Parkview Physicians Group makes health care more accessible.
Without an appointment or after regular office hours, people who need to see a doctor have traditionally relied upon urgent care outlets and emergency rooms. Options for care were limited and often punctuated by long waits and expensive bills. With the recent addition of its FirstCare walk-in clinics, Parkview Physicians Group (PPG) is taking steps to change the model.
First introduced in late 2011, PPG’s FirstCare clinics offer service that extends into the evenings and on weekends. The clinics operate on a first-come, first-served principle, ensuring that patients who need care are not limited by the need for an appointment.
“Illnesses don’t always occur during regular business hours,” says Dr. Brenda O’Hara who serves as the medical director for the FirstCare clinic in southwest Fort Wayne.
Dr. Thomas Bond, associate chief medical officer of PPG and medical director of the New Haven clinic, agrees.
“We’re trying to give patients care when they need it and at a convenient location,” he says.
In addition to the need for extended accessibility, PPG recognized that many people have not established a relationship with a primary care physician, waiting instead for an illness or crisis situation to be seen. In those instances, it is nearly impossible to find a physician and set up an office visit on short notice.
Here again, FirstCare clinics fill the need. Unlike a typical urgent care facility, these clinics offer a continuity of care that extends beyond a single visit. Being part of PPG allows them the opportunity to place patients with a primary care physician once their urgent need has been addressed. It helps patients establish a personal medical home that allows for continuous care in order to maximize the patient’s long-term health benefits.
As part of the PPG system, clinics have access to the group’s more than 300 providers, as well as the services that accompany them. Its shared system also means faster information exchange and seamless communication. Providers receive electronic copies of notes and test results as soon as they are completed, rather than waiting for it to pass through the couriers, phone messages and emails that defined the old, multi-network model. With PPG, follow-up communication for visits, test results and consultations not only happens, but happen quickly.
Since PPG opened its first clinic in late 2011, it has created four offices in Allen County and one in Huntington County. Locations are determined by geographic distribution. The goal is to provide service where people need it. According to O’Hara, location is critical to patients.
“We have to get rid of the barriers to people coming in,” she says. She and her colleagues do not want the price of gas, access to transportation or distance to prevent people from seeking care.
The formula seems to be working for PPG. Although there has not been an awareness campaign advertising the clinics’ services, word of mouth has kept the clinics busy with a steady stream of patients. In fact, one of the biggest challenges PPG faces is making sure there is a proper model in place for handling the fluctuating demand that comes with walk-in service.
One way it tries to balance the load is with a central call center. Patients looking for service can call to find out which locations may be experiencing high volumes or suggested arrival times for faster service. As an alternative, the call center can also schedule patients with PPG physicians outside the FirstCare Walk-In Clinic who may have availability during clinic surges.
“The last thing we want is the two-hour waiting period that people complain about elsewhere,” says O’Hara.
The model that PPG is building with its FirstCare clinics allows for flexible office visits, continuity of care and easy access. By tapping into its extensive pool of providers and infrastructure, it also offers a bridge from a single visit to a longer-term health care relationship.
“We’re not trying to replace the family doctor,” says Bond. “We’re trying to give people another alternative when they need it.”