Gundersen’s AboutHealth partnership with seven other WI health systems is thriving

AboutHealth's goal is to cut cost, share best practices and improve quality

It’s been about a year since Gundersen Health System announced its one-of-a-kind collaboration with other health systems across Wisconsin.

The collaboration is called About Health and the goal is to share best practices, reduce health care costs and improve quality of care.           

Since it began, it has grown from six to eight partners that provide access to care for about 94 percent of Wisconsin’s population.

There are a lot of players in the partnership, but Gundersen Health System officials said the more the better, because it leads to better outcomes.

“Health care is a critical part in our country,” said Mark Platt, senior vice president of business services at Gundersen Health System.

Every year, millions of Americans step foot in hospitals all over the nation.

“We are here because we know we are a needed part of this community,” said Platt.

However, as society changes, health care providers say patient care has to change along with it.

“We have to be about making it better,” said Platt.

Making health care better is what drives About Health.

“We are committed to get things done, not just have a nice chat every month. We really need to get things done and that is what we are committed to do,” said Jeff Thompson, CEO of Gundersen Health System.

“We all looked at each other and said we can do better things faster if we do it together,” said Platt.

So far, the partnership has helped with cutting down on the cost of hospital supplies.

“With our scale now, $12 billion in revenue as a group, we can make some inroads on cost of our supplies because scale matters on those things,” said Platt.

“So if that large of business comes to you to buy things, you sharpen up your pencil and we get some pretty good deals,” said Thompson.

It has also helped streamline shared services, like electronic health records.

“We have all of our chief information officers coordinating their efforts to work on efficiency, so that will help lower the cost of delivering care because the staff won’t waste so much time trying to build their own pathways,” said Thompson.

But more important, it allows the hospitals to share best practices and learn from one another.

“When looking at the diabetic population, ThedaCare on the other side of the state in metrics is ahead of the other systems,” said Platt.

“Rather than saying our patients are sicker or something, we said teach us about that,” said Thompson.

On the other hand, when it comes to breast health, Gundersen is the teacher.

“Our breast center has been a lead in setting up carefully measured standards and outcomes,” said Thompson.

Because it’s a partnership and not a merger, which means Gundersen Health System hasn’t given up any governance or asset, every health system has equal say and that’s why Thompson said it works.

“Instead of wasting 4 to 7 years on merging assets, money and governance, we jumped straight into saying we all want to improve care, we all want to lower cost, so let’s get right at that,” said Thompson.

When discussing health initiatives or talking about making the electronic record system better, it’s important to note each health care system maintains its level of confidentiality. Although all of the systems are sharing ideas and best practices, patients do not have to worry about patient-doctor confidentiality.

The members of the partnership board meet about six times a year, but individual committees within each division of care meet on a monthly, sometimes weekly basis.