An Integrated Health Care System Can Help Us Get Healthier

Timothy J. Babineau, MD, President and CEO, Lifespan

For many of us the beginning of a new year brings a focus on change: what can we do better, what problems must we solve, what are our top priorities. Usually, getting “healthier” makes it to the top of the New Year’s resolution list. So, as we think about improvements we need to make regarding our health, it’s worth spending a few minutes considering the benefits of receiving care within an integrated health care system, and how using a single integrated health care system can enhance overall health. 

First, what is an integrated health care system? It is a health care system that provides coordinated care across a broad continuum of services, offering everything a patient needs – from pediatric care through all the possible medical conditions and complexities of adulthood all within a single system. The lynchpin of a high-functioning integrated health system is a single electronic health care record (EHR), where physicians from various disciplines can share medical information about a particular patient seamlessly and efficiently. Lifespan has such an EHR: LifeChart. LifeChart tracks the patient’s encounters with physicians and other caregivers, along with results of diagnostic testing and details of any treatments that occur both as an inpatient and as an outpatient. No matter the location of a Lifespan patient, the provider can see what has occurred and what the next step should be. In addition, patients can access their own records through the MyLifespan portal, further enhancing their understanding of their own health and well-being. Our significant investment in this technology in 2015 continues to enhance and improve the care we provide to our patients every day. 

With more than 350,000 patients cared for at Lifespan each year, efficiency is essential. There is ample evidence from the Vizient Research Institute that quality goes up and costs go down when patients receive the majority of their care within an integrated system. This is particularly true for complex illnesses such as cancer, cardiac disease and neurologic diseases. Unnecessary duplication of tests and unnecessary variations in care are avoided. In an integrated health care system, all parts of the care continuum share goals, communicate efficiently, and utilize the same protocols, policies and management—which leads to better care, consistency of care, and better outcomes.  

Another key factor in an integrated health care system is the crucial role of primary care providers. While Lifespan is often best known for its specialty care and specialist physicians, from trauma to orthopedics and pediatrics, from cancer to cardiac care, primary care physicians are the cornerstone of coordinated care. With that crucial role in mind, Lifespan created a strategy to grow our primary care capabilities through a combination of growth within the Lifespan Physician Group, key partnerships with other physician groups such as Coastal Medical and Medical Associates of Rhode Island, our Women’s Medicine Collaborative, and coordination of care with our primary care colleagues in our Lifespan Accountable Care Organization. Lifespan is 100% committed to the essential role primary care plays in delivering optimal care to all the patients we serve.

Finally, because Lifespan is also an academic medical system, an integrated approach also benefits patients who require treatment based on new research. Emerging science can take several years to be incorporated into medical practice, but in integrated academic systems such as ours, doctors and researchers can gather and review scientific results and get them to the patient much faster. In addition, our patients have access to cutting-edge clinical trials that are testing the newest and latest treatments, which may not be available to patients who are not cared for within an integrated academic health care system.

Lifespan’s goal is the same as our patients’ goal: good health. That is my New Year wish to you and your family for 2020. When you think about your health in 2020, consider the benefits of receiving your health care within our complete, integrated academic health care system here at Lifespan. You will be better off for it.

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