Medical schools didn’t offer business courses when Drs. Colleen Mattimore and Michael Heimerl attended in the 1980s. That has changed in an increasingly complex U.S. health-care system replete with regulations, electronic medical records and climbing costs.
“These days all of my partners are on their computers at home after dinner getting caught up,” Heimerl said. “You get overwhelmed with stuff, hospital-generated, ER-generated. Those are the types of things that we need to get a handle on.”
Heimerl and Mattimore are among nearly three dozen pediatricians who have chosen to do so by creating Medical Health Associates of Western New York, a collection of eight free-standing practices across Erie County that now all fall under the same corporate umbrella.
Day to day, the following offices will keep their names and employees, and continue to operate largely the same way they have for years: Williamsville Pediatric Center; Western New York Pediatric Associates in Orchard Park; Suburban Pediatrics in Williamsville and Alden; Tonawanda Pediatrics in Amherst; Transit Meadow Pediatrics in East Amherst; and Island Pediatrics on Grand Island.
The corporate entity will focus on getting better deals with insurance companies and vendors, and supporting employees, said Christopher Tirabassi, the new CEO.
Tirabassi, a Niagara Falls native and former medical technologist, holds an MBA from Syracuse University. He has spent most of the last three decades managing doctor groups like the one he just helped form.
“Physician groups are faced with strategic choices,” he said. “They go it alone, they join an academic-based practice like UBMD, they join a hospital system like Kaleida or Catholic Health, or they do what we did and form a supergroup: a single-specialty larger practice.”
Mattimore, a South Buffalo native and former nurse, went to work in the family business, Western New York Pediatric Associates, after graduating from University at Buffalo medical school.
Heimerl, who grew up and attended medical school in Wisconsin, came to Buffalo in 1982 to serve his pediatric residency at Women & Children’s Hospital. He met the former Maureen Wright, from South Buffalo, married her, and stayed put. He was the managing partner of Integrity Health Group, which operated Tonawanda, Transit Meadow, and Island pediatrics before Medical Health Associates was created.
Mattimore is president of the MHA Board of Directors; Heimerl is vice president. The practice has 50 health-care providers, including 35 physicians, and 200 support staff.
Q. Why merge?
Heimerl: The two of us have been talking for almost five years. Ninety-nine percent of what we do every day is the same. Much of that is the business of medicine. Are we doing it the right way, the most efficient, most effective way?
Mattimore: The managing partners were the core group that looked at the business model of merging into a pediatric super group. We had monthly meetings for about two years. The idea is to merge best practices and share resources but maintain the individual office cultures. It’s a great model.
Heimerl: We knew it was the right thing to do, have doctors focused on medicine. What patients will notice now that we’re under one umbrella is that we can hopefully afford to hire support staff – nutritional services, mental health services – and have them in our offices providing care. It’s difficult for one office to do that.
Q. What has been the reaction of doctors and staff? How have you had to explain this to them?
Heimerl: The first fear is, “Do I have to go work in another office? Will I have a job? Are we going to close an office?” No offices will close and everyone who’s doing what they’re doing is important to us.
Mattimore: Because the managing partners have been meeting so long and the staff has heard feedback, once Chris came on board, he’d visit every office and represent the collaborative, there was an implicit sense of trust because it didn’t happen overnight. Now, it’s business as usual except for some of key leaders at each office, who have been working with Chris.
Heimerl: They’re meeting more and meeting jointly to share ideas.
Q. How have things changed since the 1990s when it comes to running a pediatrician’s office?
Heimerl: We trained in Children’s Hospital. We don’t go there anymore. So have the medical conditions: asthma, dehydration, meningitis. Meningitis is gone due to vaccines and the others are treated as outpatients. We have really sick kids with complex issues who are hospitalized, but the hospital staff takes care of them now.
Mattimore: It’s more expensive. You went from having a pen and paper to everyone having to have everything on a computer.
Heimerl: When electronic medical records were new, they were touting that’d we’d save on all that paper we wouldn’t have to buy, all those storage racks that would all go away. But we have to have all these tablets, all these pads, servers. If they go down, we don’t know what to do with them. You have to call an IT department. Now we all have the same IT support company.
Mattimore: The American Academy of Pediatrics is into physician wellness and ways to avoid burnout. I think a model like a supergroup, or collaborative with business support and shared services, can help.
Q. How will clinical services and patient access change?
Heimerl: We want to bring in more services. One of the reasons these four groups are together is because we’re doing a lot of the same things. They have broad hours and are open evenings and weekends. Colleen’s practice has open-access, walk-in availability. We have it for an hour every morning and Williamsville has it now. These are groups that are on the cutting edge of providing accessible care. We’re very similar in thinking, like-minded.
Mattimore: You have to be like that to have success. Otherwise, the model wouldn’t work.
Q. Are the days of a single doctor’s office over? Have they been over for a while?
Mattimore: There are still single doctor practices and small groups around Buffalo.
Heimerl: I go back to see my family in Wisconsin and there are large medical groups, 100-, 200- and 300-member doctor groups that are large, integrated health-care systems. That’s the norm in the Midwest. Buffalo is holding on to single docs and small groups, and probably will for a while. It’s hard. It’s important to buy an electronic health record system. It’s important to know the regulatory side.
Q. Dr. Heimerl, you ask those who visit your website to ask about your new bike. Can you tell us about it?
That’s a reference to my old bike, a Colnago C-50, an Italian road bike, which was a new bike 10 years ago. I was excited to get it but I broke that bike this summer. Now I have a Colnago C-60. I like to get out at least twice a week if I can and ride at least 20 miles.
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon