Kaiser Permanente waives tuition for first 5 medical school classes


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Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente announced its intent Feb. 19 to waive all four years of tuition for the first five classes of students admitted to its new medical school.

Kaiser officials said in a news release obtained by Becker’s Hospital Review that its medical school has received preliminary accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education and will begin accepting applications from prospective students in June 2019 for its inaugural class in summer 2020. Each class will contain roughly 48 students, according to The New York Times.

Mark Schuster, MD, PhD, founding dean and CEO of the Pasadena, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine, told The New York Times that while the institution only plans to cover the entire $55,000-per-year tuition for all of its first five classes of students, Kaiser will offer “very generous financial aid” based on need for future students.

Kaiser is the second institution to announce that it will waive tuition for students. Last August, the New York City-based NYU School of Medicine declared plans to cover its entire tuition costs for all students, which equates to more than 400 students across classes.

While NYU raised $600 million from donors to pay for its tuition plan, Kaiser is using a portion of its revenue set aside for “community benefits,” which all nonprofit hospitals have to provide to maintain their tax-exempt status, according to The New York Times. The health system, which has an operating revenue of nearly $73 billion, spent $2.3 billion on community benefits in 2017, including charity care for the uninsured and community health spending.

The medical school will be one of the only medical schools in the U.S. to be affiliated with a hospital or health system, not a university, The New York Times reports. Its curriculum will include a focus on small-group, case-based learning, and students will travel to the health system’s hospitals and clinics in the greater Los Angeles area for their clinical education.

“We’ve had the opportunity to build a medical school from the ground up and have drawn from evidence-based educational approaches to develop a state-of-the-art school on the forefront of medical education, committed to preparing students to provide outstanding patient care in our nation’s complex and evolving healthcare system,” said Dr. Schuster said in a news release.

In December, Kaiser added 11 executives to the medical school’s leadership team.

To access the full report, click here.



As small hospitals ally with big ones, do patients benefit?


After seven years of a vigorous fight, Jim Hart worried he was running out of options.

Diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 60, Hart had undergone virtually every treatment — surgery, radiation and hormones — to eradicate it. But a blood test showed that his level of prostate-specific antigen, which should have been undetectable, kept rising ominously. And doctors couldn’t determine where the residual cancer was lurking.

“I didn’t like the sound of that,” said Hart, a retired international oil specialist for the federal government. “I wanted it gone,” he added, especially after learning that he had inherited the BRCA2 gene, making him vulnerable to other cancers.

So when Andrew Joel, Hart’s longtime urologist at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, mentioned the hospital’s membership in the Mayo Clinic Care Network and suggested consulting specialists at the Rochester, Minn., hospital for a second opinion, Hart enthusiastically agreed.

A Mayo immunologist told Joel about a new PET scan, not then available in the Washington area, that can detect tiny cancer hot spots. Hart flew to Mayo for the scan, which found cancer cells in one lymph node in his pelvis. He underwent chemotherapy at Virginia Hospital Center and five weeks of radiation at the Mayo Clinic. Since September 2016, there has been no detectable cancer.

“This collaboration was sort of a magic process,” Hart said. “I feel very fortunate.”

‘Benefit by association’

Hart’s experience showcases the promise of a much-touted but little understood collaboration in health care: alliances between community hospitals and some of the nation’s biggest and most respected institutions.

For prospective patients, it can be hard to assess what these relationships actually mean — and whether they matter.

Leah Binder, president and chief executive of the Leapfrog Group, a Washington-based patient safety organization that grades hospitals based on data involving medical errors and best practices, cautions that affiliation with a famous name is not a guarantee of quality.

“Brand names don’t always signify the highest quality of care,” she said. “And hospitals are really complicated places.”

Affiliation agreements are “essentially benefit by association, ” said Gerard Anderson, a professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “In some cases it’s purely branding and in other cases it’s a deep association.”

A key question is “how often does the community hospital interact with the flagship hospital? If it’s once a week, that’s one thing. If it’s almost never, that’s another,” Anderson said.

