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Standards for Achieving Clinical Integration – How Much Is Enough

Clinical Integration AttorneyI am often asked to provide my opinion on the standards that must be met in order to be considered to have achieved clinical integration.  Clinical integration provides some significant benefits under the antitrust laws.  Failure to meet clinical integration standards can have some significant downsides for providers who are attempting to adapt to health care reform by establishing new organizational models to manage care.

There is no single test to determine whether an organization is clinically integrated for antitrust purposes.  The DOJ/FTC Joint Statement on Antitrust Enforcement Policy in Health Care provides some very general guidance on factors that are indicative of clinical integration.  More detailed analysis of clinical integration requirements can be found in several advisory opinions that have been issued by the FTC.  Analysis of all available resources makes it clear that there is no single formula for achieving clinical integration and each organization will be unique in the mechanisms and processes that are used to achieve required levels of collaboration and interdependence between providers.  I can sense a degree of frustration when I am unable to provide a certain answer of the precise conditions that must be in existence to meet clinical integration tests.  I believe some of the uncertainty is due to the fact that clinical integration is a system and a process rather than a static model of operation.

We are certainly able to flush out the primary elements of a clinically integrated network.  An organization that wishes to create a CIN should clearly set its objectives, define the mechanisms that it intends to create, and should develop a plan to move toward achievement of defined goals and operation of the CIN mechanisms.  Too much focus on precisely when clinical integration is achieved tends to place the emphasis on the wrong factors and assumes that clinical integration is an end in and of itself rather than a system and a process that much be created and continuously operated.  Clinical integration changes the very fabric of how health care is delivered.  It does this by reshaping the culture in which health care providers operate.  It is not something that can be achieved overnight.  Rather, it is a continual process of growth and development.

If the focus is on creation of the system and processes, the antitrust benefits will naturally flow.  Therefore, we should be cognizant of the way that clinical integration is defined under the antitrust laws as we structure clinically integrated organizations.  But we should avoid getting bogged down in questions about how much integration is enough.

 

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John H. Fisher

Health Care Counsel
Ruder Ware, L.L.S.C.
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P.O. Box 8050
Wausau, WI 54402-8050

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