Health System uses creative approach in seeking new patients

Gilbert S. Omenn detailed some of the steps the Health System is taking to ensure a solid patient base. Photo by Bob Kalmbach

By Jane R. Elgass

The chief physician for Ford Motor Co. probably didn't realize last fall that he had thrown down the gauntlet when he told a Grand Rounds audience at University Hospital that the U-M is a great place but academic medical centers are dinosaurs.

Gilbert S. Omenn, who had arrived on campus that day as the new executive vice president for medical affairs, took that criticism as a challenge to be creative.

In the rapidly changing health care environment, hospitals and health organizations are competing with each other for patients, and the U-M is no exception. Companies seeking health insurance for their employees are worried about the bottom line, and will contract with the organization that gives them the most for their money, Omenn told members of the Association of Black Professionals and Administrators Faculty and Staff at a meeting at the Medical Center last week.

"Ford was willing to consider evidence that we treat sicker patients, that they get better care than they would at other health facilities and that we have better patient satisfaction scores," Omenn said.

Eight weeks later, Ford had narrowed its search for a partner in creating a new health insurance plan to two organizationsăthe U-M Health System and the Henry Ford Health System. They were given five days to come up with a half-day presentation. Ford Motor's decision quickly followed and "the decision was 'Go Blue,'" Omenn said.

"We were willing to sit down with an open page and understand their needs and think about how we can best meet their needs," Omenn said. "It was important that we already had M-CARE."

"Partnership Health" will begin this summer as a pilot program for Ford's salaried employees, with a ceiling of 2,000 members. If it proves successful, Omenn anticipates that it will be offered to bargained-for employees in their contract negotiations.

Partnership Health's features are a combination of those of the M-CARE HMO and the M-CARE Point-of-Service plan, with a dual emphasis on reducing health risks and on active management of chronically ill patients to keep them well and out of the hospital. Omenn noted that 18 percent of Ford's employees accounts for more than 80 percent of the company's health care costs.

Omenn also stated that Partnership Health has the potential to go worldwide, since Ford is an international company. "We already have doctors in China who connect to us for consultations."