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Leaders hope Intermountain Healthcare can be a model for the country

FILE - Congressman Ben McAdams speaks to members of the media after holding a town hall meeting to familiarize constituents with district office staff as well as to provide an opportunity for McAdams to listen to Utahans on issues that are important to them at the Redwood Recreation Center in West Valley City on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019.
Silas Walker, Deseret News

MURRAY — Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, hopes Washington can learn from Intermountain Healthcare's model to provide accessible, value-based health care at an affordable cost to patients.

"Nothing's more important for me than finding innovative solutions that help Utah families with their health care costs," he said.

At a news conference inside an operating room at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray on Tuesday, joined by Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., and Intermountain Healthcare President and CEO Marc Harrison, McAdams highlighted Intermountain Healthcare's efforts to provide accessibility and affordability to Utahns.

Harrison said 25,000 patient members are enrolled in a team-based care model, Reimagining Primary Care, that focuses on preventative care to keep a patient well.

Results from the model has shown a 60% decrease in hospital admissions, 35% decrease in emergency admissions, as well as a 20% decrease in per member, per month costs.

"At Intermountain, we really orient all of our activities toward having the highest quality and lowest cost care possible and organize ourself in such a way to serve our patients, our communities, in a reproducible fashion, that does not break the bank of their families," Harrison said.

The high cost of health care — including high deductibles and copays or the "skyrocketing cost" of prescription drugs — is a problem faced by both the insured and uninsured, McAdams said.

FILE - Intermountain Medical Center in Murray is pictured on Thursday, March 15, 2018.
FILE - Intermountain Medical Center in Murray is pictured on Thursday, March 15, 2018.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

A way Intermountain Healthcare has been able to cut down on costs is through Civica Rx, a not-for-profit generic drug company banded together by Intermountain Healthcare and other not-for-profit health care systems and philanthropists.

"This is going to revolutionize some of the egregious drug pricing that has been plagued on our patients," Harrison said.

Because the physical body and mind are "strongly intertwined," Harrison added that Intermountain Healthcare also engages in mental health integration.

"If we can take care of people's psyche at the same time as we take care of their physical body. It keeps people at home, out of the hospital, out of the emergency department, at work and with their families, and with substantial savings," he said.

Harrison said the social determinants of health play a major role in whether a person is healthy or not, and only 10% of a person's health is based on what's done at hospitals or doctor's offices.

"We're doubling down which levers we need to pull in order to keep a person healthy without using enormous numbers of resources on the medical front," Harrison said.

Shalala, who previously served as the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services under former President Bill Clinton, believes states having the liberty to learn and experiment makes them "laboratories for democracy."

Shalala came to Utah to learn about Intermountain's value-based health care — a rarity, she said, that only operates in "very few places" in the world.

"We could argue about universal care and how we get there, but the real focus ought to be high-quality care for everyone at an affordable price," Shalala said.

McAdams said the Affordable Care Act is "not perfect," but it took steps in addressing high costs.

"But clearly, we need to do more," he said, adding that he is committed to supporting bipartisan policies that address health care costs and quality.

Additionally, Intermountain Healthcare is providing health care access to rural areas through telehealth programs.

In 2013, Intermountain Healthcare was an early adopter of neonatal telehealth, which helped raise the level of care at hospitals in rural locations and avoided requiring families to travel long distances to larger hospitals, according to Stephen Minton, medical director of Neonatal Telehealth at Intermountain Healthcare.

Minton found that giving instruction through face-to-face video interaction with doctors was better than providing instruction over the phone.

At the news conference, Minton demonstrated how telehealth can be used. In a mock scenario, Minton sat in front of a high-quality screen and spoke to doctors who had just delivered a newborn in St. George. He provided recommendations to doctors for how to treat the newborn's complication.

Telemedicine is used to reduce costs and provide quicker medical responses. Harrison said some of the most commonly used telemedicine programs are Intermountain Healthcare's Telecritical Care, TeleStroke and TeleTrauma

Harrison said the most commonly used telemedicine programs are for critical care, strokes and trauma.

"I think that we can learn from some of the successes that are happening here in Utah and take that to other places in the country," McAdams said.