Joint venture aims to help doctors stay independent

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is investing in a new company aimed at helping independent physicians grow and strengthen their practices.

Blue Cross NC has partnered with investment firm Deerfield Management Company in the joint venture, which will offer management infrastructure, technology support and marketplace information. Independent physicians can either allow Blue Cross NC to acquire their practice’s non-clinical assets, or they can use the joint venture as a vendor to bring in contracted services to manage their practice’s non-clinical operations.

“One [goal] is enabling these practices to remain independent and empowering them and providing the support that they need to continue that journey,” said Adam Grossman, a partner at Deerfield Management. “The second big thing is helping the longer-term thinkers interested in the transition to value-based care.”

While the number of hospital-owned physician practices is increasing nationwide, some doctors are leaving established health systems to form or join independent physician groups. In 2019, dozens of North Carolina-based doctors left Atrium Health and Novant Health to gain autonomy surrounding pay and contract conditions.

For independent physicians, this joint venture could ease the difficulty of managing their own small practice in today’s healthcare environment, said Richard Scheffler, a University of California at Berkeley professor in the graduate school of Health Economics and Public Policy.

“State and federal regulations are enormously hard to keep up with and doctors just don’t have the time, background or training to do that,” Schleffer said.

Providers can concetrate on serving patients instead of ensuring bills are paid on time and managing risks, building financial reserves and coordinating care, said Dr. Von Nguyen, chief medical officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Any resources offered to help alleviate the business, administrative and regulatory burdens that physicians face are welcomed, said Dr. Susan Bailey, immediate past president of the AMA. “Physicians in private practice value any kind of services and support that let us focus more on treating our patients rather than managing the growing complexity of medical practice,” she said.

Bailey, an independent physician herself, said she hopes that arrangements like the one Blue Cross NC is proposing allow physicians to remain independent with no strings attached.

The venture did not provide information on the cost of services provided.

Keeping an active patient base, dealing with competition and negotiating contracts with health insurers are all important areas that private practices need help with, she said.

“This is a wake up call,” Scheffler said. “Medical practices are getting bigger and bigger, groups within physician groups are getting bigger. Scale is important, and economics has never been so important as it is now to the future private practice of medicine.”


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