Lifeline Medical Associates: Dr. John Feltz, CEO

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Lifeline Medical Associates is an integrated single specialty physician group that focuses on women’s health, specifically obstetrics and gynecology. As an LLC formed in 1997, Lifeline has grown to offer care throughout most of New Jersey. With a presence in most of the counties of the Garden State, from Ocean County to North Jersey regions, Lifeline encompasses over 30 “care centers” and practices. The group consists of about 100 physicians that serve nearly 400,000 women in the state and assist with about 7,000 deliveries. Lifeline’s organizational structure is 100% physician owned and governed with over 400 employees. A small percentage of the employees are stationed at the central business office in Parsippany, New Jersey.

Cooperation a Key to Success

As current CEO, Dr. John Feltz has been involved with the organization from the very beginning, as one of the founding30 members who wanted to be part of the process of evolving health care and innovating the way patients are treated and health care is administered. The group is structured like a traditional business with an elected board of directors.

“There’s a saying that getting doctors to work together can be trying to herd cats,” says Feltz. If that’s the case, Lifeline has managed to make some extraordinary headway. With over 1000 years of experience spread throughout the physicians within the group, lifeline has been able to pool resources and expertise together to offer better care to patients. “What I love about it we don’t have a doom and gloom feeling about health care. We have the ability to pool our resources together to come up with the best ways to do things and we are then able to be partners in giving excellent care.”

Pooling Resources Means Innovation for Today and the Future

One prime example of how Lifeline was able to benefit from combined resources was in the investment and switch to electronic health records. $3 million was invested in the project, one that Feltz says is very difficult to obtain and even more difficult to do well alone. “If you looked into a 747 and you looked into the cockpit and the pilot was sitting there but you didn’t see any computer and there was no connection to the towers, you’d run off the plane. But in health care, most physician offices have no electronic capability for collecting data or a back up system. So we are investing in that because we feel it is critical to patient care and our success.”

But the changeover to digital hasn’t been an easy switch. Feltz says that it is always a struggle for employees and staff to adjust when something new is introduced. “With electronic records, there’s a painful learning curve and a definite change and I understand that because I’m a practicing ob/gyn so I understand what it’s like.” Feltz adds that although there is extra attention required for the change-over, the benefits far outweigh any of these logistical inconveniences. “It’s an incredible asset and most if not everyone in our organization will be working with electronic records at the end of 2009 and we’ve seen once they past that learning curve they never want to go back. We’ve gotten a very positive response and our doctors feel it’s safer, more efficient and they know they can be at the hospital and pull up any patient information on the internet, basically anywhere in the world you can access that information.” Beyond this efficiency, Feltz sees the electronic records as also eventually being used to track data. “We’ll be able to go to the insurance companies with outcomes and re-educate and examine data so that we can demand better. But this part of the process is still in its infancy.”

In the present, Feltz says that electronic medical records make this a very exciting time for managed care. In 20 years of managed care, this is the first time there truly is managed care.” For their electronic records, Lifeline uses Medinformatix and Davlong, a developer for specialties like ob/gyn as their software vendor along with licensing and support services.

Another significant capital investment was the building of a 12,000 square foot business center. This facility allows the group to as Feltz says “take the business practice out of the practice.” All of the company’s billing and collecting, profit sharing and all other services are handled at this central location, thereby enabling care centers to do the things there need to, namely manage their practice staff and give care.

Staying on Target

As a successful specialty group, the possibilities for expansion are seemingly endless. The group could begin to work on the creation of a surgical center for example. However, Feltz explains that for now the group is focusing on the basics of what they do best. “We’ve decided that we want to invest in the one thing we do best and that is provide health care for women. We will be incredibly successful in what we are experts in and continuing to invest in that will provide the best health care to our patients.”

But Lifeline’s vision wasn’t always so clear. Feltz says that the initial years were the toughest, as the group remained together just by fear and vision. But now the outlook is completely different, as the group focuses on it’s core services and is able to bring on new physicians at a slow and steady pace. “We really can’t take more than a few physicians a years, so we are growing at a nice pace, mainly through word of mouth we have physicians who are happy and they tell others.” And most physicians stay on with the group after joining. Even though no one is locked into any long-term contracts and physicians only need to give six months notice and people are free to come and go, most still stay on, which speaks volumes for physician satisfaction.

“We try to balance giving excellent care and getting paid for it.” Feltz says, adding that managing a health care organization is finding the right balance to what he describes as a medical triangle, comprised of three integral aspects: science, art and business. He says if an organization focuses too much on one of these angles, the business will suffer. Apparently the group has been able to maintain the proper balance and focus. Today the group has just formed our charitable giving committee trying to give back to the community take request s for donations women and children charities so that’s exciting that we are successful enough that we can take some of our funds and give back to the community.

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