Maybe health systems are just the "silent partners" in this new era of managing the health of populations, and doctors are the real stars.

That was one of the interesting tidbits I gathered from descriptions of a unique new partnership unveiled last week between two sizable players in the state of Michigan. Ascension and CHE Trinity Health are banding together to form a clinically integrated network of providers that stretches across the entire Great Lake State, according to a news release. Called the "Together Health Network," the partnership will encompass 27 hospitals and hundreds of other care sites, all within at least 20 minutes of 75 percent of Michigan residents, according to the organizations.

The seeds of the partnership were planted last fall, when the two sides agreed that payers and employers are looking for care that's coordinated and focused on keeping populations healthy, not just treating each sick person who shows up at the hospital. Patricia Maryland, president of health care operations and COO at Ascension, notes that both systems are already performing at benchmark levels with the quality of care they deliver, with costs also below the state average.

But we all know that, in this health care environment, constant improvement is imperative, and today's savings are likely tomorrow's losses. "I don't think we've done enough on the cost and quality side. There's a lot more to do," Maryland told me last week. "To me, it's perfect timing to be able to do that. There's no resting on our own laurels, not in health care. Not when you see the continued pressures happening as our industry continues to make changes. We have to think ahead. That's why we feel we needed a strong partner with shared values so we're not resting on our laurels. No health system can afford to do that today because our industry is so dynamic and disruptive with all the changes occurring."

The two health systems soon plan to work with payers in the state to develop a range of value-focused insurance plans that help to meet their goals. With hundreds of access points across the state, leaders believe they'll be able to offer customers advanced care coordination services, without having to combine their assets.

Physicians, of course, will be key to Together Health Network, according to the release, as they plan to be governed by a physician-majority board, led by a physician CEO and guided by various physician committees. Leaders in the effort believe that the best candidates to guide a network of providers devoted to population health management are the providers themselves.

"In some ways, Together Health turns the tables on the 'usual' structure of health care delivery models," said Paul Harkaway, M.D., senior vice president of clinical integration at CHE Trinity Health and a member of the Together Health Network's steering committee, in the news release. "Physicians make the care delivery decisions that provide the best care and value to patients and their insurance providers. Our respective health systems are more or less the silent partners ensuring a robust continuum of services to support the care."

I'm curious to see how all this shakes out. Are you aware of any other collaborations between two health systems that are similar in structure? Trinity and Ascension believe it's one of a kind. And would you agree with Dr. Harkaway's assertion that health systems should be silent partners in these sorts of endeavors? Share your thoughts in the comment section, and watch for more on this story in the June issue of Hospitals & Health Networks.