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Asante, Bates' medical office to partner

To expand its access to primary and preventive care physicians, Asante is partnering with Dr. Alan Bates' medical office and hopes in coming years to use the model to partner with a total of 80 general practitioners in its system.

"This will make it easier for us to recruit primary and preventative physicians out of med school," said Bates, a longtime state senator from Medford and chief architect of Oregon's health legislation. "They graduate $300,000 in debt, and this partnership makes it possible for them to go through the ramp-up for three to five years and have a good place to live."

His Creekside Family Medicine in Medford, with four primary doctors, two nurse practitioners and 7,000 patient files, will join Asante Physician Partners but retain its offices half a mile from Asante's Rogue Regional Medical Center, he says.

RRMC already partners with more than 60 providers in a variety of fields, said Sheri Bodager, vice president and executive director of Asante Physician Partners. Adding the Creekside group is part of its focus on providing the basics of primary care to divert patients with relatively simple problems from expensive emergency room care or hospital stays and to prevent multiple referrals to specialists, she said.

Bates said at a news conference Monday that it's "time for me to walk my talk" about his push for integrated care, merging hospital staffs and outpatient physicians.

"We haven't been doing what we should be, and there's still a lot of isolation (of providers). This makes for better patient outcomes at lower cost and that helps everyone."

Bates touted the Asante model for partnering with doctors.

"The board is controlled by physicians, and they are partners, not employees," he said. "It's a model for this part of the state.

Bates said providing more primary and preventive care would reduce the demands on RRMC's emergency room, which sees many people who really need only elementary care.

"They can't get it because they don't have a primary and preventative care physician," he noted.

Asante has 10 primary-preventive care physicians now and is shooting for 80 at RRMC and its Three Rivers Community Hospital in Grants Pass, said Bodager.

"The way to transform care is to bring providers together in collaboration with the right care at the right place, keeping patients out of hospitals and emergency rooms because they're expensive," she said.

In the Asante model, Bates said, he can help recruit by assuring new doctors they will be working with a large group and will have weekends off and a guaranteed income.

Bodager noted the shift toward more primary care providers comes amid a basic shift in health care.

"We're moving away from fee-for-service to payment based on how healthy patients are," she said. "It was based on volume in the past, and we're moving to outcome."

The new model helps connect many systems, including alcohol-drug, mental health and emergency rooms, and will make it easier for Asante to compete with hospitals in larger cities for new doctors, said Bates. He also said it would enable doctors to be more open to all patients in Medicaid and Medicare and be "virtually blind" to their ability to pay.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.