on population health 20 years ago and have much to teach in the promotion of wellness and prevention of illness. Their insights are vital, as we at Intermountain determine how best to engage the communities we serve in health promotion.

High-level statistical rankings that compare the U.S. and European health care systems get widespread attention, but comparisons that enable those systems to share detailed insights and learning are far more effective in finding and implementing real change with clear benefit. Such collaborations are growing, and health care delivery on both continents will be better for it.

Brent James is the chief quality officer at Intermountain Healthcare.