February 7, 2009

UnitedHealth, IBM team on healthcare

UnitedHealth Group and IBM say they're teaming in Arizona to test a model of wellness healthcare that aims to reduce expenses while improving service.

UnitedHealth is IBM's sole health plan in Arizona, providing coverage for 11,000 IBM workers and their dependents.

The approach calls for UnitedHealth to move away from paying doctors solely on the basis of how many services they provide and, instead, to reward them more for the overall quality of care patients receive, said Dr. Sam Ho, a chief medical officer for the giant insurer.

The model, known as medical home, provides a home base for patients where doctors can improve care, prevent unnecessary trips to the emergency room and reduce hospitalizations, the New York Times reported.

This gives us the opportunity to create a model to allow family physicians to practice the way we used to practice in the past, said Dr. Jim Dearing, a Phoenix doctor who will participate in the trial.

An earlier trial by UnitedHealth in Florida was canceled in 2008 after doctors refused to participate, the Times reported. This time around, UnitedHealth has worked more closely with the doctors, Ho said.