Unity Health Network Continues to Expand

By Jo Donofrio
Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Jose Rafecas, MD, Board Member, Unity Health Network

The largest independent medical group in Northeast Ohio is still growing strong — in physician members and clinical sites. Built around a primary care core, Unity Health Network currently includes more than 130 providers at over 33 locations in four counties: Summit, Stark, Medina and Portage. That’s an impressive footprint. Equally impressive is the fact that Unity physicians collectively care for nearly 200,000 patients annually.

“Unity started small with two groups, 24 physicians, providing primary care for approximately 59,000 patients at eight locations,” explains Jose Rafecas, MD, a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist and Board Member of Unity Health Network. “But as the benefits of collaboration became increasingly apparent to our peers, more independent physicians and small medical groups in our community joined the practice.”

Today, Unity is not only the largest independent group in Northeast Ohio, it is the third largest in the state.

Improving Patient Care

Robert Kent, DO, FACOI, President, Unity Health Network

Robert Kent, DO, FACOI, is a primary care physician and President of Unity Health Network.

“Several years ago, my colleagues and I recognized a troubling trend in health care: continually declining physician reimbursement paired with increasing costs to practice medicine,” he explains. “We realized that in the near future smaller groups and single physician practices would have difficulty maintaining a high level of patient care while concurrently working to satisfy the expensive and time-consuming mandates of healthcare reform.”

This realization was not a promising scenario for the long-term success of quality health care, especially for independent physicians who were especially challenged by increased government regulations and the Affordable Care Act. As a result, in 2012, two primary care groups came together to form Unity Healthy Network. Their goal was to unite physicians and allied healthcare providers to offer patients a broader and more accessible level of care while empowering physicians to focus more on their patients and less on paperwork.

“We recognized that healthcare delivery needed to change and our plan was to lead that change,” says Kevin Mineo, MD, an internal medicine specialist and Medical Director of Unity Health Network. “Leading this change means being more focused on quality and controlling costs. Unity’s leadership team continues to develop performance programs to enhance the quality care that we provide to our patients. In turn, this is lowering our healthcare expenditures while improving patient outcomes, which is a high priority for all of our insurers.”

And while the Unity physicians worked to ensure their organization was designed to adapt to change, they also worked to ensure their members would maintain the vital physician-patient relationship.

“The perception, and unfortunately too often the reality, is that healthcare decision-making is overly bureaucratic,” says Dr. Kent. “That is not what we do. Medical professionals continue to be drawn to Unity Health Network because in our organization there are only two people involved in clinical decision-making: the physician and the patient.”

Equipping Physicians to Succeed

Kevin Mineo, MD, Medical Director, Unity Health Network

Unity also equips its physicians with the latest in innovative practice management technologies, including a state-of-the-art electronic medical records system and a Care Coordination Center. Implemented in 2015, the Care Coordination Center is an all-in-one access point for patients’ scheduling and information needs. It’s also a launch point for Unity’s leadership in emerging healthcare avenues, such as telemedicine.

Other improvements in Unity’s infrastructure include a diverse set of strategies specifically targeted for improvements in patient care, along with new tools and technology that increase productivity.

“Unity Health Network’s providers make better decisions through real-time data, leading to a higher level of care delivery and outcomes,” says Dr. Mineo. “The importance of this cannot be overstated in today’s turbulent healthcare environment.”

In addition, Unity has initiated a number of programs aimed at improving quality and decreasing cost for patients, providers and payors. One of the newest and most impactful programs, the Call Unity First Campaign, is designed to educate and encourage patients to call their Unity Health Network primary care office “first” — before going to an Urgent Care facility or emergency department. The results include lower out-of-pocket costs and reduced admissions and overall “spend.”

Growing Stronger

Collaboration and teamwork define the culture for the nearly 400 employees who not only have access to attractive benefits and competitive pay, but also enjoy working together to create the highest level of patient care and convenience.

“Our size gives us the ability to focus on the patient ... it is an ingrained part of our culture,” says Dr. Mineo. “Our employees are an integral part of our medical group and it is because of them that we can provide more efficient and compassionate care for all of our patients. It is part of our mission to make sure that all of our employees are focused 100% on the patient.”

Towards that goal, Unity was one of the founding members in launching the Ohio Independent Collaborative (OIC) in 2015. This partnership allows Unity physicians to collaborate with other large independent groups in Ohio to provide higher-quality, lower-cost, and more effective delivery of health care, and to expand its reach to more than 900,000 patients in Northern Ohio. The OIC also encourages the sharing of intellectual capital that member physicians bring to the organization.

According to Dr. Kent, the results have already proved outstanding — for everyone involved.

“Through this massive collaboration, we’re able to work together with one voice. Best practices with quality, patient satisfaction and management initiatives are shared between the members,” he says, “and it’s making a huge, huge impact on health care across the state.”

For more information about Unity Health Network, visit www.unityhealthnetwork.org.