NEOCS Cardiologists join SUMMA Physicians Inc.

Dr. Steve Fannin explains heart cath findings to his patient
Dr. Steve Fannin explains heart cath findings to his patient

By Cheryl Powell

Beacon Journal medical writer

Published on Wednesday, Apr 02, 2008

A group of 26 Akron-area cardiologists now is employed by Summa Health System, even though some of the doctors practice primarily at rival Akron General Medical Center.

Effective Tuesday, Northeast Ohio Cardiovascular Specialists (NEOCS) entered into a five-year contract to join Summa Physicians Inc. (SPI), the physician-practice arm of Summa Health System.

Despite the change, patients can continue to go where they choose for care, said Dr. T. Clifford Deveny, president of SPI.

The heart doctors still are practicing at Akron General and Akron City, Barberton, Cuyahoga Falls General, Robinson Memorial, St. Thomas and Wadsworth-Rittman hospitals. All those hospitals — except Akron General — are owned by or affiliated with Summa.

''The patients and the referring physicians should not notice any change in our practice patterns,'' said Dr. Michael Hughes, NEOCS corporate executive board co-chair and a cardiologist who practices primarily at Akron General. '' . . . We are committed to this community, not just to one hospital or the other.''

As hospitals nationwide have increasingly been employing doctors in recent years, it's not unusual for physicians to be employed by one health system in town and providing care at another, said Nick Fabrizio, a senior consultant with Medical Group Management Association, which represents group practices.

In a prepared statement, Akron General President and Chief Executive Alan Bleyer said he is ''very excited that all 26 cardiologists in this group who are on staff at Akron General will continue to see patients here.''

''We're pleased that patients will continue to be able to choose their hospital as well as their doctor for care,'' he said.

Akron General also has been trying to recruit area doctors to join its Partners Physician Group, which includes nearly 100 area physicians.

The cardiology group talked with several possible partners in recent months about the best way to retain and attract more cardiologists to the Akron area, Hughes said.

Several heart specialists have left the region in the past year for more lucrative positions in Cleveland, Columbus, and even Idaho, Deveny said.

Hughes said the fact that Summa has staff dedicated to recruiting new physicians should help attract highly sought-after cardiologists.

With the new deal, Deveny said, ''we feel like we're stabilizing the cardiology supply and creating a model that makes it more attractive to come to Akron, Ohio, so we can not only retain the people we have but also recruit new ones.''

By joining forces with Summa, the doctors also gain efficiencies, as well as salaried positions, said Dr. William Bauman, NEOCS' other corporate executive board co-chair.

''Basically,'' he said, ''we see this as a further development in our long-term strategic plan to continue to provide the best cardiac care for our community. We want to have the correct number of cardiologists to serve the needs of this community. And at this time, this community needs more cardiologists.''

What are the benefits?

Many doctors — particularly specialists — are seeking hospital employment to ease high malpractice rates, lighten their administrative duties and increase their reimbursements, according to national health-care search and consulting firm Merritt Hawkins & Associates.

New physicians, particularly, are looking for jobs with larger practices or hospitals so they have more free time and less hours spent on-call, said Fabrizio of the Medical Group Management Association.

Hospitals, in turn, want to employ doctors to boost their market share, he said.

The cardiologists' deal with Summa comes about a year after NEOCS was formed through the merger of The Heart Group and Akron Cardiology Consultants.

NEOCS is the largest cardiology practice in the Akron area, with offices on the campuses of Akron General and Summa's Akron City Hospital, as well as in Barberton, Ravenna and Wadsworth.

The group serves more than 150,000 patients in Summit, Portage, Medina and Wayne counties.

Under the deal with Summa, the non-physician staff of NEOCS remain employees of the practice. None of the assets of the practice are being transferred to Summa, Deveny said.

With the addition of the cardiologists, Summa Physicians Inc. now includes about 150 doctors.

''This is part of the whole physician alignment strategy, which is how we meet the community need,'' Deveny said.

Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or chpowell@thebeaconjournal.com.