The Emory Healthcare system continues its aggressive expansion in the Atlanta market, as it finalized an agreement Thursday to bring Newton Medical Associates into its primary care network.
Dr. Henry M. Patton, lead physician of Newton Associates, said the partnership is part of Emory's efforts to create an accountable care organization (ACO), a comprehensive healthcare system encouraged by the healthcare reform Affordable Care Act.
At its heart, an ACO is designed to create partnerships of healthcare providers, such as hospitals, specialists and primary care doctors, with the goal of decreasing duplication of tests and services, thereby keeping costs down. Theoretically, a patient would be able to turn to an ACO for all of his healthcare needs; the difference from an HMO is that the patient does not have to stay within the ACO.
In terms of Medicare, the government will actually reward ACOs that successfully keep costs down while meeting performance standards. The ACOs would get to share in the savings they help create. This is meant to promote prevention and minimize tests and steer away from a payment-per-procedure system. Federal officials also hope the ACO system prevents Medicare from running out of money anytime soon.
As far as the affect on Newton Medical Associates, Patton said his office will continue to operate as it has been and will remain on staff at Newton Medical Center. Previous rumors had Emory buying local offices, but Patton said the office will remain locally owned and affiliated with Newton Medical. Staff member Dr. W. Norris Little Jr. is the chief-of-staff-elect for Newton Medical.
Patton said Emory was impressed with his office's reputation and level of care and decided to partner with his office, skipping over providers in Lithonia or Conyers. Other major hospital networks, such as Piedmont Healthcare and Northside, approached Newton Associates, but Patton said Emory did not require his office to refer patients only to Emory.
"They would hope that we would refer patients to them because they're good at what they do, but if we wanted to go to one of the other hospitals or the Mayo Clinic that would be fine," he said Friday.
The partnership is actually with Emory Specialty Associates, Emory Healthcare's outreach physician arm, which houses specialty divisions of primary care, cardiology, orthopedics, anesthesiology, pathology and emergency medicine.
Patton said the main goal is to make sure the patient gets the ultimate care, while reducing redundancy. By working together, Emory and Newton Associates will be able to share all medical records, tests and other information instantly by computer, eliminating the wait time of mailing records.
Newton Associates will also have access to Emory's resources, such as continuing education and bulk-rate purchase prices on medical equipment and supplies.
Another major advantage for Newton Associates is that it will have the clout of Emory to help it negotiate reimbursement rates with large HMOs. Patton said the move could increase reimbursement rates by 5 to 7 percent.
Also, by joining Emory Specialty, Newton Associates will be in a larger health insurance pool itself and will reduce the healthcare costs for the office's nearly 40 employees.
Patton said his office considered the change for 14 months before finally agreeing to the partnership, which, while it doesn't have major changes, does remove some independence. Newton Associates will be renamed Emory Newton Medical Associates.
Patton and Dr. G. Timothy Park have owned their own practice for 28 years.
Emory assured Newton Medical Center CEO Jim Weadick that it was not trying to compete or take away business from the local hospital. Patton said Emory does not want to steal referrals.
Emory Specialty could be reaching out to other Newton-based practices as well; Patton said they told him they were talking to 22 other practices in the Atlanta region.