MMPC Keeps Growing

May 26, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Later this year, Horizon Medical will make the largest physician-owned multi-specialty practice group in the state of Michigan even larger. Like many small practices before it, Horizon and its five Grand Haven-area offices will become part of Michigan Medical PC. Although it is just more than a decade old, the physicians' group has grown from a handful of doctors to nearly 200 physicians practicing numerous specialties in offices throughout West Michigan.

MMPC started with the 1995 merger of Dr. James Buzzitta's Michigan Medical Specialists group and a number of other smaller practice groups. As the business of health care was changing dramatically, many practitioners realized they needed strength in numbers to control their own fates.

"At that time, it was just a matter of saying 'We need to get in the game. We as physicians drive what happens in health care but we aren't involved,'" said Ted Inman, vice president of operations and general counsel for MMPC. Inman served as outside counsel for Michigan Medical Specialists, then joined the group when MMPC was formed. Inman said that the environment was right in 1995 to bring the disparate practices together in order to share some of the advantages of being a larger organization.

"The idea was that care would be better delivered through a larger enterprise that could have more resources, and work together to integrate the care," Inman said. "Integrated care is really what we're all about. It's not just about conglomerating a whole bunch of physicians."

That said, MMPC has conglomerated a whole bunch of physicians. On the day of Inman's interview with the Business Journal, MMPC had just over 1,200 employees, 180 of them physicians.

"Although, I just saw that we signed someone else today," he said. Make that 181.

This time of year always marks the biggest annual growth, as many doctors join the practice at the end of their residency programs, or choose to move their families during the summer break. While the addition of groups like Horizon Medical has given MMPC some of its growth over the past decade, Inman said, much of it comes from recruitment.

The integrated care that Inman mentioned is one of the elements that attract doctors to MMPC, as opposed to starting individual practices or working directly for hospitals. Integrated care manifests itself in several ways at MMPC. For one, patients find convenience in having numerous specialties under one roof at MMPC's headquarters on East Paris Avenue SE.

"From a patient perspective, when they are able to have their internist as well as three or four specialists all in the same room, that gives them great comfort," said Inman. "Or when they can have a blood test and an ultrasound or CT or colonoscopy or sleep study all done in the same building, that makes a big difference."

Having those multiple specialties housed in the same facility also allows for MMPC to create specialized, multi-disciplinary programs, such as a new diabetes program in Zeeland, or a medical weight management program in Grand Rapids.

Many of the advantages of integrated care at MMPC benefit the practitioners. The doctors, 80 percent of whom are shareholders in the professional corporation, enjoy economic and practical advantages from their membership in the group. That doesn't necessarily mean that it's less expensive to be an MMPC doctor than a solo practitioner, Inman said, but it is better.

"I'm not sure that I would talk about 'economies of scale' so much as what they can get," he said, referring to the advantages he sees in membership in MMPC. "Our physicians probably do not spend less, and in some cases spend more, than they would in an outside practice. But they get a lot more."

Although they are part of a larger system, MMPC doctors do have a fair amount of independence in how they run their practices.

"We're on one telephone system, for example. The same billing system. We have purchasing that's all done through a centralized warehouse. We have delivery people. We have IT that does all of the computer work. They don't go and get a vendor for that," he said. "So in some cases there are things that there is a lot of autonomy on, but we do make sure that we're all doing the right thing."

For the practitioners, Inman said, being part of a company like MMPC means enjoying the ability to focus less on business and more on medicine.

"If you're in your own little office, that's it. You're it. Your office manager is basically taking out the trash and paying the bills — they don't have a lot of time to work on other things. Our managers have time to work on people and process issues and not worry about paying the pop guy and those sorts of things."

As more doctors join MMPC, Inman sees room for more collaboration and joint ventures with other players in the local health care field. He said that MMPC representatives already have monthly strategic meetings with their hospital partners — which include Spectrum Health, Saint Mary's Health Care, Metro Health and several hospitals in outlying communities — just to make sure that they are being effective teammates. He also sees a great deal of potential in working with educational and research institutions like Van Andel Institute and Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine to promote West Michigan as a destination for excellence in health sciences.

"We think we will be a significant driver in that," he said. "There isn't anyone like us that can pull physicians together, and partner with hospitals and payers. So bringing those relationships closer together, bringing groups closer together in a tight unit, I think is the future."

The future also means more growth and the addition of more sub-specialties. MMPC's goals are clear, albeit lofty.

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