Feeling ‘plugged in’

To expand their reach, flagship hospitals including Mayo, the Cleveland Clinic and Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center have signed affiliation agreements with smaller hospitals around the country. These agreements, which can involve different levels of clinical integration, typically grant community hospitals access to experts and specialized services at the larger hospitals while allowing them to remain independently owned and operated. For community hospitals, a primary goal of the brand name affiliation is stemming the loss of patients to local competitors.

In return, large hospitals receive new sources of patients for clinical trials and for the highly specialized services that distinguish these “destination medicine” sites. Affiliations also boost their name recognition — all without having to establish a physical presence.

In some cases, large hospital systems have opted for a different approach, largely involving acquisition. Johns Hopkins acquired Sibley Memorial and Suburban hospitals in the Washington area, along with All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla. The latter was re-christened Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in 2016.

New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has embraced a hybrid strategy. It operates a ring of facilities surrounding Manhattan and has forged alliances with three partners in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Florida.

“Every one of these models is different,” said Ben Umansky, managing director for research at the Advisory Board, a Washington-based consulting firm.

Local hospitals, he said, particularly those operating “in the shadows of giants,” may be better able to retain patients “by getting a name brand on their door. . . . There is a sense that they are plugged in.” (Virginia Hospital Center, for example, competes with Hopkins, MedStar Washington Hospital Center, which has an alliance with the Cleveland Clinic, and the Northern Virginia-based Inova system.)

Doctors can obtain speedy second opinions for their patients and streamline visits for those with complex or unusual medical needs, processes that can be daunting and difficult without connections.

Michael Kupferman, senior vice president of the MD Anderson Cancer Network, said it seeks to “elevate the quality of cancer care” by forming partnerships with “high-quality [hospitals] to keep patients at home and provide the imprimatur of MD Anderson.”

Virginia Hospital Center’s association with Mayo is “not just a branding affiliation, it’s a deep clinical affiliation,” said Jeffrey DiLisi, senior vice president and chief medical officer at the Arlington facility.

Despite extensive marketing, many patients seem unaware of the linkage. “We still think a lot about ‘How do we communicate this?’ ” DiLisi said.

Although affiliation agreements differ, many involve payment of an annual fee by smaller hospitals. Officials at Mayo and MD Anderson declined to reveal the amount, as did executives at several affiliates. Contracts with Mayo must be renewed annually, while some with MD Anderson exceed five years.

Acceptance is preceded by site visits and vetting of the community hospitals’ staff and operations. Strict guidelines control use of the flagship name.

“It is not the Mayo Clinic,” said David Hayes, medical director of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, which was launched in 2011. “It is a Mayo clinic affiliate.”

Of the 250 U.S. hospitals or health systems that have expressed serious interest in joining Mayo’s network, 34 have become members.

For patients considering a hospital that has such an affiliation, Binder advises checking ratings from a variety of sources, among them Leapfrog, Medicare, and Consumer Reports, and not just relying on reputation.

“In theory, it can be very helpful,” Binder said of such alliances. “The problem is that theory and reality don’t always come together in health care.”

Case in point: Hopkins’s All Children’s has been besieged by recent reports of catastrophic surgical injuries and errors and a spike in deaths among pediatric heart patients since Hopkins took over. Hopkins’s chief executive has apologized, more than a half-dozen top executives have resigned and Hopkins recently hired a former federal prosecutor to conduct a review of what went wrong.

“For me and my family, I always look at the data,” Binder said. “Nothing else matters if you’re not taken care of in a hospital, or you have the best surgeon in the world and die from an infection.”




Patient Perception of Hospital Affiliations Influences Care


Hospital affiliation and healthcare mergers

About 85 percent of individuals said they would forgo local care and travel one hour based on hospital affiliation with a top-ranked system, a study reveals.

Hospital affiliations can influence patient volume, a new study by the Yale Cancer Center shows.

The study recently published in the journal Annals of Surgical Oncology revealed that 85 percent of individuals about to receive complex cancer surgery would travel one hour away to receive care at a top-ranked hospital specializing in cancer care. The respondents said they would travel to a top-ranked affiliated hospital rather than go to their local hospital.

However, almost one-third of the respondents (31 percent) would change their mind about where to seek care if their local hospital was affiliated with a top-ranked hospital or system.

