Spine Institute makes a contrarian move

The Spine Institute’s recent announcement that it will build a surgery center next to its new location in Johnstown represented a bit of a break from the merger news so prevalent nowadays among independent practices.

Same goes for the earlier announcement from the Spine Correction Center of the Rockies that it is constructing a new building in southeast Fort Collins, as well as word from Pediatric Associates of Northern Colorado that it has been purchased and moved to a new, larger office.

All of this is a departure from the wider trend of more and more independent practitioners aligning themselves with large health care systems in the face of rising costs and new technology mandates.

But that’s all it is: rare deals that run counter to the many more instances of independent practices joining the medical groups associated with one or the other of our two health care giants, Banner Health and University of Colorado Health.

Most recently, for example, Northern Colorado Pulmonary Consultants announced that it would join Colorado Health Medical Group, formerly Poudre Valley Medical Group.

The number of independent physicians in the country has dropped substantially in the new millennium, from 57 percent in 2000 to 39 percent in 2012, according to the website Electronic Health Record Intelligence.

The website goes on to say that estimates show that the number will continue to drop, to 36 percent in 2013.

This comes as no surprise, as uncertainty about the future of health care continues to run rampant, although the re-election of President Obama means that the Affordable Care Act will stand, something that to one degree or another might have been in jeopardy in a Mitt Romney administration.

Even so, it’s hard to say how health care will look in 2014 and beyond. Most of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act are set to become effective that year, and some say that the industry won’t settle into its “new normal” until 2017.

Five years to wait and see what the “new normal” will be.

Hospital systems are better-heeled than independent practices, so you can’t blame smaller providers for wanting to align themselves with large companies that offer a modicum of confidence and security.

But even the bigger operations — including spine specialists — could end up doing the same.

Dr. Nick Shamie, associate professor of spine surgery at UCLA, recently sat down with Becker’s Hospital Review to offer his perspective on accountable care organizations and the benefits they may hold for spine surgeons.

“Aligning with a medical group or a hospital ACO including a medical group would be extremely beneficial as the new structures are forming. This is especially true to busy, competitive markets, such as in big cities where hospitals are purchasing physician practices,” Shamie said.

An ACO, for the uninitiated, is defined as a group of coordinated health care providers that caters to a specific patient population.

“It comes down to what kind of provider you are — a single provider or group provider. Strength is in numbers — if you have a group that provides care in that community, they will have a much stronger voice than if you are a single practitioner,” Shamie said.

All of this is why it’s so interesting that providers like The Spine Institute have thus far resisted the urge to join the medical group associated with one hospital system or the other.

Instead, the company is expanding its footprint and its services.

The practice was founded in 2004 by Drs. Kenneth Pettine and Jeffrey Donner, who founded Rocky Mountain Associates in Orthopedic Medicine in 1991. Formerly located on North Grant Avenue in Loveland, The Spine Institute relocated to 4795 Larimer Parkway in Johnstown over the summer.

It should be noted that Pettine and Donner are themselves aligned with Colorado Health Medical Group, though The Spine Institute and the rest of the doctors there are not.

Today, the practice employs 25, including five physicians, with plans to grow in the coming months.

The Spine Institute enlisted the help of Fort Collins-based Brinkman Partners to turn the 14,000-square-foot space into a medical practice, including areas for X-rays, exam rooms and a second floor devoted to training. Brinkman finished the work earlier this month.

The next step is to break ground on the new surgery center, with the goal of having the facility operational by next July. The 15,000-square-foot center will include three operating rooms and will allow physicians to conduct spine surgeries and adult stem-cell treatments.

Molly Armbrister covers health care for the Business Report. She can be reached at 970- 232-3139, at marmbrister@ncbr.com or at twitter.com/MArmbristerNCBR.

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Molly Armbrister covers real estate, banking and health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. She can be reached at 970-232-3139, marmbrister@ncbr.com or twitter.com/MArmbristerNCBR

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