Macon-based doctors' group seeks to improve care, reduce costs

A grassroots Macon-based organization of doctors has been quietly growing for the past two years with a mission to fulfill a directive set out in the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

The provisions for Accountable Care Organizations -- also known as ACOs -- take up a small part of the massive Affordable Care Act, but they impact how doctors and hospitals who belong to an ACO deliver services.

The mission of Georgia Physicians for Accountable Care is "to improve the quality of care, to improve patient satisfaction and to reduce cost," said CEO Steve Barry. "Doctors were tired of the big institutions, big insurance companies, big hospitals and corporations just trying to get as much money out of the system as they can. They seemed to be getting more and more away from why doctors practice medicine."

ACOs make providers jointly accountable for the health of their patients and save money by avoiding unnecessary tests and procedures. The law calls for an ACO to agree to manage the health care needs of at least 5,000 Medicare beneficiaries for at least three years.

Georgia Physicians for Accountable Care was formed in mid-2013, and when doctors in the Macon area were first approached, "there was an overwhelming response," Barry said. "Immediately we got 245 doctors that said, 'Yes, we freely support this.'"

While the ACO was only required to get 5,000 Medicare members served by its doctors -- and the national average is 7,500 -- Georgia Physicians represented 36,000 Medicare members at the beginning.

"That made us the 16th largest ACO in the country, and we are based here in Macon," Barry said.

The organization continues to grow. In mid-2014, it grew to 495 doctors, representing 45,000 Medicare-covered lives.

"We are currently at 632 providers," Barry said in December.

A number of doctors within the group are looking at ways they can improve patient satisfaction "so that patients feel the doctors are listening to them, that they are getting the right treatment. They are not just part of the big machine that churns out patients as product," he said. "And finally reduce the cost without compromising the quality."

Georgia Physicians for Accountable Care owns 60 percent of Your Doctor's Immediate Care, which opened last month at 2410 Ingleside Ave. on the corner of Corbin Avenue in Macon. Another Your Doctor's facility is at 260 W. Clinton St. in Gray, and it's open only at nights and on weekends.

"We have inquires from Eastman, Thomasville, Waycross, LaGrange on how we can duplicate this," Barry said.

Your Doctor's Immediate Care is similar in some ways to a traditional urgent care facility. It will treat ailments such as cuts, burns, flu, colds and broken bones when patients can't get an appointment with their primary care doctor right away or after hours.

But Your Doctor's is run as an extension of the patient's primary care doctor. A record of the patient's visit will be sent the same day to the patient's doctor for follow up care if needed. Also, patients will be charged the same rate as if they went to their primary care doctor, not the higher rates typically charged by urgent care facilities.

Your Doctor's is not affiliated with any hospital.

While initially Georgia Physicians for Accountable Care focused on working with Medicare members, it now has a shared saving program with United Healthcare, "and we're in discussions with other health insurance providers," he said.

Physicians who joined Georgia Physicians are located from Florida to Blue Ridge in north Georgia, all the way to the coast and west to the Alabama border.

"So it is not a Macon physician organization," he said. "It is really a state-wide organization."

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223 or follow her on Twitter@MidGaBiz.