“January 15, 2001 Intelligence: Late Breaking Lab News”

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In Cincinnati, the CHIN (community healthcare information network) effort of the mid-1990s has evolved into HealthBridge, a “secure, private Intranet that provides physician access to hospital clinical records, insurance eligibility, e-mail, and on-line medical reference material.” Three of the larger health systems in Cincinnati, representing 20 hospitals, are participating. In recent months, the first hospitals went live with their connections to the HealthBridge Intranet. Clinical laboratory results, radiology, and transcriptions are the first three clinical segments offered by HealthBridge.


When the Executive War College convenes in Cincinnati on May 8-9, 2001, clinical pathologists and executives working on the Health- Bridge project will be on hand to tell how the system works and how local doctors are using it to access lab test data. HealthBridge has the capability to supplant many traditional lab functions in test results reporting, data storage, and data access.


Here’s another sign that providers are regaining some degree of power against managed care companies. On Friday, December 1, 2000, Mayo Clinic sent a letter to its patients stating that it was dropping Aetna USHealthcare, effective January 1, 2001. In the letter, Mayo Clinic said Aetna was neither paying claims accurately nor on time. Only about 2,000 of the 300,000 patients seen yearly at the Mayo Clinic will be affected by this decision. But the action by Mayo is seen as a further setback for Aetna, the nation’s largest, and maybe the most beleaguered, health insurance company.


Aetna’s reputation among healthcare providers is now a critical business problem. The company developed a reputation as a hard-nosed negotiator when contracting with physicians and hospitals. To change this reputation, it spent much of the last year mending fences. This has included removing many arbitrary restrictions affecting the freedom of physicians to refuse to participate in specific Aetna insurance plans. Within the clinical lab segment, there has been no observable change yet in Aetna’s clinical laboratory contracting practices.


Hospitals must have been anticipating the increased funding for Medicare passed by Congress last month. Wholesale prices at acute care hospitals are climbing at their fastest rate in five years. The price increase was .07% for November, matching the .07% increase in October. This is the biggest jump since October 1995, when the index climbed 1% for the month. The Producer Price Index is calculated by the U.S. Labor Department.


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