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Insurer Anthem invests in hospital initiative to improve safety, cut costs

January 20, 2010|By Duke Helfand

California's largest health insurer is teaming with hospitals and doctors throughout the state to better share ways to improve patient safety and cut costs, leaders of the initiative said Tuesday.

Doctors, nurses and other health professionals at California hospitals will meet quarterly in person or over the Internet during the next three years to compare their practices and data for reducing medical problems such as hospital-borne infections. Woodland Hills-based Anthem Blue Cross is contributing $6 million toward the effort.

"When it comes to patient safety, we must do better," Leslie Margolin, Anthem's president, said at a news conference Tuesday at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. "We will take real, meaningful costs out of the system and we will save lives."

Healthcare experts applauded Anthem's investment, saying its partnership with California's three regional hospital associations made good sense.

Medical errors and repeat visits to hospitals drive up healthcare costs and insurance premiums, analysts said. Reducing infections has been shown to significantly lower mortality rates and expenses.

Anthem, a subsidiary of Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc., also hopes to lower the number of births induced early for nonmedical reasons, saying such procedures can create expensive complications.

"I think Anthem recognizes that better-quality care is good business," said Maribeth Shannon, a program director at the California HealthCare Foundation, which seeks to promote innovative healthcare practices.

Another health policy expert credited Anthem for investing in a program that would benefit patients covered by competitors.

"I'm encouraged that a major insurer in California is taking this initiative," said Gerald Kominski, associate director at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

Anthem picked the National Health Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on improving healthcare for underserved populations, to oversee the project. The insurer is the latest player to tackle quality of care in hospitals. Other groups are making similar efforts.

Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest nonprofit health maintenance organization, collects and shares data on patient infections at its hospitals. As a result, more than a third of the HMO's hospitals had gone a year without central-line blood infections, said Dr. Jed Weissberg, Kaiser's senior vice president for quality.

Sharing information, he said, "provides better care for patients and ends up making healthcare more affordable because it avoids all these unnecessary days in hospitals."

duke.helfand@latimes.com

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