Health parks are one way health systems will respond to both the demand for integrated care and the need to expand access to those newly-insured because of the ACA law
In Georgia, WellStar Health System, a five-hospital health system, recently opened the first of a series of planned “health parks.” This is a new concept that assembles many different types of health services into a single setting. Medical laboratory testing is expected to be one of the clinical services contained within these health parks.
The arrival of health parks must be viewed from the perspective of accountable care organizations (ACO), medical homes, and similar care delivery models that share the goal of delivering integrated clinical care to patients. Given the essential role of clinical laboratory testing in diagnosis and treatment, it is likely that health parks will establish and offer in-house medical laboratory testing capabilities.
The new, three-story, 70,000-square-foot WellStar Acworth Health Park is designed to offer a large number of outpatient services under one roof. Wellstar plans to build a chain of health parks because of existing and future patient demand.
Health parks are one response to the steady increase in the demand for outpatient care that is not tied to a hospital, noted Joe Brywczynski, Health Parks Administrator at WellStar. He was interviewed in a story published in The Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC).
Access, Cost Structure and Convenience Are the Focus
“The trend in healthcare is to focus on access, cost structure, and convenience,” noted Chris Kane, WellStar Senior Vice President of Strategic Planning and Business Development. Kane was quoted in a story published in The Marietta Daily Journal. “Developing innovative outpatient campuses addresses all of these objectives,” he said.
WellStar’s new health park is located to provide convenient access by the community. The concept is to use the health park to bring services into the community, eliminating the need for people to drive long distances to hospitals, observed Kane in the AJC coverage. Also, patients can immediately get follow-up tests after a doctor visit. They won’t need to drive to another location to have their specimen collected.
Another benefit of the health park is that it is cheaper to build. WellStar spent a total of $109 million building two health parks. “Acute care campuses are usually congested in terms of density of buildings and structures,” stated Brad Guest, J.D., a principal at BDC Advisors LLC, in a story in The Atlanta Business Chronicle. “That often forces people to [build] vertically—and that’s much more expensive.” BDC Advisors is a Miami-based health-care consulting firm.
Health Park Model Improves Communication Among Physicians
Health parks will enable better communication among physicians, observed William S. Custer, Ph.D., M.B.A., Associate Professor and Director of Center for Health Services Research at Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business, in the AJC story. This will foster greater efficiency in healthcare delivery. Further, it will lower costs by helping to avoid costly inefficiencies, such as the duplication of tests.
Expanded Coverage, Healthcare Reform May Fuel Explosive Growth
In fact, health parks are part of a greater trend. Construction of outpatient campuses are exploding, according to a story published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Sg2, a healthcare research firm, forecasts that inpatient hospital admissions will increase 1.4% over the next 10 years, MH reported. By comparison, by 2019, Sg2 estimates that outpatient services will grow by 21.6%.
Technology, expanded coverage, and healthcare reform are driving factors now fueling the tremendous growth of outpatient services. Advances in technology are enabling providers to deliver more medical care outside of expensive hospitals. This lowers the overall cost of care, but is a trend that is not favorable for the traditional community hospital.
Expansion of insurance coverage because of the new federal law also means more people will seek access to preventive care, diagnostic and physician services. That’s the opinion of Wade Johannessen, Ph.D.. He is a Senior Consultant at Sg2 and was quoted in Modern Healthcare.
“The shift to outpatient services [has] been aggressive, historically,” stated Armand Balsano, in the Atlanta Business Chronicle. “With health reform, the shift to lower-cost outpatient services will be even more accelerated.” Balsano is a director at EthosPartners Healthcare Management Group Inc., based in Suwanee, Georgia.
According to its press release, WellStar’s planned health parks will differ in the services provided, depending on the location. But, each park will provide office space for some or all of the following services:
- primary care;
- specialty physicians;
- outpatient surgery;
- diagnostic imaging;
- medical laboratory services;
- urgent care;
- specialty outpatient services such as cardiac, oncology, physical rehabilitation and women’s health.
Pathologists and clinical laboratory managers can consider health parks and similar “care clusters” as an important response to the ongoing changes to the American healthcare systems. What will be a common element in these new care delivery models is integration of clinical care, with many different types of healthcare services housed in a single facility that is not a hospital. In turn, these facilities will create new opportunities for both regional laboratories and community hospital laboratory outreach programs to deliver more value to clinicians.
—Pamela Scherer McLeod