The Cleveland Clinic is creating a national network of bone, joint and spine specialists to contract directly with large employers to provide surgical care for their workers.
The Cleveland-based hospital system on Tuesday announced the launch of the National Orthopaedic and Spine Alliance LLC.
The network of 600 doctors is working to develop standards that improve quality for patients and reduce complications while reducing costs, said Dr. Joseph Iannotti, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic Orthopaedic and Rheumatologic Institute and president of the new alliance.
The alliance will offer deals for orthopedic care similar to contracts the Cleveland Clinic already has developed for heart procedures with Lowe’s, Boeing, Walmart and other big companies.
The partnership wants to attract contracts with big national companies “who are looking for better outcomes and more predictable cost of care,” Iannotti said.
Large employers typically are self-insured, meaning they pay the medical bills for covered employees and dependents rather than paying an insurance company to cover the costs.
“We put this network together … because of what we heard from a large number of national employers,” Iannotti said. “A large percentage of their health-care related costs relate to musculoskeletal, orthopedic problems.”
Initial partners in the national alliance include the CORE Institute, which has clinics in Arizona and Michigan; the Rothman Institute, a 20-site orthopedic practice in the Philadelphia region; and OrthoCarolina, an orthopedics practice in North Carolina and the southeastern U.S. with 130 physicians.
Letters of intent also have been signed with large orthopedic groups in Indiana and California.
Other high-quality programs across the country that are willing to share data could be asked to join the alliance in the future, Iannotti said.
The Cleveland Clinic’s research showed that while patients are willing to travel across the country for complex heart care, they’ll typically venture only about 150 miles for orthopedic surgeries.
Contracts are being negotiated now with national employers, with the first patients expected to be seen through the new alliance beginning in January.
The Cleveland health-care giant recently announced a tentative deal to buy Akron General Health System in partnership with national for-profit hospital chain Community Health Systems of Nashville, Tenn.
It’s too early in those negotiations to say whether Akron General could join the orthopedic alliance if the sale goes forward, Iannotti said, adding, “I wouldn’t exclude that.”
Orthopedic procedures are among the most common — and the costliest — surgeries in the United States.
Targeted procedures initially will include hip and knee replacements, spine surgeries, shoulder and elbow replacement procedures and complex trauma cases — all surgeries that cost tens of thousands of dollars, Iannotti said.
Each year, an estimated 1 million Americans undergo total hip or knee replacements, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. As the population ages and people stay active longer in life, that number is expected to increase substantially in the coming decades.
As they look to control costs, participating companies likely will encourage workers and covered dependents to use the contracted orthopedic practices by reimbursing travel costs and eliminating out-of-pocket charges for these procedures, Iannotti said.
“The highest expectation is they will get better care, more predictable outcomes, fewer complications and longer-lasting outcomes,” he said.
The alliance eventually could also contract with national health insurance companies that want to set up “narrow networks” of preferred health-care providers for high-cost, complex procedures, Iannotti said.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.