Community Care Physicians, PC: Dr. Barbara Morris, Chief Medical Officer and Medical Director

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In these challenging times, several smaller healthcare organizations and independent practices are merging together into larger multidisciplinary groups. In Albany, N.Y., one group has nearly refined this practice into a science.

With 40 locations, 19 specialties, and about 200 providers, Community Care Physicians, PC, provides care to four counties in what is known as the Capital Region. The organization forms a large primary-care network with family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics, as well as specialty services including laboratory, adolescent health, audiology, breast care, diabetes education, surgery, occupational medicine, prostate health, obstetrics and gynecology, physical therapy, podiatry, dermatology, and urology. Community Care Physicians also operates urgent-care centers and imaging centers, offering medical imaging, interventional radiology, and radiation oncology.

“Our mission is to provide a system of affordable and easily accessible healthcare to patients and our community,” said Dr. Barbara Morris, chief medical officer and executive vice president.

Keeping patients at the forefront

Morris, who is also a practicing pediatrician, said that patients are at the heart of change in healthcare.

“We see the face of medicine changing, and it is going to be highly dependent upon organizations managing a patient-centered approach rather than a physician-centered approach,” Morris said. “Patients are leading the charge of the future of healthcare.”

For a multispecialty practice, this can be challenging with reductions in healthcare budgets and barriers to patient access to care. Many patients in the group’s community are uninsured or underinsured. Morris said the group has looked at ways to increase access to care, such as walk-in hours beyond the traditional 8 a.m. – 5p.m., and through a network of urgent-care centers, including the area’s first Pediatric Urgent Care Center specifically designed for newborns to children age 18.

“It is a challenge to reach our community the way they want to be reached, a way that sees them individually, but standardizes care and contains costs,” Morris said.

In keeping with the patient-first mission, Community Care Physicians, which is physician-owned and operated, is designated as a Patient-Centered Medical Home. In 2009, it was awarded Recognition by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) Physician Connections ® – Patient-Centered Medical Home Program. Sixteen of the group’s locations earned the highest of three possible levels of achievement. Community Care Physicians is currently resubmitting for NCQA accreditation to acquire Level III Recognition for its 20 primary-care locations.

As a Patient-Centered Medical Home, physicians at Community Care Physicians follow patients through the entire spectrum of care.

“We have been engaged in a process with local payers to re-engineer primary-care practice processes to support the patient-centered medical-home model,” Morris said. “We use the electronic medical record to track patients from interactions in our office to coordinating specialty care and minimizing emergency room and hospital visits. The EMR helps us reduce duplication of services across specialties.”

Keeping all locations on the same path

With many individual groups brought under a large umbrella, technology has been key to making Community Care Physicians work effectively. The organization is comprised of individual private practices that have joined the larger group. Morris said the practices range from a single physician working in a house-like setting to larger practices with 12 physicians. But all of them use the same EMR.

Morris said the organization is working to organize the individual groups within their specialties to standardize processes and quality metrics. Pediatrics, family-care medicine, and internal medicine are already divisions, with more to come.

Community Care Physicians has been using an EMR for the past six years and is now moving on to other technology such as kiosks, self-registration, and a patient portal. The organization is also ahead of the curve on using mobile devices.

Morris said the group started using iPhones two years ago. This allowed providers to access a remote version of the full medical record. Physicians could see summary data of the patient’s chart, most recent vitals, problem lists, allergies, and medications, allowing them to respond to calls from the emergency room or other situations outside of the office. These applications have been transferred to the iPad, and Morris said the group is looking at developing new tools specifically for the iPad.

“We will continue to embed technology in the delivery of care,” she said.

The next big thing for Community Care Physicians would be electronic visits, allowing real-time encounters with a physician to follow up on medication issues or other simple discussions that can occupy a great deal of time for physicians and patients and that don’t necessarily require the traditional see-and-touch encounter. Morris said the virtual visits are part of the organization’s five-year plan that centers on growth and technology.

Growth is a continuing strategy for any organization, and Community Care Physicians is looking at ways to bring in more patients. The five urgent-care centers are one way to drive new foot traffic, along with radiology services. Mergers with other small, independent practices will continue to be part of the organization’s growth plan as well.

“We have a lot of diversity in the types of practices we have throughout the area,” Morris said. “We have unique access points to drive organic growth. We believe keeping everyone connected with the EMR is the best way to provide the best quality of care to a large group of patients with one patient record.”

-by Patricia Chaney

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