The University of Michigan Health System announced Tuesday that it will enter a partnership with MidMichigan Health, a non-profit health system based in Midland, Mich.

Though the deal has not been finalized, UMHS will assume a minority ownership of less than 10 percent of MidMichigan as a result of the partnership.

MidMichigan will continue to maintain local control at its facilities in Midland, Alma, Clare, Gladwin, Mt. Pleasant and other areas, but will be considered a part of the broader University of Michigan Health System. According to officials, the UMHS brand will be implemented into MidMichigan facilities and programs, including a combined UMHS-MidMichigan logo.

MidMichigan and UMHS officials noted that UMHS is the “preferred center of excellence” for MidMichigan patients when care is not available in their area. The new partnership would allow for expedited referrals for those patients.

MidMichigan and UMHS had previously signed an agreement in December to collaborate on cancer services. The partnership will further that deal and expand it to other specialties—cardiovascular treatment is the slated to be launched next.

The partnership also aligns the clinical protocols of both systems, meaning treatments for conditions will be more similar between the two organizations. At the moment, officials note that improving patient care, rather than research, is the primary focus of the relationship.

Still, MidMichigan patients will also have better access to clinical trials as a result of the deal, Ora Pescovitz, the University’s executive vice president for medical affairs, pointed out.

“And that’s a very big advantage for patients, especially with diseases like cancer, to be able to access significant numbers of clinical trials that they might be eligible for that they otherwise wouldn’t be eligible for without exposure to a large system like the University of Michigan,” Pescovitz said in an interview.

Pescovitz also noted that the deal will eventually allow both organizations to decrease costs.

“There are a multitude of ways that we want to streamline the costs of medical care today, which we agree are too high,” Pescovitz said.

MidMichigan already has partnerships with the medical schools at Michigan State University and Central Michigan University, but Pescovitz didn’t see that as a problem. In fact, she said the addition of the University’s Medical School should be “complementary” to those relationships.

Pescovitz added that benefit in the deal is mutual—MidMichigan has several strong practices that UMHS can benefit from, and UMHS also benefits from a wider patient base for analytics and research, she said.

“What we really want to do is make sure all patients get the right care at the right time at the right place,” Pescovitz said.

MidMichigan CEO Rick Reynolds said by sharing clinical expertise and protocol with MidMichigan, UMHS will be able to lessen its caseload.

“One of the goals of this is to try and take some of the pressure off of the University of Michigan, who is running very full, and try and make sure that the care that can be treated in our facilities in our region is treated there,” Reynolds said, noting that by sharing knowledge, MidMichigan physicians will be more often able to treat patients rather than having to send them to Ann Arbor or other areas outside of their region.

Like Pescovitz, Reynolds pointed out that the partnership will allow both health systems save money. He said the partnership is reflective of the Affordable Care Act’s push for health care organizations to collaborate more to save costs, through partnerships such as accountable care organizations.

“We see the industry consolidating,” Reynolds said. “For us, it’s about trying to gain critical mass to maintain the quality of care and improve it.”

Though neither party was sure exactly how information technology would be a part of the deal, both acknowledged that they intend to share information accordingly.

Pescovitz said UMHS’s new MiChart system is distinct from MidMichigan’s record software, but there is opportunity for the two systems to interface in the future. UMHS just recently appointed Sue Schade as its new chief information officer to maintain its focus on advancing healthcare technology.

Reynolds said MidMichigan also recently implemented an advanced IT system, but noted that there may be opportunity in the deal to further improve technology on both sides in clinical and analytical support, as well as solutions that help doctors connect to make decisions on procedures.

Significant for MidMichigan patients, Reynolds said the partnership should hopefully allow diagnosis and treatment of serious conditions at their hospitals to be quicker. For example, he noted that MidMichigan physicians may not be able to as easily diagnose rare conditions, but with the help of UMHS doctors and medical scientists who see a larger variety of cases, that diagnosis might be expedited.

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