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Western New York’s health care system ranked in the top 20 percent – 54th out of 306 regions studied – in a national ranking for access to health care, prevention and treatment, according to a new study.

The Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit that studies health care issues, cited the region for being a strong performer despite the disadvantages of a weak economy and poverty.

The organization examined 42 indicators to determine the rankings, including immunization rates, health insurance coverage, avoidable hospital admissions, cancer-related deaths and safer prescribing processes for medications.

“There is a strong correlation between poverty and poor performance in this ranking. We are a poor region but landed in the top quartile. That is noteworthy,” said Dr. Michael W. Cropp, CEO of Independent Health.

“We’re a community with limited resources that is finding ways to create more value in health care,” Cropp said.

Three findings stood out. The Buffalo area, compared with other parts of the United States, has succeeded at developing partnerships among nonprofit health plans and physicians to improve quality. Also, a regional electronic health information exchange shares clinical and administrative data. The Commonwealth Fund also pointed out cooperative community health organizations such as the P2 Collaborative of Western New York.

The report noted efforts by some physician groups to work with insurers and hospitals to improve care, highlighting the Buffalo Medical Group, a large private practice, and Catholic Medical Partners, the organization that represents the 900 physicians affiliated with the Catholic Health System.

The doctors in Catholic Medical Partners have collectively hired more than 240 care coordinators to help manage patients with chronic diseases, according to the report. In addition, a team of registered dietitians offers nutrition education. And the practice association also employs performance incentives to promote the use of electronic medical records.

As a result of these and other measures, the percentage of diabetic patients whose condition was under control increased to 32.2 percent, from 13.9 percent, over a three-year period, and hospital readmissions declined significantly, the researchers said.

The Commonwealth Fund also lauded efforts to develop community organizations to foster collaboration among health care providers, patients, payers and others.

It cited the P2 Collaborative, which has brought more than $15 million in funds to the area for health-related projects since it was founded in 2007, according to the fund. P2’s mission is to educate residents to adopt healthy lifestyles and to help health care providers implement best practices.

“Communities seeking to learn from Western New York’s success may benefit most from studying the way the community has leveraged opportunities to invest in its future,” the researchers said.

A key example is HEALTHeLINK, a nonprofit consortium of hospitals, insurers and other medical groups that promotes the use of electronic medical records to link patients, doctors and insurers.

HEALTHeLINK has benefited from state and federal grants, and it has leveraged those funds to create a regional Internet-based medical information system for both administrative and clinical data that is far ahead of many others around the nation.

“The senior leadership of the major health plans and hospitals here, some of them adversaries, came together for the benefit of the community and patients to collaborate on the exchange of data,” said Daniel E. Porreca, executive director of HEALTHeLINK.

The result is a regional system that initially allowed doctors and hospitals to use a single source for information on patient insurance eligibility, claim status, referrals and pre-authorizations.

Increasingly, physicians now use HEALTHeLINK to order prescriptions and view laboratory test results, radiology reports and medication histories for patients who give consent.

The Commonwealth Fund, which also recently published a statewide ranking, found what other researchers have seen: a persistently wide geographic variation in the accessibility, quality and use of health care services in the United States, as well as in health outcomes and disparities.

The reports are based on a 2012 local health system scorecard by the research foundation that rated 306 regions on dozens of measures.

St. Paul, Minn., ranked highest. Other nearby Minnesota cities ranked high, too, including Minneapolis, which ranked fourth, and Rochester, Minn., home of the Mayo Clinic, which ranked third.

Other upstate New York areas ranked well, including Rochester, 27th, and Albany, 57th.

Monroe. La., scored the worst.

The rankings generally showed that where people live influences the quality of health care they receive and the ease of obtaining it.

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Health system performance

Researchers ranked regions on access to care, prevention and treatment

1. St. Paul, Minn.

2. Dubuque, Iowa

3. Rochester, Minn.

4. Minneapolis

5. Appleton, Wis.

6. Santa Rosa, Calif.

27. Rochester, N.Y.

54. Buffalo

121. Manhattan

306. Monroe, La.

Source: Commonwealth Fund

email: hdavis@buffnews.com