Spectrum med group growing up

October 24, 2008
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The new Spectrum Health Medical Group is talking to local physicians, intending to grow a roster that eventually could number 500 to 600 doctors.

James Tucci, newly named president of the group, said talks are under way to add specialists to the basic roster, which includes physicians already employed by Spectrum Health. It could become the area’s largest multi-specialty group.

Spectrum Health Hospitals President Matt VanVranken recently told attendees at the University of Michigan-Urban Land Institute conference that the number of SHMG physicians could eventually be “500 to 600.”

“We have, right now, plans under way to grow a medical group that will essentially be a third l

(leg) of our corporation,” VanVranken said. It joins the hospitals division he oversees and health insurer Priority Health, headed by President Kim Horn.

“We currently employ 200 physicians,” VanVranken added. “Our vision is, over time, in an evolutionary way, we will see 500, 600 physicians in that group. It means that we’re going to have the opportunity to work together more collaboratively with physicians to drive better outcomes, better patient safety, and also to drive our efficiency.”

Dr. Stephen F. Rechner said his 13-doctor practice, West Michigan Obstetrics & Gynecologists, has signed a due diligence agreement with SHMG. “We’re just beginning to hold hands,” said Rechner, a Spectrum Health System Board member who added that he supports the medical group’s creation as “visionary.”

A past chair of Spectrum’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Rechner said economics convinced him and his 12 partners to make the move.

“I don’t see where the mom-and-pop shops are going to be able to survive alone any more, with certain unfunded federal mandates, equipment for electronic medical records. Just the cost of doing business in a private practice setting is really increasing dramatically,” Rechner said.

“It’s just about survival, I guess.”

Tucci said he is in talks with West Michigan Heart, a 33-doctor cardiology practice, about joining the new physicians’ group.

“There’s nothing terribly new to report about that other than we continue to be in discussions with them with hope and expectation,” Tucci said.

West Michigan Heart CEO Suzette Jeskie said the doctors in her organization remain interested in the idea of joining SHMG, but the process is complicated and she does not expect a decision until 2009.

Michigan Medical PC, currently Grand Rapids’ largest multi-specialty group with about 200 doctors, has opted not to join SHMG, CEO Ted Inman said, citing differing philosophies on physician governance.

Tucci said he thinks nonprofit SHMG offers a strong model for patient care and physician lifestyles that will be attractive to many area doctors.

“The purpose that we are trying to achieve is actually a better model of care for patients and a better professional life for physicians and for non-physicians who work with physicians. So it’s both,” Tucci said.

Members will include Primary Care Partners, a practice already owned by Spectrum Health, as well as doctors employed at the urgent care centers, pediatricians at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, and a variety of other hospital-employed physicians, he said.

“Our goal is not to have all services of Spectrum Health hospitals exclusively provided by the group practice. That is not our goal at all,” Tucci added. “For instance, there is a very large, excellent group of anesthesiologists and another very large group of emergency room specialists. As long as their work remains aligned with the goals and vision of Spectrum Health, there’s no need to compete with them or incorporate them or displace them. … When you have that kind of partner, there’s really no need to change that reality.”

MMPC also has contracts with Spectrum Health — providing hospitalists, for example — and has had discussions in the past about joining a Spectrum Health doctors’ group. Inman said MMPC is moving forward with a consolidation concept “One MMPC,” which leverages the group’s recent $30 million investment in information technology. He said that over the new few years, the large group intends to consolidate offices to provide one-stop, multi-specialty locations that serve about 20 West Michigan hospitals. He said the plan is not in response to the creation of SHMG.

“If you look around the country at markets the size of ours, there would be multiple multi-specialty groups,” Inman said. “This happens to be a fairly immature market from the development of the physician population point of view: It still has a lot of small offices and uni-specialty groups.”

MMPC recently opened new digs at 68th Street and Kalamazoo Avenue, intends to build in Greenville, has purchased condo space in the Lemmen-Holten Cancer Pavilion and plans to consolidate in Holland, where some physicians have left the group but MMPC continues to serve Holland Hospital, Inman said.

Collaboration and competition will continue between MMPC and Spectrum Health as SHMG develops, he said.

“We’ve been the gorilla, the large group in the area. We’ve competed for years with lots of groups,” Inman said. “We will continue to compete and deliver.”

At Advantage Health Physicians Network, Saint Mary’s Health Care’s primary care group, CEO Dr. David Blair said the main concern is whether SHMG would capture the entire set of physicians in any one specialty and limit the specialists and their patients to using Spectrum hospitals.

Advantage Health has agreements with 17 outside physicians groups for preferred referrals, including Grand River Cardiology, which was added in response to the birth of SHMG.

“One of the struggles we had going on with the conversations at Spectrum, we became familiar with the notion that all cardiology, all vascular and thoracic surgeons were being pulled in a room together for a discussion of a common employment model,” Blair said. “That strikes us as sounding somewhat monopolistic and begins to reduce choice for the community.”

However, some of the other agreements have been in place for as long as eight years, he said. They share care and quality standards, patient records and management practices in an attempt to provide patients with a seamless experience with doctors who work at Saint Mary’s, Blair said.

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