Health Care

Meeting beckons independent physicians

New organization is in answer to hospital systems’ dominance.

March 4, 2016
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Independent physicians are uniting.

Answer Health, a newly launched clinical integration organization serving independent physicians in West and Northern Michigan, will host a town hall meeting this month for physicians interested in finding out more about the network and its membership benefits.

Answer Health was launched last August after a year and a half of planning and work by its member organizations, West Michigan Physicians Network and Physicians’ Organization of West Michigan.

The federally designated organization has a twofold purpose: to help independent physicians integrate and collaborate more effectively in the current health care environment, and to decrease costs for patients while increasing the quality of care provided.

Dr. Khan Nedd, interim CEO of Answer Health, said there are approximately 800 independent physicians practicing in the organization’s service area who could benefit from joining the CIO.

Nedd said Answer Health’s goals are to engage independent providers, invest in care coordination and clinical IT infrastructure, monitor and improve the quality and cost of care provided, develop equitable risk-sharing arrangements with payers and distribute incentive earnings.

“The goal is to make sure that quality becomes the standard, and that we do it with as much elimination of waste and redundancy as possible and focus on the lower cost of the delivery system,” Nedd said.

He noted independent physicians already tend to have better patient outcomes and lower delivery costs for services, and Answer Health will further improve those outcomes.

“Independent physicians are able to provide better quality care at a lower cost and, because of the kinds of investments they have with their patients in terms of relationships and extended relationships, overall outcomes of patients have been better,” he said.

“Not only have we seen that, it’s also been fairly well established by a variety of metrics that when physicians who are owned by a hospital — when you evaluate the quality of care they provide or the costs — they generally are lower quality and higher cost.”

Despite this, Nedd acknowledged large hospital systems have drawn in a lot of physicians. He said remaining independent physicians face continual challenges, thanks to an ever-changing health care environment.

The best opportunity for meeting those challenges, he said, can be found in joining together in a CIO, which is designed to improve integration and collaboration and, therefore, patient care.

CIOs allow physicians to collectively invest in IT infrastructure and staff who are focused on performance improvement. By engaging with the organization, providers are able to help develop “evidence-based care pathways,” and “standardize care delivery” within and across their clinical practices, he said.

The CIO also will help physicians fight for better compensation and earn rewards for quality improvements by allowing physicians to negotiate collectively with insurers for enhanced reimbursement based on quality and cost improvements.

“Into the future, it will be less of a fee-for-service basis and more shared risk or global risk contract,” Nedd said. “Being in a place where we can be ready for that and the integration required for us to meet those are basically what a CIO provides.”

Nedd said Answer Health also will focus on creating opportunities for new independent physicians.

“Many residents coming out of residency programs come out with heavy debt,” he said.

He noted today’s debt burden and the salary and loan repayment opportunities provided by hospital systems can make it harder for new doctors to choose to open an independent practice.

“We feel we need to create that alternative so young men and women coming from residency programs can look at independent practice as an alternative,” he said. “To do that, we have to develop a strategy for recruiting new independent physicians and for sustaining the model.”

Nedd said he’s already seen a lot of interest from physicians in Answer Health.

“We have found a lot of enthusiasm among independent physicians and around the rebranding of the notion of the independent physicians,” he said.

Nedd hopes the 5:30 p.m., March 29, meeting, to be held at Cascade Country Club, will entice more independent physicians to join Answer Health.

“Part of this is to get the word out and create the conversation,” Nedd said. “Hospital systems have dominated the airways and the media.”

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