May 2020, Volume XXXIV, Number 2
Preserving independent practice
Owen O’Neill, MD
Infinite Health Collaborative
Please tell us about Infinite Health Collaborative (i-Health).
We like to say that i-Health is a modern approach to a timeless idea. We’re an independent practice of like-minded physicians representing several unique specialties, including cardiology, colon and rectal conditions, family medicine, orthopedics, and women’s health. All of us believe that independence in health care enables physicians to focus on each patient’s individual goals without limitations, and that’s the inspiration behind i-Health. By empowering patient choice—arming patients with the tools to make their own educated health care decisions—we are earning their trust and keeping health care personal. In a nutshell, we deliver value-based care, enable physician autonomy, and preserve patient choice.
Please tell us about Revo Health and the services it provides for i-Health physician groups.
Revo Health, a management services organization, helps practices develop value-based care services and provides support across several departments often referred to as “back of house.” These include revenue cycle, finance and accounting, human resources, information technology, quality, marketing, and more. Sharing these resources creates efficiencies and cost savings, fosters collaboration, and consolidates our expertise. Revo takes care of the business side, so physicians can focus on taking care of patients.
We believe patient-physician relationships are the heartbeat of health care.
What kind of framework for growth and sustainability of independent physician practices does i-Health provide?
There’s power in numbers. By banding together, we preserve our independence and strengthen our voice in the industry. These days, many small practices are getting squeezed out or bought up by large systems, and transition to becoming employed by the system. i-Health is physician-owned and led, however, so every new physician to join becomes a fellow partner and retains ownership stake in the business. Another major advantage for our operating divisions is collaborative learning. Innovative operational initiatives such as developing prospective care bundles and collecting outcomes data takes time to develop. We’ve all experienced different stages of growing pains, so we help each other avoid re-inventing the wheel.
How can independent physicians be the drivers of the industry’s improvement?
We believe patient-physician relationships are the heartbeat of health care, and we intend to keep it that way. Independent physicians have autonomy to guide patients without the limitations of larger systems, and ultimately enable patients to make their own educated health care decisions. Getting back to basics and putting the power back in patient’s hands is how we believe the industry moves forward.
What are some examples of how independent physician practice contributes to innovation in the health care industry?
Our independence enables us to mobilize and test new ideas quickly without the red tape of many larger systems. In the past couple of months, for example, OB-GYN specialists from our women’s health operating division launched curbside obstetric care in response to COVID-19, performing routine checkup tests that cannot be done virtually: blood pressure, baby’s heartbeat, position of the baby, and vaccines. Similarly, Twin Cities Orthopedics (TCO) launched virtual care in under seven days, going from zero telemedicine infrastructure to providing over 1,000 virtual care visits per week. The best part is we did so without sacrificing the patient experience. Niney-nine percent of TCO’s virtual care patients say they would recommend this service to family and friends.
What can you tell recent medical school graduates about the opportunities and benefits presented by the independent practice of medicine?
Our model, which centers around the patient-physician relationship, is the original health care model. Many physicians are attracted to independent practice because it reminds them why they got into medicine in the first place. i-Health provides immediate and long-term financial stability, and independence puts you in control of your own destiny. By building a strong reputation, and delivering exceptional care day in and day out, the sky’s the limit to your potential.
What are some of the ways i-Health members encourage patients to be active participants in their health care decisions?
It sounds so simple to do this, but it’s not our job to tell patients what to do. We encourage patients to be in control of their own health, and it’s our job to guide patients to make the best decisions for themselves. We accomplish this by clearly explaining diagnoses, walking them through options, listening to their concerns, and answering their questions. We also use anonymous clinical outcomes data from over one million survey submissions to set realistic expectations. For example, we can tell patients considering a hip replacement that six months after surgery, 97.93% of total hip arthroplasty patients reported little to no pain lying in bed and turning over.
What benefits can i-Health provide to self-insured employers?
It’s amazing how many employers are simply unaware of the freedoms they have when it comes to customizing their benefits plans. For example, they can partner with us tomorrow to give their employees more surgical care options and better outcomes via our TCO EXCEL Surgery & Recovery program, without changing anything else about their existing plan. It’s a simple add-on model, and the best part is it actually reduces costs across the board. In fact, some local employers have already identified i-Health as a preferred tier inside of their health plans, effectively encouraging their employees/patients to consider value-based care options.
New health care legislation is informed by considerable input from health plans, hospitals, and the pharmaceutical industry, but very little from physicians. How can i-Health help address this inequity?
This is a big reason why we were inspired to band together in the first place: to grow our shared voice in the industry. A voice that is focused on patient care and the delivery of innovation in the market. We deliver value-based care, which means we have actual data to prove how we can improve outcomes and patient satisfaction, while also reducing costs. We’re putting the data to good use in these conversations.
What can you tell independent physicians who may want to become part of i-Health?
We live and succeed on our own reputation, and often take the road less traveled, which isn’t for everyone. We were founded upon the promise that no matter what, the care of our patients would always come first. It’s in our DNA, and it’s what drives us every single day. The freedom we are granted as an independent practice allows us to be innovative, create meaningful solutions to complex problems, and deliver on that fundamental promise. And, ultimately, it’s how we provide value. If your core motivation as a health care provider aligns with our core principles, and you share our vision for the future of value-based care, then we would love to get to know you better.
The recent government response to cancel “elective” surgeries brings up several important issues. What are your thoughts on this?
On the orthopedics side in particular, we have seen many patients suffering as a result of elective surgery restrictions. We have observed increased opioid drug use and suicide attempts from patients dealing with severe pain and immobility, in addition to prolonged pain leading to poor long-term outcomes. Prolonged waiting causes stress physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. Treatment for many of these patients was initially categorized as elective or non-essential when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The good news is that we have developed comprehensive safety protocols that have enabled us to perform more surgeries in a safe, COVID-free environment within ambulatory surgery centers. We are using a clinical risk stratification tool to determine which surgeries can be performed first, we’re testing patients and employees for the virus, we’re screening at entrances, and much more. Our patients and their families have high expectations for their care, and we want our safety standards to exceed those expectations.
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