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Research consortium will help Horizon subsidiary focus its care model

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Horizon Healthcare Innovations is launching an academic research consortium comprised of experts from Rutgers, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon universities to advise it on how to design pilot programs to improve health outcomes, cost and patient engagement, then analyze the impact of those programs.

HHI is a subsidiary created by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey that's hoped to lead a transformation of the nation's health care system.

The consortium expects to conduct a series of innovative studies in health care payment reform and consumer engagement, said Dr. Kevin Volpp, the consortium's lead researcher and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "The research team will test new ways of trying to improve health and address the nation's problems of high rates of growth in health care costs."

According to Dr. Richard Popiel, president and chief operating officer of HHI, the consortium's goals are "to have an independent third-party evaluation of the work we are doing … to know which pilots work, which don't, and what to tweak — and, ultimately, what to scale up in a significant way."

For members of the consortium, the benefit is a chance to study changes in the health care system as they unfold, Popiel said.

Among the pilot programs launched so far by HHI is a so-called patient-centered medical home, or PCMH, that involves eight physician groups caring for 24,000 Horizon members in new ways that include more coordination of care and follow up.

"Right now, we are making sure that all of the infrastructure and all of the engagement processes and work flow between HHI and the (medical) practices are working efficiently, and we are able to deliver the results we had anticipated," Popiel said. HHI gets calls every day from health care providers looking to join its pilot programs, but "we made a tactical choice to not just expand for expansion's sake, but work in a collaborative way to get this to the best possible" model.

According to Popiel, HHI has pilots under way in orthopedics and oncology, is exploring accountable care organization pilots with hospitals, and has launched a consumer engagement pilot to help motivate individuals to lose weight.

"What is so exciting abut the consortium is (the researchers) will help us think through how to structure the pilots, and structure them in a way that we can definitely study the impact and see what works," Popiel said. The studies will look at the impact of nursing care, how to close gaps in care, and how to reach high-risk patients. "All of those things are in play for research purposes, and will produce value to New Jersey and to the nation," he said.

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