• Reinvention, HealthPartners-Style

    An interview with Mary Brainerd Nov 06, 2013

    Being ranked as one of the nation’s top 30 commercial health plans does not mean HealthPartners gets to rest. The Minnesota-based organization continues to grow and develop new ways to deliver on the Triple Aim. 

    Mary Brainerd

    HealthPartners, which refers to itself as an integrated healthcare and financing organization, started this year by finalizing its merger with Park Nicollet Health Services to create one of the largest health systems in Minnesota.

    In addition to insuring 1.4 million medical and dental health plan members nationwide, HealthPartners now includes a 1,700-member multispecialty group practice and five hospitals. The merger with Park Nicollet consolidates HealthPartners’ presence across the Minneapolis- St. Paul region. 

    “We both want to change the market, and we thought we would have a bigger impact more quickly as a single organization,” said Mary Brainerd, HealthPartners’ CEO.

    A key focus is lowering the costs of care. HealthPartners organizes itself around a set of ambitious multi-year goals that correspond to the Triple Aim of improving patient experience, advancing the health of populations, and reducing costs. In 2014, the system will assess its performance on more than a dozen goals that together set a very high bar: achieving the best health outcomes locally and nationally as well as the lowest healthcare costs in the region. 

    Reinventing Care Delivery

    To help meet its cost goals, HealthPartners created virtuwellTM, a 24/7 online and mobile medical clinic that allows patients to get a diagnosis (aided by cell phone photos, if necessary) and treatment for simple conditions like pinkeye, bladder infections, and rashes. The service is staffed by nurse practitioners who develop the treatment plans and order prescriptions. 

    It costs no more than $40 per diagnosis, depending on the patient’s insurance, and comes with a money-back satisfaction guarantee. “It’s probably the most incredibly popular thing we have ever created. People love it,” Brainerd said. 

    HealthPartners has already expanded the service into Michigan and Wisconsin and plans to move into several other states as well. An analysis of 40,000 virtuwell cases showed an average savings of $88 per episode over traditional care settings. In addition, 98 percent of patients were willing to recommend the service (Courneya, P.T., et al, “HealthPartners’ Online Clinic for Simple Conditions Delivers Savings of $88 per Episode and High Patient Approval,” Health Affairs, vol. 32, February 2013, pp. 385-392).

    Meanwhile, HealthPartners is also lowering costs by delivering healthcare services at worksite clinics. In its first year, the Well@Work clinic at the Grede metal foundry in St. Cloud reduced healthcare costs by 30 percent. HealthPartners’ 11 worksite clinics provide occupational health services, support employee wellness programs, and help patients manage chronic conditions through easier access to clinicians, who monitor health status and coach for behavior change.

    Redefining Access

    HealthPartners is a leader in integrating mental health and dental services with other medical services. By increasing access to mental and dental care, it is working to improve patients’ overall health status while lowering the total cost of their care.

    Depression and other mental health conditions are among the most frequent diagnoses for employed individuals. Patients whose conditions are properly diagnosed and treated are more productive, which helps their employers. In addition, these patients are less likely to have crises that require expensive inpatient treatment. 

    “Our emphasis has been to look for connections in primary care or in the mental health clinic system so that we can better support those patients before the emergency department visit or the hospitalization occurs,” Brainerd said.

    Similarly, HealthPartners focuses on dental care as an important aspect of preventive primary care. In addition to operating 20 dental clinics, its pediatric clinics have started introducing fluoride treatments for 2 year olds and then referring their parents to dental clinics for future treatments. 

    “We’re much more likely to see these children in our medical clinic than see parents bring an unwilling toddler into the dental office,” Brainerd said. “We are using every chance we can to try to get kids off on the right foot.”  

    Mary Brainerd is CEO, HealthPartners, Bloomington, Minn.