How can a specialty physician group thrive for 30 years — while remaining independent? Joseph Zarconi, MD, of Northeast Ohio Nephrology Associates (NEONA) was asked this question. And he had no trouble answering it.
“Quality care is our highest priority,” he said. “It’s a commitment that is shared by every physician in our group, and one of the key reasons why we have such a great track record in the region.”
NEONA is a nine-physician specialty group which includes (seated, L-R) Joseph Zarconi, MD, FACP; Charina P. Gayomali, MD; and Christopher Boshkos, MD, FACP; (standing L-R) Thomas Kayani, MD; Savio M. Kumar, MD; Melinda S. Phinney, MD, FACP; Richard E. May, Jr., MD; and Darryl P. Anderson, MD. Missing from this photo is Susan M. Ray, MD, FACP.
Founded in 1987 by Dr. Zarconi and Christopher Boshkos, MD, NEONA was established in Akron along with two of their former teachers and mentors — Donald Parker, MD, and Hayes H. Davis, MD. This, according to Dr. Boshkos, was an early indication of their ongoing commitment to education and training.
“We recognized the need to develop an increased availability of high-quality, academic-oriented tertiary nephrologic care in the region,” Dr. Boshkos explains. “There is no better way to do that than by enthusiastically mentoring and educating medical students and residents. Dr. Zarconi and I had familiarity with the community [both completed their residency training at Summa Akron City Hospital]. So we chose to base our practice here in Northeast Ohio where we could work closely with our own educators, supportive peers and the hospitals and medical school.”
“We had very impactful experiences during our time in medical school, being taught by physicians who put patients at the center of everything they did,” adds Dr. Zarconi. “There were very high expectations placed upon us as trainees, a concerted effort that drove us to become the best physicians we could be. During that time we realized the importance of involving ourselves in the teaching of medical students and residents, and have followed that path wherever we have practiced. We believe these commitments have kept us up-to-date in the delivery of current, state-of-the-art care, of which the by-product is improved quality for those we serve.”
Today, NEONA is a nine-physician group and includes, in addition to Dr. Boshkos and Dr. Zarconi, Darryl Anderson, MD; Charina Gayomali, MD; Thomas Kayani, MD; Savio Kumar, MD; Melinda Phinney, MD, Richard May, MD; and Susan Ray, MD. Together, they diagnose and treat patients suffering from reduced kidney function, chronic kidney disease (CKD), hypertension and other complex nephrological disorders.
Some of these physicians have been trained and mentored by the original four NEONA partners. Others have been recruited from nephrology programs across the country.
“Every one of our physicians practices evidence-based medicine, and we are academically-oriented exemplary mentors in the field of medicine and nephrology,” says Dr. Boshkos.
Drs. Joseph Zarconi and Christopher Boshkos (third and fourth from the left) founded NEONA in 1987. They are pictured here with Drs. Richard May and Melinda Phinney.
NEONA’s office is conveniently located on East Market Street in downtown Akron. The physicians also care for patients on hemodialysis in-home and at several community-based outpatient dialysis units across Northeast Ohio. Inpatient consultative care is delivered at all Summit County hospitals, including Cleveland Clinic Akron General Medical Center, Summa Health Akron City Hospital, Summa Health St. Thomas Hospital, Western Reserve Hospital, Select Specialty Hospital of Akron and Summa Rehab Hospital.
“Every physician in our group understands the importance of not spreading ourselves too thinly over a broad geography, or over too many hospitals and dialysis units, because we always want to ensure our focus remains centered on the quality of the care we provide, rather than the quantity of our care,” says Dr. Zarconi. “With all partners supporting this vision, it becomes a reality.”
The group, as a team, even created and enacted practice policies that support their commitment to quality.
“As research and anecdotal situations point out, quality improves with continuity. Thus, we have worked hard to create practice policies that maximize patient care continuity, so that, to the greatest extent possible, any given patient would be seen by the same nephrologist for as long as that patient remained within our practice,” says Dr. Zarconi.
He points out that this is not only an advantage to the patient, but also for their referring physicians. “Our approach to practicing medicine creates a rhythm, and a high level of confidence and trust between all parties. We all (the physicians and patients) learn and grow together, and the mutual benefits from these long-standing relationships include improved patient care and professional collegiality.”
Dr. Boshkos agrees. “Our patients’ interests come first, because patients are the reason why we are in practice.”
One of the areas in which NEONA specializes is transplantation medicine, an area of focus for Dr. Boshkos who completed a fellowship in Renal Transplantation at Cleveland Clinic. He prides himself on the use of the latest continuous renal replacement techniques (CRRT) as well as the employment of state-of-the-art immunosuppressive strategies to ensure long-term success in renal transplant recipients.
“The process is complicated and our transplant patients and their caregivers need to be educated and supported clinically and emotionally to ensure success. This is greatly facilitated by our ability to provide the highest level of pre- and post-transplant continuity of care, a product of our group’s distinct longevity,” says Dr. Boshkos.
While it’s remarkable that NEONA has been established for more than 30 years, the fact that the group has remained independent is even more so.
“Unfortunately, there are a number of forces underway in our evolving health care system which impede the physicians’ ability to spend adequate and high-quality time with patients. These include the increasing computerization of patient care, increasing pressure to see more and more patients, and increasing administrative and clerical responsibilities within cumbersome documentation requirements, among other challenges,” Dr. Zarconi says. “We must somehow answer those demands while still delivering on our promise to patients.”
He points out that, although times have changed, the needs and wants of patients have remained unchanged. “Patients want their doctors to hear them, to spend adequate time with them, and to genuinely care for, and care about, them. It gets harder and harder to meet all the requirements of modern medical practice while making caring for our patients the priority. That is why independence in the medical community is rare. We work hard to succeed at this, but it feels more challenging all the time.”
Dr. Boshkos agrees. “Maintaining professional independence while keeping up with the myriad of ever-increasing administrative demands has become more challenging,” he says. “But we all possess a high level of respect for each other and have committed to sharing work responsibilities. Our ability to maintain that commitment has allowed for the development of a culture that supports each other’s professional demands and personal lives, in turn allowing for our independence.”
It also underscores the group’s success. “We continue to work a bit harder because we know it produces benefits,” says Dr. Boshkos. “Our honesty and total commitment to accessibility, affordability and service to patients and colleagues is why we succeed.”
(L-R) NEONA Drs. Savio M. Kumar, Thomas Kayani, Charina Gayomali and Darryl Anderson
Dr. Boshkos and Dr. Zarconi firmly believe that the driving force of their practice is ensuring all of their physicians are doing all they can to deliver the highest level of care for their patients.
“We infuse this vision in all we do. It is the driving force of our practice,” Dr. Boshkos emphasizes. “Our relationships with our patients and their families, professional colleagues, area educators, medical students and residents are stronger because of this commitment to quality. It is the basis for the founding of NEONA. And I and my partners look forward to continuing to serve the region with this high level of care.”
Northeast Ohio Nephrology Associates, Inc., is located at 411 East Market Street in downtown Akron. To contact the office, call (330) 252-0600. To learn more about the practice, visit www.northeastohionephrology.com.