TRMC Employs Affinity Physicians and Staff

Tift Regional Medical Center (TRMC) has assumed operation of Affinity Clinic, employing 19 physicians, nine mid-level providers and approximately 100 support staff members. Affinity Clinic, located in Tifton, is the area’s largest multi-specialty practice and its physicians admit approximately one-third of all TRMC patients.

Officials said that hospital employment of physicians is becoming more common around the country in order to financially stabilize practices and enhance the coordination of patient care.

“Integrating hospital and physician operations is emerging as the norm in this current healthcare climate,” said William T. Richardson, TRMC president/CEO. “Affinity is one of the region’s largest providers and is important to TRMC and our community. This is a natural alignment.”

According to Richardson, an array of market forces is compelling hospitals and physicians to consider the mutual benefits of integration. “Operating costs continue to rise and significant, ongoing reimbursement cuts have made it more difficult to recruit and retain doctors in smaller communities,” he said. “In addition, hospitals are facing mounting pressure to reduce costs and provide greater continuity of care.”

Dr. Cameron Nixon, co-medical director of Affinity Clinic, said physicians are dealing with revenue cycle management challenges while being mandated by the federal government to meet costly information technology requirements. “Hospitals are better able to provide the infrastructure physicians need for effective practice management in today’s environment,” said Nixon. “Plus, growing contingents of doctors want to focus less on the business side of medicine and focus more on providing care. This transaction with TRMC is a win for all involved and will maintain the level of medical services our patient population has come to expect.”

Nixon said there will be no disruption in the services provided by Affinity physicians. “In regards to patient care, the transition will be seamless and not even noticeable,” he said.

TRMC purchased Affinity’s building and ancillary services in June 2007, but the physician group remained independent and leased space from the hospital. Affinity will now become a TRMC service like other hospital-owned practices, including the Arthritis and Osteoporosis Center of South Georgia, Southern Spine Center, WorkSmart Occupational Health, Sylvester Family Practice and HealthPlus-Ashburn. With the acquisition of Affinity, 20 percent of the 120 physicians on the TRMC medical staff will now be directly employed by the hospital.

Private medical practice has been declining at an annual rate of about two percent a year for the past 25 years, according to a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine. The American Medical Association estimates the percentage of physicians who owned their practices at 61.5 percent. The Center for Studying Health System Change put the percentage at 55.9 percent.

Dr. Steve Rigdon, Affinity’s co-medical director, said there is a growing shortage of physicians and hospitals are looking for ways to guarantee coverage and specialist availability. “The pressures of being in private practice today are too much for many physicians and they are reluctant to hang out a shingle,” he said. “In this current economy, hospital employment benefits are appealing.”

Rigdon said that the integration of Affinity with TRMC will keep the practice on solid footing, which in turn, will help with physician retention and recruitment. “There is a smaller pool of physicians in our country now and the market is very competitive,” he said. “This alignment with TRMC will attract more doctors to job opportunities in Tifton, especially physicians coming out of training.”

Another key factor fueling interest in integration for hospitals and physicians nationwide, said Richardson, is the near-certainty that healthcare reform will require greater cooperation between providers. Medicare already has launched pilot projects in which hospitals are financially at risk for re-admissions or continuing care. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is also experimenting with bundled reimbursements that consolidate all provider payments associated with a single incident of care.

“This arrangement with Affinity will put us ahead of the curve,” said Richardson. “It will help improve patient outcomes and slow the growth of healthcare costs.”