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VHAN collaborations strengthened members during pandemic

Mar. 4, 2021, 9:13 AM


by Jill Clendening

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, members of the Vanderbilt Health Affiliated Network (VHAN) — a clinically integrated network in Tennessee and surrounding states that now includes more than 6,100 clinicians, 70 hospitals, 13 health systems and hundreds of physician practices and clinics — were hit with challenges they might have never previously have faced. Through VHAN, additional resources and support were available to help them not only endure but prosper through the crisis.

Cindy Powell, MD

“In 2020, we learned about resiliency and we learned about perseverance — that ability to stay the course, despite all the adversities, and to thrive,” said Cindy Powell, MD, senior vice president and medical director of Population Health at VHAN. “And I have to say that while it may not feel like it on a day-to-day basis, when you step back and you look at VHAN as a whole, we thrived. These communities, these clinicians, they thrived in that they were able to continue to pivot and be innovative and creative to continue to deliver high-quality care.”

During a recent virtual meeting to both celebrate 2020’s successes and to chart a course to build on those achievements in 2021, Powell congratulated VHAN members on making it through one of the toughest years in modern health care history.

Founded in 2012, VHAN’s collaborative alliance of physicians, health systems and employers drives clinical innovation and teamwork to enhance patient care, contain costs and improve the health of communities throughout Tennessee and surrounding states. As a provider-led organization, VHAN also creates innovative solutions that improve the quality and value of health care across the Southeast through value-based agreements.

The network has generated significant, measurable successes over the years, such as generating hundreds of millions in cost savings and more than $45 million in shared savings to network providers as they deliver care for over 300,000 patients across Tennessee and in surrounding states.

“We have been able to consistently reduce the total cost of care by focusing on the patient first and foremost and by focusing on quality initiatives,” Powell said. “We’ve worked together to promote team-based care. We’ve worked together to promote resources for care management, whether that is a service VHAN provides or it’s information or insights VHAN can provide to practices that don’t utilize our services for care management. It’s also been the ability to come together and learn so much about what is available in each of the communities and where there may be a need.”

For example, when VHAN leaders learned that clinicians in one community were struggling to care for patients who were disproportionately impacted by the social determinants of health — issues such as poverty, inadequate transportation and lack of access to healthy food — the collaborative supported the addition of a community health worker to better connect patients with social services and other resources to resolve barriers to care.

Other VHAN successes recently achieved include:

  • Fifty-nine percent of VHAN’s pediatric practices are now National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA)-certified Patient Centered Medical Homes (PCMH). This is a care delivery model in which an individual’s medical treatment is coordinated through their primary care physician to ensure they receive care when and where they need it;
  • An estimated 20,000 unnecessary hospitalizations were avoided;
  • Annual wellness visits (AWV) were completed by 40% of VHAN’s Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) eligible population, a rate higher than the national average;
  • A 34% reduction in MSSP readmission rates was achieved.

Claude Pirtle, MD, chief medical information officer at West Tennessee Healthcare, spoke about how the collaborative, peer-to-peer sharing through VHAN was invaluable in the rapid deployment of telehealth service as the pandemic ended face-to-face appointments. Tapping into the shared knowledge of other VHAN members also accelerated West Tennessee Healthcare’s efforts to provide remote health monitoring to better manage at-home care of individuals with COVID-19.

As the health system seeks to find innovative means to provide care for more than half a million people in West Tennessee, the success of remote monitoring has now led to a peer-to-peer sustained effort to elevate care for diabetic patients through continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) technology.

“We’ve already had multiple discussions with some of our peers in the network about what they’re doing in regards to CGM — protocols they’re using, studies they’ve done,” Pirtle said. “How do we look at that through a different lens and really learn from each other? Peer-to-peer sharing is more important than ever as we move from the fee-for-service world into the value-based care world. The VHAN team has been nothing but extremely helpful in that area.”

“What’s exciting to watch as the system evolves is VHAN and its collective communities getting the attention of large employers that are moving into our state and other payers who are approaching us,” Powell said. “Whether it’s brought from the pandemic or not, there is a desperate need to provide high-quality care, and what I want to continue to emphasize is that when you focus on quality, your cost and your opportunities will follow.”

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