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Market Profile: San Diego Healthcare Leaders Find Togetherness Comes Naturally

December 6, 2017
by Mark Hagland
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What’s behind the cooperative spirit in San Diego? A history of collaboration—with some unique geographical features

All U.S. healthcare markets have localized features, and the San Diego healthcare market is no different. In fact, as some have noted, there is an odd, almost “island-like” quality to the geography of the San Diego metropolitan area, in that it is bordered by the Mexican border on the south, the Mojave Desert on the east, the Pacific Ocean on the west, and Camp Pendleton on the north. At the same time, it’s also true that some of its nearly 3 million residents do seek patient care to the north, on the edges of the sprawling Los Angeles/Riverside/San Bernardino metro market. So in that sense, perhaps the metro San Diego market is most like a geographic/demographic peninsula of sorts.

Meanwhile, though it shares much in common with the large metro markets of San Francisco and Los Angeles to the north, the San Diego healthcare market also has differences, particularly with the L.A. healthcare market, particularly in two areas: the levels of inter-healthcare-organization collaboration present, and the levels of risk achieved in risk-based contracting.

Daniel Chavez, executive director of San Diego Health Connect, the metro area’s highly advanced health information exchange (HIE), attributes the level of collaboration to the fact that “We have no dominant players, we have all dominant players. We have a very active public health agency—our health and human services agency is the largest in the United States,” he says. And when it comes to payers and providers cooperating, Chavez says, “They get along as well here as anywhere I’ve worked, and I’ve worked on both the provider and health plan sides. I’ve lived up and down the state, and in Austin, Texas, and Tampa and Jacksonville, Florida, and this is the most collaborative community I’ve ever had the opportunity to work in. In balance, this is the most collaborative place.” He cites Blue Shield of California and Anthem Blue Cross as being particularly willing to work closely with providers. And of course, Health plan and provider leaders work very closely together inside the organizational structure of the local Kaiser Permanente organization, which also has a strong presence.

Speaking from the health plan perspective, Joseph Garcia agrees strongly with Chavez. Garcia is COO of Community Health Group (CHG), a local health plan with 290,000 members, 280,000 of whom are MediCal (California’s version of Medicaid) members. Community Health Plan actually started out as a federally qualified health center (FQHC) decades ago, and its leaders remain committed to sticking close to their community. Garcia’s perspective is also enriched by the fact that “We work with practically every primary care physician in San Diego County” outside the Kaiser and Sharp HealthCare organizations, as he notes.

“This is the only county we’re in; and every provider knows our corporate headquarters is right here, and they can meet with the CEO, COO, CMO—they can come over or call,” Garcia emphasizes, about CHG. “We have 30-year relationships. We were born out of a community health center, San Isidro Health Center. We were a provider, then a provider and health plan together, and then 20 years ago, we separated. And I and others have worked at both.” And that core attitude of cooperation, he says, extends to all of the plan’s interactions with providers.

Both CHG and SHC have been participating in a county-wide effort, led by the county’s health department, to control and end an outbreak of hepatitis A that has caused many problems and been difficult to control, especially given a very large homeless and transient problem in the county.

As an Oct. 31 report in the San Diego Union-Tribune noted, “The county Health and Human Services Agency published new weekly totals Tuesday, which add one to the number of deaths recorded since the health crisis started in November 2016. The running tally of confirmed cases also continues to increase, reaching 536 from a previous total of 516.”

As Chavez notes, “We’re going through a hepatitis A outbreak, and we’re coming together to solve that. We have the fourth-largest homeless population in the U.S.—about 10,000 people—and this is largely a result of that. We’re working hard on homelessness, and this involves the entire community.”

Indeed, Chavez notes, the broad reach of his HIE is turning out to be extremely helpful during this public health crisis. With 23 hospitals, 18 federally qualified health centers, and hundreds of physician practices connected, Chavez is able to boast that 99 percent of the patients living in San Diego and next-door Imperial Counties have their patient records entered into San Diego Health Connect’s core data repository, which is facilitating 20 million messages a month, encompassing everything from ADT alerts to full C-CDA (consolidated clinical documentation architecture) transfer. As a result, he reports, “With regard to hep A, we’ve done a wonderful job with public health reporting. I venture to say that in every one of those cases, that information was passed back and forth through the HIE, all automated, with no human intervention. As soon as we had any information through a diagnosis, we registered the case with public health, with no human intervention whatsoever. And people have no idea how important the HIE is, in that. What would that outbreak be, without HIE?” The response to the outbreak among providers, health plans, and public health, he says, has been terrific.

From the health system perspective, a mature market—with alignment

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