Integration Puts Physician Practices at Busy Intersections

Webster’s dictionary defines ‘integration’ as “an act or instance of combining into an integral whole.” As the sports world has taught us many times over, the “whole” is often greater than the sum of the parts. It’s a simple concept, whether we’re talking sports or business. And yet when it comes to integrating healthcare services, there has been resistance to recognizing the inherent benefits.

Webster’s dictionary defines ‘integration’ as “an act or instance of combining into an integral whole.” As the sports world has taught us many times over, the “whole” is often greater than the sum of the parts. It’s a simple concept, whether we’re talking sports or business. And yet when it comes to integrating healthcare services, there has been resistance to recognizing the inherent benefits.

Why? “Putting practices together is like herding cats,” explains James Stevens, MD, co-founder of the American Institute of Healthcare & Fitness, a Raleigh, NC healthcare mall that includes doctors, nutritionists, physical therapists, counselors, and a fitness center. “Fragmented healthcare will remain fragmented unless we respond. It’s not social medicine, it’s consumer-driven healthcare.”

And it’s helping physicians to grow their practice.

Think traffic flow

One of the keys to success in designing a healthcare mall and integrating various healthcare practitioners is the same as one of the basic tenets of real estate: location, location, location. In the case of AIHF, the anchor tenant is a 35,000-square-foot athletic wellness center which registers more than 700 visitors each day. “Most medical buildings don’t have 700 visits a day to just one tenant,” says Stevens.

Sometimes, however, Stevens and his business partner, Matt Person, have had to help tenants understand that “You don’t want to be on the first floor just because there’s a bank of windows that overlook the pond,” Stevens explains. “You want to be up on the second floor at the intersection of the main hallway. It’s the busiest intersection in the building. If you’re a pharmacy, you want all the pass-bys to come through you.”

Those pass-bys, says Stevens, result in strong growth opportunities for physician practices. “Here, you can see four, five, or ten times the pass-bys. Then, be prepared for your business to grow more robust more rapidly than the predictive modeling for medical growth. We’ve exceeded those growth rates.”

Teamwork fostered

In another integration model, some physicians have become partner/owners in Class A medical office buildings that are placing multiple elements of healthcare and natural referral sources under one roof. The model, pioneered by Oaks Development Group, gives physician tenants equity in an LLC that owns the building.

“As long as [healthcare professionals] have investment ownership in the building, they’re going to take good care of the building,” says Thomas Blackstone, MD, Cape Fear Pediatrics, a tenant/owner in an Oaks property in Wilmington, NC, who is planning to open a branch office in a similar building set-up 20 miles away in Hampstead. “The first floor will have family dentistry, family medicine, x-ray, labs and a full pharmacy. The second floor will be our branch office and probably ophthalmology. It’s a one-stop shop.”

James Jacobs, MD, with Cary Medical Group, an internal medicine practice in Cary, NC, is also located in an Oaks medical office building. He says the proximity to other healthcare professionals has been very beneficial. “We leverage each other very well,” says Jacobs. “The [surgical group] proximity has helped me quite a bit on a few occasions. It’s a lot easier to run an informal question by somebody if they’re not too far away. Those opportunities help to make us better physicians in general.”

It’s what patients want

Beyond the benefits of growing a practice and professional camaraderie, integrative medicine is what more and more healthcare consumers desire. Debra Kuhn, a Denver-based board-certified practitioner of integrative medicine, points out that the amount of money consumers are spending on integrative healthcare is skyrocketing.

“For a physician to show that he’s open to and supportive of the appropriate use [of integrative medicine], I think will help generate a wider patient base,” says Kuhn. “Many of my patients ask me for physician referrals because their physicians are not supportive of their use of eastern medicine, and they want to go to someone who will be receptive.”

Stevens believes that, with regard to integrative medicine, the healthcare industry is moving in the right direction, though he likens it to Lewis and Clark’s first mile crossing the continental U.S. “Their desire was to get to the west coast. They didn’t know what was there, and they didn’t know what it was going to look like. They only knew that they had to find it. And I feel that way sometimes.”

Stevens adds that, when he thinks about integrative medicine, he is often reminded of his mother’s advice that if you’re not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. “I can’t escape that,” he says. “And from a healthcare delivery point of view, I love the feeling that perhaps I am that one mile down the road; that I’ve taken a step in being part of the solution.”

Ed Rabinowitz is a veteran healthcare writer and reporter. He welcomes comments at edwardr@ptd.net.