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GE Healthcare's Jefferson deal: Is one vendor better than choice? (Update)

The aim: fewer repetitive forms and requests, fewer stops at different offices, fewer duplicative tests, shorter waits.

Stephen Klasko, president and CEO of Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health, which also encompasses the Abington and Aria health facilities.
Stephen Klasko, president and CEO of Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health, which also encompasses the Abington and Aria health facilities.Read moreCHARLES FOX/Staff photographer

(See UPDATE below)  GE Healthcare has begun moving 100 staffers into 13 area hospitals of the Jefferson Health network and its Abington and Aria facilities, under a deal the partners say should generate more than $500 million in savings and new revenue over the next eight years through increased use of GE data systems and health-care machinery. 

"What's really different is, these guys are not coming in as consultants. They are going to be embedded at our place," said Stephen Klasko, Jefferson's chief executive.

While "GE doesn't do work for free," said Helen Stewart, managing principal at GE Healthcare Partners, under "risk-sharing" provisions in the Jefferson-GE contract, "we won't get paid" if Jefferson's efficiency, medical care, and financial-improvement targets aren't  met.

Klasko told me he wants the "combined organization" of GE and Jefferson to "disrupt health care" so that going to Jefferson, Aria, and Abington professionals will mean less hassle — fewer repetitive forms and requests, fewer stops at different offices, fewer duplicative tests, shorter waits. Doctors and nurses would be able to spend less time updating records, so they could see more patients per day and raise care standards.

Besides the GE staffers at the hospitals, the work will be supported by another 100 or so GE staffers, including dozens of new hires, Stewart said.  Jefferson hospitals, colleges, and affiliates employ about 29,000, second only to the University of Pennsylvania and its health system among the area's private employers.

About 70 Jefferson biomedical staff who service radiology and other imaging equipment will transfer over to work as GE employees.

UPDATE 7/19: Jefferson says the transfers won't include any radiology staff.

Imaging staff "are nervous and upset about the GE takeover," a senior Jefferson staff member told me, speaking on condition I not post the member's name. "By going with a single vendor, how can we guarantee to get best breed in equipment?" Can GE show its machines perform better than a Philips or Toshiba ultrasound, TC scanner or MRI machine? Are its management and information systems necessarily the best?

The staffer added, "The in-house biomed people know us. They are on site, and can troubleshoot and fix bad fuses, bad keyboards, easy software problems. They feel like Thomas Jefferson just pulled out the rug from under them." Sounds like they'll need some GE reassurance. (END UPDATE)

Klasko said the Jefferson partnership is the largest of several Stewart's group at GE has initiated with U.S. hospitals since 2015. The campaign is backed by John Flannery, the past GE Healthcare executive who now heads the parent General Electric Corp.

Klasko also cited pressure from health-insurance executives such as Independence Blue Cross boss Daniel Hilferty, who he says have pushed hospitals to make much better use of the digital data generated in enormous quantity on patients, procedures, and therapies, to streamline and standardize care and support services.

The insurers, Klasko said, have been frustrated by the lack of progress on limiting the relentless cost increases that squeeze Medicaid and Medicare programs, private employers, and patients.

He cited the IBM Watson voice-command application, which Jefferson says will make it easier for patients to adjust room conditions themselves, as the kind of improvement GE is developing.

GE-Jefferson teams will review, for example, "the flow of patients through our system" to cut down, say, the time discharged patients have to wait for a wheelchair, Stewart said. "We'll be very deliberate about leveraging analytics and other tools to help us see those inefficiencies. We have a very data-driven approach using simulation modeling and advanced analytics. Let's build a systems approach, creating consistency, so care is really cohesive."

Standardizing costs and pricing "is a byproduct," Stewart said, of making care more predictable and efficient.

Long a maker of magnetic resonance imaging machines and other big-ticket machinery, GE Healthcare bulked up its digital-monitoring equipment menu over the last decade, before today's push to sell health-care hardware, software, and management in a package. Klasko noted GE has been buying up hospital consulting firms so it can advise on strategy.

The Jefferson deal is the largest and "most transformational" of several partnerships GE has rolled out since 2015, Stewart said. Others include GE Healthcare's pact with the Mission health-care system in Asheville, N.C., which targets imaging data and cardiology improvements; Hartford Health Care, focused on patient flow and imaging; and Philadelphia's own Temple system, focusing on radiology and financial data.