Hospital alliance, doctors’ network may join forces

Stratus Healthcare, an alliance of hospital systems, said Wednesday that it’s entering partnership talks with a large physician organization in Central Georgia.

The talks between Stratus and Central Georgia Health Network could lead to forming a “clinically integrated network’’ to treat patients in South and Middle Georgia.


Such integrated provider networks are an increasing trend in health care. The main goal of such arrangements is to improve the health of patients, but another big factor is the recent shift in how providers get paid.

Medicare and private insurers are moving toward payments based on quality of care, instead of simply paying according to how many procedures are done. This payment model is known as “value-based.’’

The “integrated” networks of medical providers must be able to share clinical information and achieve this value-based contracting.

Stratus, formed in 2013, is a loose alignment of 13 health systems in Central and South Georgia. Members do not share equity interests.

Its executive director, Julie Windom, told GHN on Wednesday that “we feel we need to be a clinically integrated network.” A big challenge, she said, is to improve IT connectivity so the hospitals and physicians can share data.

That data connection would be costly for Stratus and the Central Georgia Health Network to do on their own, Windom added.


The Central Georgia Health Network is a physician-hospital organization with about 650 doctors and more than 300 physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

Chuck Carroll, CGHN’s CEO, said his organization is in the process of implementing new health information exchange technology. The dialogue with Stratus, he said, “bodes well for the future’’ of medical care in Central and South Georgia.

Dr. Dean Burke, chairman of the Stratus Governing Board who is also a state senator from Bainbridge, said in a statement that “we expect that Stratus and CGHN will find ways to work together to improve the health of our patients and that these lessons will set the stage for our discussions with physicians throughout the Stratus region.”

Clinically integrated networks are “a heavy lift upfront,’’ Dave Smith, a consultant with Kearny Street Consulting, told GHN. “It’s costly – everybody has to be on the same EMR [electronic medical record],” and all the doctors must adhere to the same medical protocols on treatment for diseases, he said.

But once this uniformity is achieved, such networks can then start contracting with health insurers and government insurance programs, Smith added. “It makes a lot of sense for Stratus.”