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Editorial: Ephrata hospital, WellSpan partnership a logical, winning move

Ephrata Community Hospital has served its community for 75 years, growing from little more than a clinic to a full-service hospital with outpatient centers and strong partnerships with area doctors.

Last week, it announced a major step in its evolution — one that is likely to improve its chances of continuing to thrive in the rapidly changing health care landscape. The Lancaster County facility has entered into an agreement with York-based WellSpan Health that could result in affiliation.

ECH has been looking for a strong partner for several years. Lancaster General seemed like a natural fit at one point, but regulators thought otherwise.

WellSpan already manages three hospitals, a regional home care organization and a 500-member medical group and has partnerships with a fourth hospital, a hospice provider and hundreds of private-practice physicians.

It's natural to view this pending relationship as another instance of a smaller fish simply being gobbled up by a bigger player on the scene. But if the affiliation comes to fruition, it will be good for both entities, their staffs and their patients.

Successful, efficient delivery of medical care today is all about economies of scale and elimination of duplication even as patients demand access to the latest treatments and best doctors available.

At the same time, as ECH and WellSpan officials acknowledge, the payment mechanism is changing radically, from the traditional fee-for-service basis to an affordable care organization model, in which reimbursements rely on quality, cost reductions and outcomes measured for populations of patients. Health care providers assume more risk and therefore benefit from spreading that risk across a wider base.

In this new world, the patient "experience" becomes critical. Meanwhile, the competition for medical talent intensifies as physicians increasingly move from having private practices and hospital privileges to being staff.

These factors, including changes in the way Medicare pays, are happening irrespective of Obamacare reforms in the struggle to keep costs down without compromising care. Small players are going to be at a huge disadvantage on all fronts. Those who prepare now will fare better than those bringing up the rear.

This is not unique to the midstate. Across the country we're witnessing the rapid evolution of an industry. The winners will have deep pockets, whether they are physicians, physician groups, hospitals or entire hospital systems.

An ECH-WellSpan affiliation will be good for ECH and one more step in a series of changes that will further improve medical care in the region.

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