Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska is expanding the health care modeled at its Omaha clinic that they say keeps patients healthier and lowers costs, by partnering with a longtime player in the local medical scene.

The clinic owned by Blue Cross, Think Whole Person Health Care, brings primary care doctors, pharmacists and other providers together to coordinate care. By doing so, advocates say, clinicians can help keep patients out of hospital beds, which means they also can reduce or stem medical spending.

The clinic’s cost of care per Medicare patient in 2017 was $1,200 lower than state average and $2,000 below the national average, according to clinic data.

“We feel like we have created something special and different,” said Dr. Joann Schaefer, executive vice president with Blue Cross. “Now we want to make it even better, and scale it.”

To that end, Blue Cross announced last month the partnership with Clarkson Regional Health Services. Clarkson also supports Clarkson College and Clarkson Family Medicine, a primary care clinic.

Officials said the amount of Clarkson’s investment in Think is confidential. They declined to be more specific about the arrangement.

The first initiative under the new partnership already is in place, officials said. A Think physician is traveling to and seeing patients at an assisted-living center in Papillion.

How other clinics might look is still to be determined, they said, although they do envision smaller versions of Think in the future. The clinic also is recruiting new physicians.

“We’re excited about the possibilities for recruitment with Clarkson,” Schaefer said. “There is a need for more primary care physicians.”

Both Blue Cross and Clarkson officials say they support bolstering primary care and making it more accessible to patients, which is widely seen as a key way to improve care and lower costs. Other countries where costs are lower and health outcomes better have a greater reliance on primary care.

Primary care doctors, by making sure patients get routine screenings such as mammograms and colonoscopies, can help make sure diseases are caught early, before they cause more harm to patients and become more costly and difficult to treat.

Dr. Jim Canedy, an orthopedic surgeon and Clarkson Regional Health Services president, recalled seeing an older woman who came into the office with numbness in her feet from years of untreated diabetes. Her blood lipid levels also were out of control.

“Those are things we should never see in medicine, but we do all the time,” he said. “That’s what motivates me to do this.”

Blue Cross and Clarkson already are partners in the Nurture Health clinic, which opened in January 2018 on the second floor of the Think building, 7100 West Center Road.

Nurture Health operates as a direct primary care clinic, in which patients pay a monthly membership fee. In return, the clinic covers all of their primary care needs with no insurance claims, deductibles or co-pays. Nurture, like some other direct primary care clinics, offers an unlimited number of appointments and same-day visits.

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Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.

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