U doctors unite, cut costs

by Melanie Evans

What’s in a name?
At the University, months of planning and the aspirations of more than 300 medical faculty members who now constitute the University of Minnesota Physicians.
Following the kick-off of an advertising campaign blanketing the campus with the group’s name and logo, the company announced Tuesday the physicians’ successful bid to offer services for the state’s lowest-cost health plan option.
About one-third of the 14,000 employees at the University are enrolled in the health plan, which is available to more than 40,000 employees of the state of Minnesota beginning in 1999.
After losing patients and revenue in a competitive health care marketplace, University clinical faculty members incorporated in January 1998, hoping to regain their footing by streamlining services and aggressively marketing to clients as a single group.
The announcement marks a significant triumph for the clinical faculty, who face an uphill public relations battle, said Lisa Jetland, the group’s executive director.
Academic medicine, long associated with expensive specialty health care, is rarely equated with providing low-cost the primary care demanded by insurers.
This year offers the physicians’ group the opportunity to prove the academic health care providers can match local competition, Jetland said.
Cost-conscious rivals forced the University clinical faculty to trade in the independence of 18 separate medical departments for the efficiency of one merged practice group.
“By the late ’80s it was pretty clear that the practices here were being squeezed out of the health care marketplace,” Geibink said.
The dwindling stream of patients cut into teaching and research endeavors at the University, said Geibink. It also diminished a source of revenue for the Medical School. Clinical faculty return a portion of their earnings from their private practice to the school.
Without patients, academic physicians cannot teach or conduct research, said Dr. Scott Geibink, a professor of pediatrics and chairman of the University of Minnesota Physicians’ Board.
“Education in medicine all revolves around patients,” he said.
Other health systems offer a simple and single way to reach doctors of different specialties, said Lisa Jetland
“It has become the competitive norm,” she said.