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History major applies strategic thinking to challenges at UBMD

The highest-ranking administrator at the region's largest physician practice has a master's degree in history, not a medical degree. And most of her prior work experience was in international trade and strategic planning, not health care.

Renee A. Filip's background may be unusual for someone in her position.

But she said it has prepared her well to handle the challenges of serving as chief operating officer of the UBMD Physicians Group, at a time when practices are under financial, regulatory and competitive pressures.

“When you study history and when you learn about strategy – and when I was at the Canadian Consulate in foreign service – it's about affecting change and understanding the perspective of the people that you're dealing with. A lot of conflict negotiation,” Filip said in an interview in the UB Gateway Building. “Because it ultimately doesn't have to be I win over you. It's how do we collectively advance what we're trying to do together?”

UBMD, founded in 2000, is linked to the University at Buffalo. Its doctors are faculty members at UB's Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The growing practice has the equivalent of 1,336 full-time employees, including 500 physicians who practice at more than 80 medical offices, hospital clinics and other sites in the area. UBMD's newest location, on the sprawling fourth floor of the Conventus medical research and office building on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, will open to patients in March. There are 18 practice plans under the UBMD umbrella organization, and each has its own senior administrator.

Filip is the top administrator for the overall UBMD Physicians Group, which the Buffalo native joined in 2010. After earning her undergraduate degree at SUNY Brockport and her master's degree at UB, Filip was employed with the Canadian Consulate General, taught at Niagara College in Ontario, worked for the logistics provider Fulfillment Systems International, served as director of marketing for the Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel law firm, oversaw government and community relations for Ciminelli Real Estate and worked on economic development for the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

She said moving to a job in health care also was a way to recognize the medical professionals who have cared for her son, Marshall, now 14, who has Down syndrome.

“The community has served my son very, very well,” Filip said. “This is my very small way of giving back.”

Q: Public entities have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the Medical Campus, with the private sector slowly joining in. The hope is to leverage the clinical, research and academic activity to boost the region's economy. Is that a realistic goal?

A: I think that we can only be Buffalo. I wouldn't expect us to be a Boston or a Philadelphia or a Silicon Valley or any of those areas. But look at what we're doing on the Medical Campus, the attention that it's getting, the ultimate enhanced delivery of care that people will be getting. It's not very often that a new Children's Hospital and a new medical school are being built at the same time to open. So we're going to be on par, in terms of size, with the Cleveland Clinic. So I think that's part of it. And I think of the bookends, where on this side of Main Street you have the 'eds and meds,' I call it, and on the other side of Main Street, Pegulaville, I guess you could say, you have the other economic development. So it's not a one size fits all. But I think we're an integral component to the growth.

Q: Is there a doctor shortage in Buffalo? Or is there a shortage in certain specialties?

A: There's definitely, in this area and across the country, a shortage in primary care physicians. And that's really what we're working on with our hospital partners to address it, understand where we can add to it, and what we need to do with our recruiting, what we need to do to keep our residents interested in primary care. Because obviously a primary care physician isn't paid like a neurosurgeon, right? What are the intrinsic rewards and what are the financial compensations we can do to enhance their interest in staying in primary care?

Q: Government and private payers are pushing providers to shift from the traditional fee-for-service model to a value-based model. How have UBMD practices responded?

A: It can be challenging, for sure, because the changes are coming down the pike quickly. We're ultimately looking at it that this is, again, the opportunity for us to change the paradigm on how we practice medicine. This is the opportunity for us to be efficient, to think about the patient experience, because the patient comes first.

Q: How well are needs of patients taken care of today?

A: There's a lot of questions surrounding everything from insurance coverage to the [Affordable] Care Act. But I think what we're trying to do to mitigate that, and help provide clarity, is communicate with our patients. And so I'm very big on expectation management, right? So, how am I serving you? Are we answering the questions that you're really asking? It's about customer service, right? We need to make them feel comfortable, and engaged, and help them become more invested in their own health care.

Q: What do you think of the efforts, led by Medicare but also nonprofit and media organizations, to release data and ratings on providers and health care organizations?

A: I think it holds you accountable. I think as long as the data is collected accurately and measured appropriately, it's about transparency.

Q: What is driving consolidation of physician practices, and should patients worry about its effect?

A: I don't think patients should worry about it. I can appreciate that it might be scary, because change is sometimes unsettling for a patient. 'Oh I hear that my doctor is merging with another physician.' But I think that with all the changes in reimbursement and outcomes-based measures, I think what's happening that the business of health care is directing and realigning how businesses should be running. So I don't say forcing the change. But if physicians realize that there's a synergy between and among them, that allows them to deliver better medicine, then I think it's good for the patient, because it would cut costs, create efficiencies, and it allows further transparencies.


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