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Another Voice: Partnership improves patient access to health care

By Thomas J. Foels, M.D.

An article in the May 20 Buffalo News, “A concierge approach to medicine,” highlights efforts by a handful of local physicians to provide patients who are in a position to pay for it with preferred access to health care services and medical treatment. Introduced locally in 2010 by a Hamburg physician, concierge or retainer-based medicine, as it is also known, offers patients more time with their doctor and other benefits based on their ability and willingness to pay a monthly or annual fee.

Health care trends illustrate the critical need for greater access to primary care physicians.

As opposed to improving access and satisfaction for a finite number of patients – often those who are older and at a higher income level through a retainer-based fee – there is an opportunity to continue transforming the way health care is delivered to a greater portion of the overall population through a patient-centered model of care.

Such a patient-centered approach advances the delivery of primary care by assisting practices in developing systems to promote accessible, continuous and coordinated care using a team approach that involves midlevel practitioners, nurses and office staff.

It also includes expanded access and extended office hours, enhanced technology to include electronic medical records and secure email with patients, and a comprehensive care team for those with or at risk of having a chronic condition – all at no extra cost or fee to the patient.

And here’s the best part. Such an effort is already well underway and seeing great results in Western New York.

Independent Health, in partnership with a pioneering group of high-performing physicians, helped establish the Primary Connection in 2012. Representing 30 primary care practices and more than 175 internal medicine, family practice and pediatric physicians, the Primary Connection is a groundbreaking alliance committed to improving patient experiences, enabling closer coordination with specialists and resulting in improved medical outcomes. More than 125,000 of our members are being treated by these pioneering providers.

This collaborative approach is helping our physician partners utilize health care resources in the right way in caring for their patients. It engages physicians in creating more efficient, effective and rewarding work.

Our community can take pride in the results seen to date – from reducing potentially avoidable hospital admissions by 25 percent to reducing unnecessary readmissions and helping to improve quality, patient satisfaction and overall health care efficiency.

Perhaps most importantly, it increases patient convenience and access to quality care, without creating a two-tiered health care system.

Thomas J. Foels, M.D., is executive vice president and chief medical officer for Independent Health.