Designation Aids Health Organization

February 17, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — The federal Department of Health and Human Services has named the Grand Rapids-based Alliance for Health, a nonprofit health care watchdog organization, as one of the nation's first Chartered Value Exchanges.

As a Chartered Value Exchange, Alliance for Health joins 13 other community organizations in receiving access to Medicare information that reflects the quality of care provided by physicians. The organizations also will be part of a Learning Network sponsored by Health and Human Services' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The Learning Network will host facilitated meetings — virtual meetings on the World Wide Web as well as in-person — so members may share experiences, practices and raise issues to be addressed nationwide, according to the department.

Alliance for Health President Lody Zwarensteyn said the benefits from being named a Charter Value Exchange will mesh well with two grant programs underway.

One is a $600,000, three-year grant from the Robert Wood Johnson for its Aligning Forces for Quality program, which focuses on improving the quality of care for people with diabetes.

The second is a $670,000 grant from the state to put together a health information exchange, a computerized network that would allow health care organizations such as doctors' offices and hospitals to share medical information.

"The Charter Value Exchange is a singular national honor for the community," Zwarensteyn said. "The federal government, through this administration, supports policies to transparency and disclosure to the desired end of transforming the way health care is putting market forces in the community," he said.

"If you are so designated, you have some assistance available in terms of your community's work so you can truly transform the way health care is provided. It's a move that really is going to be taking the nation."

The Medicare data set, which HHS indicated would be available by summer, covers about 30 percent of health care transactions and will be a significant addition to quality data being harnessed for the "Aligning Forces for Quality" project, Zwarensteyn added. Alliance for Health is also collecting data from Medicaid and commercial insurers.

Zwarensteyn said the Chartered Value Exchange designation and the grants are all part of a larger health care trend.

"What we want to do is get to a point where people can, in fact, use their power as consumers to shop based on price and quality and the ability, then, of the market system to respond," he added.

The 14 Chartered Value Exchanges were selected from among 28 applications from the more than 100 organizations identified by the HHS as "Community Leaders," which are community-based collaboratives with the involvement of multiple stakeholders in health care.

 "Local public-private collaboration is essential to the success of our efforts," Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said in a press release.

"While measures and standards of quality and efficiency must continue to be developed nationally, health care is actually delivered locally," he continued. "It is provided in a diverse range of environments that differ in their history, resources, populations served, market characteristics and medical cultures. Because of this diversity, the most effective steps to achieving lasting improvements in health care require a critical mass of support from community stakeholders investing their time and resources toward shared, meaningful, actionable goals."

In addition to the Alliance for Health, the nation's first set of Chartered Value Exchanges includes the Greater Detroit Area Health Council, as well as collaboratives in Madison, Wis., Germantown, Tenn., Williamsville, N.Y.; Portland, Ore.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Seattle, Wash.; Salt Lake City, Utah; Baton Rouge, La.; Scarborough, Maine; Watertown, Mass.; and Albany, N.Y.

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