Researchers at Yale Cancer Center explained that the trend in where patients seek care indicated that individuals believe that hospital affiliation with top-rank hospitals means that both hospitals – the top-ranked and affiliate organizations – offer similar quality care. And about one-half of the 1,000 individuals surveyed said that safety and quality of care were identical at both the top=ranked and affiliate hospitals.

But the perception that top-ranked hospitals and their affiliates offer the same level of care quality is not necessarily true, researchers warned.

“There is no evidence that the care is the same, and no regulation that governs the advertising and marketing of these affiliations,” explained the study’s senior author, Daniel J. Boffa, MD, professor of surgery (thoracic surgery), program leader of the Thoracic Oncology Program at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale Cancer Center, and investigator at Yale’s Cancer Outcomes, Public Policy, and Effectiveness Research Center (COPPER).

Boffa and his colleagues further investigated how brand-sharing, like hospital affiliations, via the internet impact an individual’s healthcare decision-making process. Researchers asked the over 1,000 individuals about their hospital preferences for complex cancer surgery between large top-ranked organizations and small, local hospitals.

When researchers asked the respondents to compare top-ranked and small hospitals, the survey showed:

  • 47 percent of respondents said that surgical safety, 66 percent felt that guideline compliance, and 53 percent reported cure rates would be the same at both hospitals
  • 47 percent of respondents thought that the surgical care at a top-ranked hospital and its affiliates would be the same across all four safety features (rate of complications, readmissions rate, length of stay, and postoperative mortality rate)
  • 44 percent of respondents thought the affiliated hospital would be the same in terms of surgical quality standards, including surgical cure rate

“It is completely understandable that the public would make assumptions that hospitals advertising the same name offer the same care,” Boffa stated in a press release. “Some hospital advertising could be even be interpreted as encouraging this line of thinking.”

“The truth is that we do not yet know if care received at an affiliated hospital is the same as care at the brand name center, whether that is for complex cancer care or other procedures,” he continued. “Currently hospitals are free to share their brand with almost any hospital they choose. The hospitals are not required to inform patients of any differences in the quality or safety of care provided by the different hospitals within a network. This study suggests that the public is making assumptions in care equality that are potentially influencing their choice for hospital care.”

The perception about hospital affiliations could be problematic for the healthcare industry as providers rapidly consolidate.

Healthcare organizations announced 115 merger and acquisition transactions in 2017, consulting firm Kaufman Hall reported. And that was the highest number of transactions in recent history, the firm pointed out.

2018 is likely to meet or even exceed the number of healthcare mergers and acquisitions, healthcare experts predict. For example, recent data from Kaufman Hall show 255 healthcare merger and acquisition deals announced in the second quarter of 2018.

Many leaders of healthcare organizations engaging in a merger and/or acquisition claim the deal will improve care quality while lowering costs for patients.

But Boffa et al. pointed out that care quality may not necessarily be the same across affiliate hospitals, creating confusion among individuals seeking high-quality, low-cost care.

“I see these findings as a wake-up call to the medical community to investigate if there are important differences in care between affiliated hospitals and their mother ship, as well as a wake-up call to name brand medical centers to take ownership for outcomes at hospitals that share their names,” Boffa stated.

“What is known is that the issue of where to receive complex cancer care is seen as crucial to patient outcome,” he added. “Studies have found that the quality and safety of such complex cancer care is particularly prone to outcome variability across hospitals, and the risk of dying after an operation can be up to four times greater at hospitals that perform procedures infrequently. Yet other data suggests that, in general, outcomes at top-ranked hospitals can vary widely, and are not always superior to non-ranked hospitals.”

Hospital affiliations, however, do have the potential to increase patient access to high quality care, the researchers elaborated. But stakeholders need to provide patients with quality of care data to help them make informed healthcare decisions.

“To our knowledge, this is the first survey to focus on the difference in the public’s perception of care between these two environments, but it is likely that affiliation status and co-branding has already impacted the distribution of patients across the healthcare spectrum,” Boffa said. “The development of affiliations could, potentially, bring cancer expertise closer to patients— but without facts that is just a theory.”