UHealth is Transformed into a Fully Integrated Academic Health System

New signs on buildings across the University of Miami Health System (UHealth) herald the creation of a fully integrated academic health care system and a new name for all hospital-based facilities: University of Miami Hospital and Clinics.

The change, which launched Sunday, October 29, after more than a year of preparation, is the first major step in the transformation of UHealth into a true single academic health center, with the goal of providing the system’s world-renowned care in patient-centric clinics and hospitals throughout South Florida.

“By eliminating silos and consolidating our three hospitals into a single operational model, we have created a tremendously high performing ‘team of teams’ that will continue to soar to new heights,” said Thinh H. Tran, M.D., MBA, chief operating officer of UHealth. “This is a momentous effort for us, a transformation of how we work together and collaborate.”

Operating under a single hospital license will not only provide an exceptional experience for patients, it will also simplify the administrative burden for the health system’s partners. It will reduce redundancies and consolidate services across UHealth facilities. These improvements will further streamline finances and enhance the health system’s revenue stream, ensuring that through the tumultuous changes in the national health care system, UHealth will continue to be able to deliver the highest level of care to all patients.

“This is also about ease of care for our caregivers,” Tran said. “Among our entities we had more than 3,000 policies and corresponding procedures that we have now simplified to a central core of 85 policies. As patients and caregivers go from site to site, there is one single operating model. This is a revolutionary culture shift for the health system, highlighting how we all work together to achieve a collective win.”

A huge piece of the transformation was the implementation of UChart, an Epic-based electronic medical record (EMR) system, at University of Miami Hospital, which will now be known as the University of Miami Hospital and Clinics – UHealth Tower. The health system now has a true enterprise-level EMR, accessible to both providers and patients. It will allow providers seamless access to all of a patient’s UHealth records, as well as additional health information from other hospitals and clinics outside of UHealth that use the Epic system.

“These monumental tasks have impacted every aspect of our health care system, and they could not have succeeded without the team approach now being implemented across UHealth’s growing footprint,” said Edward Abraham, M.D., acting executive vice president for health affairs, CEO of UHealth, and dean and chief academic officer of the Miller School of Medicine. “This is an exceptional example of how we work in collaboration to deliver on our promise to our patients and our community.”

In addition to the consolidation of the entities, all the physicians practicing at UHealth Tower are Miller School of Medicine faculty or voluntary faculty. This is critical because it completes the hospital’s transformation to a true academic teaching hospital.

“This integration has been an aspiration for our health system since we bought Cedars Hospital,” Tran said. “It’s been 10 years in the making, and took the dedication of multiple teams working together for the past 18 months to arrive at where we are today. I’m very grateful and proud of our staff for this accomplishment.”

Hospital operations across the UHealth system will be legally, administratively and functionally under the University of Miami Hospital and Clinics. Patients will continue to receive world-class care at such distinguished centers as Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, and the names of key locations such as The Lennar Foundation Medical Center, Sylvester at Deerfield Beach, and UHealth at Plantation will still be used. The Anne Bates Leach Eye Hospital will now be known as the Anne Bates Leach Eye Center.

Other steps are being taken to unify the health system, including a nursing harmonization project that outlines a clear ladder for career advancement.

“This is a foundational piece, but there is much more work to be done,” Tran said. “We are shifting our focus to optimization of our ambulatory care network, which extends throughout the tri-county area as well as Naples. Our efforts will focus on the continued harmonization of a superior experience and business model.”

Richard Ballard, chief administrative officer of UHealth corporate services, agrees that this is “the first big step to position the health system to be more effective and more competitive in the future. This is a journey, not a destination.” The restructuring and unification of financial areas such as billing, revenue cycle and procurement, information technology, regulatory compliance and many other functions will continue to advance.

“We’re an academic center, which means we’re a learning organization, and now we’ll have a better ability to learn from one another,” Ballard said. “This is an opportunity for us to really think as a unified health system.”

On Sunday, when the command center at UHealth Tower officially launched Epic and ensured that other changes were initiated smoothly, Ballard says it was clear that a “bonding process” had happened. The staff was proud and pleased that health system leaders rounded to show their appreciation for the employees’ dedication to the scope and importance of the project.

David Seo, M.D., chief medical informatics officer for the health system, was among the leaders at the command center. “It has been great to see the whole UM family pull together in such a collaborative way,” he said. For him the Epic launch “is the single largest transformative event for the health system. While we focus on the tool, which is UChart, this is really a change in the way we take care of our patients and manage our business.

“There is still plenty of work to be done, and we will stay focused on the job.”

Ballard says the tools for the job are in place. “We basically did everything in the past year or so that would be required if you were building a brand new hospital,” he said. “We designed a process as well as getting all the work done. The next time we do a large-scale project like this we’ve got the tools and a process for it.

“The biggest change beyond the obvious ones when you do these kinds of projects is that you take three cultures and create a fourth one. When we feel that that has really happened, that’s when we know this has been successful.”

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