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Valley Health announces alliance with Inova

Mark Merrill (Buy photo)

By Kim Walter

WINCHESTER - Valley Health and Inova officials announced Tuesday that an alliance has been formed between the two organizations.

Inova, like Valley Health, is a not-for-profit health care system. It is located in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and serves more than 2 million people through its five hospitals.

The Valley Health Board of Trustees endorsed the plan in May, and the alliance became official in June when the Inova Health System Foundation Board also approved it.

According to Mark Merrill, Valley Health president and CEO, the alliance is "in no way a merger," and the two organizations will remain independent.

For the past several years, Valley Health has been looking for a way improve patient care, cut costs and remain an independent system -- all the while keeping up with ongoing changes and standards in health care's future.

"This innovative alliance will enable both our organizations to do more, in a shorter period of time, and at less cost, than would have been possible if pursued alone," Merrill said.

The systems have identified several areas of strategic collaboration, including clinical research, information technology, population health and clinical service delivery.

A major piece of the collaboration involves the implementation of EPIC electronic medical record software at all Valley Health facilities. Inova already has been using the EPIC platform for the past couple of years, and Valley Health had independently chosen the software before entering into the alliance.

Merrill said because of this, Inova would be able to help Valley Health in the transition. Information technology teams can collaborate to get the new software up and running, and also will make the change easier on hospital staff, as well as physicians in their own practices.

Because a number of trauma patients are transferred from Valley Health facilities to Inova Fairfax, the common information system will impact patient care in a positive way, Merrill said.

However, it still will be up to patients or physician referral where care is received, he added.

The software likely will improve clinical trials and research, as doctors will be able to access data associated with medical records. Patient identity will remain confidential, though.

Joe Silek, Valley Health System Board of Trustees chairman, reiterated the fact that both organizations are nonprofits, and both are recognized for excellent care in the respective regions.

"This gives us the opportunity to better serve our communities and deliver superior patient care at a lower cost," he said.

Valley Health and Inova likely will receive greater discounts and better pricing through group purchasing, Merrill said, but organizations will not be sharing charges.

Merrill said that neither Valley Health nor Inova has made a financial investment in the other, and board representation will not overlap.

"We'll be sharing costs when it comes to the information technology, but there's no equity in the traditional sense of ownership interest," he said.

Merrill used the phrase "economy of skill" when discussing other noticeable changes that may come from the alliance. He said there is no reason to duplicate skill sets needed to meet anticipated demands coming with the future of health care.

One thing that Valley Health staff has noticed is the community's desire for better access to pediatric sub-specialists, Merrill said, and Inova may be able to help in that area.

Similarly, Valley Health excels in a number of areas that might complement those in Inova's system.

"It's still up to physician referral, but just like some of our specialists in Winchester travel to Luray or Front Royal for certain procedures or to offer clinics, the same could be done with specialists from Northern Virginia," he said. "That might keep some families from having to travel to Charlottesville or Richmond, for example."

Merrill said he foresees no impact on jobs or employment at Valley Health because of the alliance. Although the system will see lower costs on supplies, the savings will not translate to lower patient bills, he added.

The agreement is a multiyear alliance, and Merrill said he believes it will be extended or renewed over time.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com

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