Susan Ridzon: Independent health practices save money, deliver high quality

This commentary is from Susan Ridzon, executive director of HealthFirst, which represents 63 physician-owned primary and specialty practices in 10 Vermont counties. Its 26 primary care practices serve approximately 85,000 Vermonters. About 90% of independent practices in Vermont are HealthFirst members.

In a recent commentary, Andrew Garland of BlueCross and BlueShield of Vermont suggested that Vermonters research and choose lower-cost, high-quality providers to save money and lower the cost of future health care premiums.

Cleverly mentioned the independent practices because their prices are often many times lower than the alternatives. There are additional compelling reasons to choose an independent practice, including consistently high-quality care, personalized and affordable service, and typically much shorter wait times.

These are the types of high-value health care options that Vermont should be promoting as we all strive to reduce health care costs while maintaining high-quality services and access.

One of the elements of high-quality care is a strong relationship between the primary care practitioner and the patient. Independent practices provide that one-on-one connection as well as increased outpatient access. This combination allows the patient to receive the timely care needed to prevent unnecessary emergency room visits and preventable hospitalizations, including hospital readmissions.

When further care or tests are needed, independent specialist practices and imaging sites often have significantly shorter waiting times. Time to appointment for advanced imaging at an independent MRI center is typically measured in days to weeks, as opposed to months for hospital-based imaging.

The wait time at an independent practice for a non-urgent dermatology problem is at least a month shorter than local hospital alternatives, and one independent dermatology practice offers weekly clinics, so you can get that troublesome-looking mole examined without needing an appointment. Another independent primary care practice offers same-day sports medicine and fracture care, and many Chittenden County doctors work at a much lower-cost outpatient surgery center.

Additionally, independent primary care physicians will help patients find lower-cost alternatives for laboratory and imaging tests and specialty care.

Vermont needs more options for such efficient, high-quality health care. Unfortunately, many of the high-value independent practices that can provide such care are under pressure. This is especially true for primary care and women’s health practices.

Twelve of our network practices closed between 2019 and 2022. There are many reasons for these closures, but financial failure was a major factor in more than half of them.

Vermont would be wise to protect and support those who remain and encourage more to open. These community-based independent practices are part of a Vermont tradition worth preserving.

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Tags: Healthfirst , high value options , independent health practices , Susan Ridzon

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