UAMS, Baptist Health, Blue Cross, Others Form ‘Shared Services’ Partnership

Four hospital providers, including Baptist Health and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield are creating a shared services organization to reduce duplication, share costs and improve care.

The Partnership for a Healthy Arkansas also includes Jonesboro-based St. Bernards Healthcare and Fayetteville-based Washington Regional Medical System. Washington Regional President and CEO Bill Bradley was elected chairman.

The Partnership is a collaboration but not a merger. It will enable the providers to share services in operations, population health, and clinical improvement. The providers could collaborate in areas such as information technology, customer call centers, patient care management, and data analysis. UAMS Chancellor Dr. Dan Rahn said the collaboration could result in its members sharing expensive medical equipment, or they could use purchasing power to obtain better prices. The hospitals could work together on security and off-site backups of electronic health records. Food, laundry and custodial services could be leveraged.

Doug Weeks, Baptist Health’s COO, said the Partnership could jointly hire or contract with a biomedical engineer to service expensive MRI equipment. He said UAMS has a Level 1 trauma center while Baptist Health has a Level 2 trauma center, and the two could work together while avoiding duplication.

“There have been a whole range of things that we have discussed as possibilities,” Rahn said, “but nothing that we’re actively working on as of yet. … The idea is that each member would decide with regard to each initiative whether they’re going to be in it or not.”

Shared services organizations are a trend across the country. However, the inclusion of Arkansas Blue Cross is rare and perhaps unique. Weeks said Blue Cross could provide insurance products through the Partnership, with a Medicare Advantage product and a product for self-insured companies already being considered. Rahn said Blue Cross has infrastructure for care management and data management capabilities. Max Greenwood, Blue Cross spokesman, said the company sees the Partnership as an opportunity for more collaboration with providers.

“You have hospitals and providers doing their own disease management and case management, and we do it as well, so perhaps there’s a way of doing it together so that you’re not duplicating services, you are really focused on patient care instead of siloed over a bigger swath of the population.”

Rahn described it as a “non-exclusive arrangement,” meaning other hospital providers could join. Blue Cross’ Greenwood said the insurer could look at other partnerships in the future.

Asked if the partners would be each other’s first choices when making patient referrals, Rahn said, “Our health systems are independent, so I wouldn’t say that yet.”

Casual discussions about the Partnership began more than a year ago. At the time, Baptist Health along with St. Bernards and Washington Regional had already formed a less structured LLC.

Baptist Health and UAMS, meanwhile, already collaborate in vascular surgery and inpatient rehabilitation, while UAMS collaborates with St. Bernards and Washington Regional in a variety of areas including family medicine and high-risk pregnancies.