Local rules

Buffalo region works, prospers together

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will expand and enhance coverage, but the most sustainable solutions will come from local efforts to transform care and lower costs.

A case in point is the Buffalo region of western New York. Our success is based largely on the belief that improving the quality, access and affordability of healthcare is a collective responsibility requiring community ownership, innovative thinking, wide-ranging partnerships, and renewed collaboration among the public and private sectors. Two recent events focused significant attention on our progress.

In May, a consortium of local hospitals, medical providers and insurers known as HealtheLink received $16.1 million in federal stimulus funding to support the use of electronic health records and innovative telemedicine solutions to benefit patients with diabetes and other chronic conditions. Our region was one of 17 communities awarded grants—chosen from more than 130 applications—through the Obama administration's Beacon Community Cooperative Agreement Program.

HealtheLink is an online, secure, community-based network used by providers and payers to view and share patients' medical information and other clinical applications to improve the delivery of healthcare, enhance clinical outcomes and help control costs. As a physician and chair of this collaborative, I am extremely excited about the benefits the grant and our broader efforts will provide.

From a healthcare perspective, it affords significant opportunities to eliminate wasteful duplication of services and inefficiencies across the system, improve quality and safety of care, and reduce spending. For example, HealtheLink fosters e-prescribing, which improves the readability of prescriptions and prevents possible drug interactions.

The federal funding will support tools to improve primary and specialty care for diabetic patients. It also will help decrease preventable emergency room visits, hospitalizations and re-admissions for patients with diabetes and congestive heart failure or pneumonia, and improve immunization rates among diabetic patients.

The grant could benefit the region in other ways as well. A higher-quality, more-efficient healthcare system can spur economic growth and make western New York more attractive to businesses and investors.

In May, I was part of a regional delegation of healthcare leaders who participated in a two-day meeting in Washington, hosted in part by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. We were one of 13 regions invited to participate because we are on the path to achieve the IHI's “Triple Aim” of better health, better care and lower costs.

At the meeting, teams from various regions reviewed ways to achieve value through regional engagement. Our presentation focused on HealtheLink and other cooperative efforts among health plans, hospital systems, foundations, physicians and community organizations, including the P2 Collaborative of Western New York.

P2, which stands for Pursuing Perfection, is a multistakeholder collaborative of more than 225 regional partners. It is dedicated to convening diverse players in healthcare to implement solutions to the challenges of chronic disease. P2 has earned a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Aligning Forces for Quality program.

P2's power as a change agent comes from its ability to involve not only our area's healthcare organizations, but also employers, not-for-profit and faith-based organizations, community advocates and block-club leaders, educational institutions, rural health networks and the local media.

Participating in this high-profile summit gave us a chance to showcase all that is happening in our region. It also provided an opportunity to learn what other communities are doing to advance high-quality, low-cost care. This information will be helpful as we continue to educate, energize and engage key stakeholders and the entire local population in efforts to establish western New York as a benchmark healthcare community.

To be successful, a community must confront what goes on with its own population—to the point of seeking the data and engaging those who can solve the problem—in order to enact meaningful healthcare reform.

Michael Cropp is president and CEO of Independent Health, Buffalo, N.Y.