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Atrius to begin affiliation with Lahey

Atrius Health has begun a strategic affiliation with Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, the most significant clinical alliance between its independent physicians and a hospital since Atrius struck a partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in 2009.

While the Beth Israel agreement funneled more patients to the Boston hospital for complex care instead of neighboring Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the new deal will send Atrius patients north of Boston to Lahey rather than Beth Israel or other city hospitals.

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“We’re seeking to coordinate care and create a better level of collaboration with our patients,” Atrius chief executive Gene Lindsey said Wednesday. He described the move as a continuation of a business approach Newton-based Atrius has taken for the past decade.

“Our promise to patients is to try to get them care as close to where they live as possible,” Lindsey said.

Atrius, a consortium of community doctors groups that includes Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, also has affiliations with South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, and Beverly Hospital, which in 2011 merged with Lahey Health, the parent organization of Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. In each case, Atrius doctors groups refer patients needing complicated procedures to affiliated “preferred” hospitals.

Lahey Hospital & Medical Center — formerly known as Lahey Clinic — will provide services such as cardiac surgery, organ transplants, and neurosurgical procedures for patients from Atrius practices in Burlington, Chelmsford, Peabody, and Concord, said Howard Grant, chief executive of Lahey Health. He said many of those patients previously were referred to Boston hospitals, including Beth Israel.

Grant said the new alliance with Atrius — whose physician groups have more than 1,000 doctors and 2,100 other medical professionals — would help Lahey Hospital better integrate care with its own affiliated hospitals, including Beverly Hospital, Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester, and, eventually, Winchester Hospital. In June, Winchester Hospital signed a letter of intent to join the Lahey Health system, a deal that has yet to be completed.

“The whole focus has been keeping care local, avoiding tertiary care where possible; but if necessary, tertiary care should be done as close to home as possible,” Grant said. “We’re not interested in bringing any patients to Burlington who don’t need to be in Burlington.”

Grant and Lindsey said their affiliation talks were separate from three-way negotiations underway between Atrius, Lahey, and Beth Israel. Those talks, which also involve the Lahey Clinic Physicians Group and the Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess, may eventually result in a formal merger or a less formal network of health care providers.

Those negotiations are “active and positive,” Grant said, but so far have not resulted in an agreement. “The discussions are ongoing,” he said. “Those discussions continue as the three organizations look at ways to collaborate better and serve the communities we serve better.”

Robert Weisman can be reached at weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.
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