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Ortho Practices See Promise In Banding Together

By Ken Little, posted Jan 13, 2017
Stephen DeBiasi, head of EmergeOrtho’s local operations, says the deal to join OrthoWilmington with other practices across the state to create the new entity helps them face industry changes. (Photo by Chris Brehmer)
A “big bang” business philosophy led to the creation of EmergeOrtho.

The orthopedic practice is poised to remain a major health care provider in the Wilmington region, said Stephen DeBiasi, CEO of the former OrthoWilmington locations.

The practice as it is now configured is the result of a series of mergers, the most significant consolidation being finalized in August when OrthoWilmington joined with three independent orthopedic physician groups across North Carolina.

The groups joined together to form a new practice called EmergeOrtho.

“With 49 office locations in 21 counties statewide, EmergeOrtho is one of the largest physician-owned orthopedic practices in the country,” company officials said.

Wilmington locations include 3787 Shipyard Blvd. and 2716 Ashton Drive, with others in Brunswick and Onslow counties.

“I continue to use the title of chief executive officer with responsibilities for just the Wilmington division of EmergeOrtho,” DeBiasi said. “Everyone’s titles in our offices stayed the same. My responsibilities are very similar now to what they were pre-merger.”

DeBiasi also serves as chairman of the statewide marketing committee that has been responsible for the naming, branding and marketing of the new entity.

To create the statewide practice, OrthoWilmington offices combined with Blue Ridge Bone, Carolina Orthopaedic Specialists and Triangle Orthopaedic Associates.

“We created EmergeOrtho in August after about two years of discussions with several other successful, independent physician practices. In the past, we merged one group at a time,” DeBiasi said. “This time around we wanted to combine several groups at one time, but trying to get four groups to agree can take a little longer.”

Though substantially large, the deal was the latest in a string of mergers for the local practice.

“The 2012 merger of Atlantic Orthopedics and Wilmington Orthopaedic Group really kicked things off,” DeBiasi said about OrthoWilmington’s recent history. “We’ve continued to grow with the addition of Orthopaedic Specialists in 2015 and again in August with the creation of EmergeOrtho.”

Prior to August, the OrthoWilmington practice consisted of about 23 orthopedic surgeons and pain management physicians in New Hanover, Brunswick and Onslow counties.

Additional practices for the EmergeOrtho group “are poised to join during a second phase of expansion projected for early 2017.

The combined practices include 126 physicians and 237 physician assistants, nurse practitioners and therapists. With the projected 2017 expansion, there will be about 170 physicians in the practice,” according to a recent OrthoEmerge news release.

“Managing the constant state of change within health care has required revamping workflows and systems on a pretty regular basis. We have consolidated and changed electronic health record systems more often than I care to remember,” DeBiasi said.

As part of integrating all its offices across the state, the EmergeOrtho offices will use the same electronic health records system.

“Ultimately, I believe it was the right call to go with the ‘big bang’ approach,” DeBiasi said.

Key reasons leading to the creation of a larger group “were really focused around learning from each other. New payment methodologies such as bundled payments and other forms of risk-based contracting were important,” DeBiasi said.

He said independent medical groups “need an ever-increasing level of sophisticated technology and data analytics as insurers offload financial risk to the physician group. There is also a great opportunity to improve the financial performance of the practice as a whole through increased purchasing power and other economies of scale.”

He said that patients should see the same level of service.

“I hope that patients see very little difference between how we cared for patients as OrthoWilmington and how we care for them today as EmergeOrtho.” DeBiasi said.

Baby boomers moving to the area following retirement should represent one growth area for EmergeOrtho, DeBiasi said, adding that even with that patients span the spectrum. “Orthopedic care is needed by all age groups. [There’s] lots of active kids out there too.”

New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s plans to build a new orthopedic care facility and orthopedic services offered by other area medical groups are an opportunity for cooperation rather than being viewed as competition, DeBiasi said.

“We have a strong, collaborative working relationship with New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington. NHRMC has been quite supportive of orthopedics. In Brunswick [County], we have close working relationships with [Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center and Dosher Memorial Hospital],” he said.

New Hanover Regional’s proposed relocation and expansion of its orthopedic service program to NHRMC’s 17th Street campus from Wrightsville Avenue “is not a change in competition. We collaborated with them on strategy [location selection] and design for the project,” DeBiasi said.

“There is a friendly competition among physicians in this area, which keeps all physicians at the top of their game,” he said.

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