Growth marks SH Medical Group path

June 21, 2009
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Growth at the Spectrum Health Medical Group includes local doctors as well as specialists and subspecialists from outside of West Michigan, the organization’s leader said last week.

Dr. James M. Tucci, president of SHMG, said the number of doctors has grown from 48 to 70 since last fall. The effort is continuing to bring Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital pediatricians now employed by Spectrum Health under the SHMG umbrella, which is likely to occur in a year, he said.

Spectrum Health formed the Medical Group last fall to launch its effort to emulate the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic, explained Tucci, who joined the local health system in 2007 from St. John Health in Detroit. Yet SHMG is different, he said.

“It means more a model of care for patients and a partnership among caregivers,” Tucci said.

“The model is not one you would call mainstream in the U.S. Physicians do surrender a fair amount of their personal authority in decision-making with regard to the size of the practice and even what they are paid, for the sake of creating a system, a team of care that works better on behalf the patient. That doesn’t appeal to everyone.”

Tucci said the roster includes primary care and family practice doctors plus others representing various specialties. Among them are Dr. Jane Pettinga, a breast surgeon, and Dr. Gene Wiley, a neurologist. Tucci said Wiley would help the SHMG recruit subspecialty neurologists.

“We don’t intend to try to bring in more physicians than the community needs or push anybody out of practice where they are already doing a good job for Spectrum Health and the community,” Tucci said. “Our physicians won’t even just work at Spectrum Health. The Medical Group is not a hospital group.”

In a recent announcement about Pettinga, Spectrum Health said the Medical Group employs nearly 80 doctors and midlevel health professionals such as nurse practitioners. But in the health system’s budget presentation earlier this month, CFO Michael Freed presented projected SHMG employment of 528 by the end of the 2010 fiscal year next June, a figure Tucci called “news to me.”

Still, the SHMG will get bigger with the addition of a variety of physicians already employed by Spectrum Health in areas such as urgent care centers, wound care, hospice and palliative care, he said. He added that the proposed agreement to make Michigan Medical PC — currently the area’s largest independent group of specialists with more than 200 doctors — a subsidiary of Spectrum Health would allow those doctors to join SHMG, without penalty, sooner than the three to five years being planned. The two organizations are expected to decide within the next few weeks whether they will join together.

An important piece to link SHMG doctors along the lines of the Mayo Clinic is integrated, computerized patient records. Tucci said that in December, SHMG chose Epic Systems Corp. of Wisconsin to link the multi-specialty physicians’ offices. It’s the same system that MMPC chose for a $39 million investment and the system in use at Metro Health for both its neighborhood clinics and the hospital. Spectrum will retain its Cerner Corp. system for inpatients, Tucci noted.

He said the SHMG is in discussion with 50 physicians who are interested in joining. The large, multi-specialty group practice is a notion Tucci said he believes is necessary to realize the potential for health care in the U.S.

“Health care for patients will not be at the level that it could be in this country until we begin to integrate much more deeply and much more thoroughly, and standardize care standards,” Tucci said.

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