A healthy trend in hospital care in NH

As coincidences go, they don’t get much more on point than two health care-related developments that occurred last week.

On Thursday morning, three health care executives – led by Dartmouth-
Hitchcock President and CEO James Weinstein – told a Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce breakfast gathering that the nation’s health care system is broken and won’t be fixed as long as hospitals insist on competing against each other by offering the same services.

“There’s a lot of unnecessary care … unnecessary procedures,” he said, after pointing to a map showing all the major health care facilities in New Hampshire.

Twenty-four hours later, Southern New Hampshire Health System announced it had entered into a formal affiliation agreement with Massachusetts General Hospital, thereby providing access to Boston-type care right here in downtown Nashua.

The agreement culminates a less formal relationship with Mass General – the third-oldest general hospital in the nation dating back to 1811 – that had been in operation for six years.

“This relationship closes the geographic distance between our two hospitals, making it possible for patients who need specialized care to get it here in Nashua and, if necessary, access world-class experts at Mass General,” Praveen Suchdev, president of the Southern New Hampshire Medical Center board of trustees, said in a statement last Friday.

As it turns out, this is just the latest example of collaboration – formal or otherwise – among New Hampshire hospitals in recent months:

• Two weeks ago, Dartmouth Hitchcock and Elliot Health System – the two biggest health care organizations in the state – said they are engaged in “good-faith dialogue” over how to work together to deliver better services to consumers at a lower cost.

• Earlier last month, Memorial Hospital executives conducted a community information session to explain plans for the Conway hospital to become a subsidiary of MaineHealth, which operates nearly a dozen hospitals and medical facilities in southern Maine.

• And in July, three North Country hospitals – Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital in Colebrook, Weeks Medical Center in Lancaster and Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin – agreed to form the Northern New Hampshire Healthcare Collaborative in a bid to share resources and control costs.

This collaborative approach to providing health care services is hardly a New Hampshire phenomenon. Becker’s Hospital Review, an industry publication that covers the business and legal aspects of health care, recently identified acquisitions, joint ventures and affiliations as one of the top hospital stories for 2012.

In Nashua, the affiliation between the two hospitals is aimed at five clinical areas: cardiovascular care, digestive health, oncology, pediatrics and surgery.

As an example, a board-certified breast surgeon from the Massachusetts General Cancer Center will be available to treat patients in Nashua, saving them the time and expense of a trip to Boston.

Whether this affiliation actually will result in lower costs remains to be seen, of course. But, at the very least, it is providing access to more specialized care for Greater Nashua patients closer to home.

And it isn’t easy to put a price tag to that.