The National Public Health and Hospital Institute, the research affiliate of the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems (NAPH), has received a research grant from the Aetna Foundation.

The $250,000 grant will allow the institute to analyse practices in integrated healthcare to help safety-net hospitals better integrate and coordinate care.

The study will also survey NAPH member organisations, evaluating care coordination practices, operational effectiveness, patient focus, and effective leadership and culture.

In addition, researchers will specify critical gaps hindering safety-net hospitals from full integration and develop strategies for addressing those gaps.

The results of the study are expected in December 2012.

It will also provide case studies of several safety-net hospitals that achieved significant progress in implementing an integrated healthcare model.

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Aetna Foundation vice-president Gillian Barclay said that they are supporting the National Public Health and Hospital Institute in its research to guide the transformation of public hospitals to more integrated healthcare delivery systems.

"Safety-net hospitals have a tremendous responsibility delivering high volumes of nonemergency health care services to vulnerable populations," Barclay said.

"As safety-net institutions adopt new processes that fully integrate and coordinate care for their patients, we should see a significant positive impact on population health in this country."

According to NAPH, uninsured patients had visited doctors more than eight million times and emergency department nearly three million times at its more than 100-member hospitals in 2009.

The average NAPH member hospital delivers almost 600,000 outpatient visits per year, five times the average of other acute care hospitals in the US, NAPH officials said.