Partnership between JPS, UNTHSC pushes forward

By Joey McReynolds

Patients in Tarrant County can expect an improved health care experience before the end of this year.
Alan Townsend, interim chief financial officer of JPS Health Network, announced on Thursday a projected budget for a new partnership between JPS Health Network and the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
JPS and UNTHSC announced a plan last June to create a unified medical group between the two entities. The group, called Acclaim Physician Group, Inc., is expected to cost close to $13 million over fiscal years 2015-2016 to get up and running.
Townsend said JPS is responsible for about 30 percent of that total, which includes everything from consulting costs to IT upgrades.
“We’ve got the dollars in our budget,” Townsend said at Thursday’s JPS Board of Managers meeting. “I think we can cover it without having to request additional dollars.”
The Texas Medical Board approved the groups’ application to create a 501(a) nonprofit unified physician group last month. The group’s goal live date is Dec. 1.
J.R. Labbe, vice president of communications and community affairs for JPS Health Network, said the timeline is “aggressive,” especially when it comes to unifying two entities.
“Everything is moving ahead,” Labbe said. “But now, we’re taking it from theory and actually trying to ‘operationalize.’”
JPS and UNTHSC have worked together in the past, but their physicians worked under different standards. Under the new physician-run group, all physicians working for the two institutions will do so under the same provisions.
“All of this is meant primarily to provide higher quality care across the care continuum, regardless of where the patient seeks care,” Labbe said.
JPS Health Network currently contracts 18 different physician groups. Coordinating that many contracts causes headaches for administration, Labbe said, especially in a county with so many physicians.
When it comes to expectations, hours, compensation and other factors, physicians work under different pretenses. Each physician or physician group might have ideas that clash with other physicians.
Robert Earley, president and CEO of JPS Health Network, said having two different physician group sometimes causes “incongruities.”
“It’s getting everybody on the same page so that our patients get the best possible care they can; and it’s seamless,” Earley said. “Standards… from the minuscule [issue] of vacation time to what time you show up for clinics.”
Josh Halverson, principal for ECG Management Consultants, Inc., a firm whom JPS and UNTHSC hired to help with the move, said this negatively affects patients.
“One group of primary care doctors and another group with different ideas causes inefficiencies and inconsistencies,” Halverson said. “That trickles down and has a direct impact on patients. Those patients, perhaps, aren’t able to get into clinics as easily.”
Earley mirrored that thought about patients seeking care.
“Our patients only know our clinics, so if we have two different providers, they won’t know that,” Earley said. “They’ll just know that there might be some difference between this clinic and that clinic.”
The disparities could also result in a lack of motivation from physicians, Halverson said.
“When you have that many physicians really on their own, there are no real mechanisms for accountablity,” Halverson said. “[There is] no real ability to say ‘Hey, raise your game here,’ because it really doesn’t matter — it’s not like there’s a boss. This will create a much more direct organizational structure.”
“Performance matters; a direct line of authority is necessary.”
One of the biggest problems the two groups face is medical records. Labbe said JPS and UNTHSC have two separate systems for their respective patients’ medical records, but they plan to move UNTHSC onto the system JPS uses.
Labbe said that while the move would require “a front-end investment,” she said it would provide patients much better access to their medical records.
Halverson said the initial investment would turn into savings in the future.
“Over time, as we redeploy resources and eliminate duplication [from having multiple physician groups with different medical records systems], you will be able to see the same number of patients for quite a bit less [money],” Halverson said.
The creation of a unified physician group is consistent with the actions of health care providers across the country.
“Right now, there is a massive move to create greater alignment between physicians and hospitals, to reduce resource consumption and to create value to patients,” Halverson said.
Labbe said, in this case, the partnership just made sense.
“This is not unique at all,” Labbe said. “We have these two public entities. They’re three miles apart, and they act like they’re 3,000 miles apart.”
Labbe said various working groups are still hashing out the fine details of the new group.