Geisinger, Merck to collaborate

Merck and the Geisinger Health System, which is based in Danville, Pa., and often cited as one of the most innovative in the country, Monday morning announced an agreement to collaborate in ways to improve patient health outcomes.

The particulars about financial contributions and possible rewards for the two companies were not included in the announcement.

Mark Timney, Merck's president of global human health for the U.S. market, said in an interview that Merck would contribute "millions" of dollars in employee time and energy, but not product, meaning Geisinger doctors won't be obligated to write prescriptions for Merck drugs ahead of competitors.

"There is nothing specific in this contract about that," Timney said. "A big focus is adherence and this collaboration is agnostic regarding brand or company in what that solution might look like."

Getting patients to actually take medicine prescribed for them, especially medicines to treat chronic diseases, is important for pharmaceutical companies because it will mean more pills are purchased. But plenty of people in health care with no particular allegiance to drug companies also say that improvement in adherence has been shown to dramatically decrease the catastrophic health events that result in hospital stays and huge costs. Many of those costs are born by taxpayers through Medicare and Medicaid.

“We believe that health care is most effective when patients are active partners in their care,” Dr. Glenn Steele Jr., president and chief executive officer of Geisinger Health System, said in a statement. “Our collaboration with Merck will allow both organizations to leverage our individual expertise and joint resources to improve patient engagement, including finding new interventions to increase the likelihood that patients will adhere to their treatment plans.”

Serving more than 2.6 million residents in 44 counties in central and northeastern Pennsylvania, Geisinger is renowned for providing high-quality care for less money. Geisinger acts as both provider and payer of medical services. While employing doctors, nurses and staff at offices and in four acute care hospitals, Geisinger also acts as the insurance company. Geisinger is also way ahead of most health-care systems in using electronic medical records.

The combination differs from the fee-for-service model, so prevalent and so expensive in much of the U.S. health-care system, and financial benefit is derived from patients remaining healthy over time and out of the hospital. That translates into hiring more nurses and staff to help engage patients and actively encourage them to stick with plans, including pharmaceutical products.

The companies will work on an interactive web-based application that helps doctors and nurses engage patients who might be at risk for developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.