Independent physician alliances reduce costs, improve outcomes


Independent physicians, assailed for a decade by ever-expanding health care systems that swallow physician groups whole, and by the health care insurance industry prowling for the cheapest rates, are coming together across the Midwest to form affiliation networks.

Such a group is now established in Grand Rapids and is worthy of notice by business owners and employers. Better patient outcomes and cheaper costs for both the patient and the employer are just the tip of the improvements provided by such organizations.

Answer Health has been given the structure of formation by interim CEO Dr. Khan Nedd, launching 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. Pooling resources, buying in bulk, the ability to hire more staff to handle ever-increasing federal and state documentation and IT services all provide independent physicians the opportunity to practice outside health care corporations.

Spectrum Health’s stunning takeover of West Michigan Heart physicians as well as Michigan Medical PC physicians groups in 2009 are etched in recent memory, along with examples of the corporation squeeze on physicians who are given a “join or die” proposition as hospital privileges hang in the balance.

The Alliance for Health, a group previously given responsibility for recommendations to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Certificate of Need Commission, became a repository for studies showing increasing community costs for mega health care providers. Among those records was the pressure on physicians employed by health care systems to require increasing numbers of diagnostic tests, increasing overall costs for care.

The shortage of physicians is another concern addressed by Answer Health. Physicians often graduate from medical school with enormous debt and for that reason are far more likely to join a health care system rather than open an independent practice. The Answer Health organization would provide an alternative, especially for those doctors who desire to work in more rural areas of physician scarcity.

Nedd noted studies showing independent physicians 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,” Nedd told the Business Journal.

“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.”

That bottom line is no small amount for business owners.

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