Innovations in Medicine: Synergy Health Solutions

January 19, 2016

Vickery-Gus.pngASHEVILLE, NC- Local physician, Dr. Gus Vickery, has implemented an innovative way to connect with patients by offering direct primary care.  He founded Synergy Health Solutions which works outside the traditional payer model to focus healthcare on the patient.  Additionally, direct primary care is more affordable and accessible for patients, and reduces paperwork for his staff.  Dr. Vickery has seen improved health with this model, notably among those who previously found difficulty in accessing primary care.  WCMS CEO, Miriam Schwarz, asked Dr. Vickery to answer the following questions about his innovative practice:

Can you tell me about your innovative practice? 

Synergy Health Solutions provides direct primary care (DPC) and urgent care services to individuals and businesses in Western North Carolina. These models of healthcare delivery facilitate our focus on healthcare and reduce administrative burdens. They help reduce the barriers to individuals and small businesses accessing affordable, effective and engaging healthcare service. 

What were the reasons that you launched Synergy Health Solutions? 

As medical director for the Biltmore Company, I've supervised their employee health clinic for the last three years. After experiencing the satisfaction of seeing a significant improvement in the health, economic and productivity metrics of The Biltmore Company by using a direct collaborative model, we wanted to find a pathway to bring the same benefits to the general public and small businesses. 

What key lessons did you learn along the way? What worked? What didn’t? 

Businesses have had to respond to rising insurance costs. They want to take care of their employees but the current pricing of group insurance is unsustainable for small businesses. We have to become more flexible and adaptive if individuals are going to be able to use the resources we provide in an effective way. Direct care is working. Getting insurers to participate is challenging and we had to create a process to work around our current insurance contracts. 

What are the impacts and outcomes of the direct primary care model?

Patients who have previously not sought health care because of the cost or time restraints are able to be seen same-day in our office with no cost out of pocket. Small businesses now have accountability for how their healthcare spending is being used to improve employee health. People are beginning to understand that primary care can be delivered effectively for a much lower cost than currently priced through insurance models. 

How does direct primary care help you manage various aspects of healthcare reform?

This is a plausible solution that is already affecting change in our community. Policy change takes time. Direct primary care is a way to significantly improve the delivery of care and improve the patient's experience. Combined with high deductible insurance plans, these models achieve the primary goals of the Affordable Care Act: affordable and accessible healthcare that improves population health. 

Who were your primary influencers and mentors in creating Synergy Health Solutions? 

DPC is all over the country. Locally, the Biltmore Company was the first to approach my office about offering this solution for their employees. The Qliance model in Seattle Washington has really helped us understand how to structure our efforts. 

In what ways does direct primary care affect the physician-patient relationship? 

Patients can call our office with a concern and be seen that day. Cutting out a majority of the paperwork and red tape makes everyone happier. Early next year we'll launch a virtual product that will allow our patients to video chat with their provider instead of having to come in to the office. This restores trust in our intentions to advocate and be present for our patients. The patients are our primary focus, not compliance with coding and billing processes for the payers benefit. 

In what ways does direct primary care influence the joy and meaning you find in medicine?

Physicians focus on what they spent years becoming educated to do- caring for their patients and advocating for them to have access to the resources they need to achieve their personal goals for health and well-being. Physicians work for their patients and perhaps take an interest in helping businesses in their community become healthier workplaces. Physicians begin to truly steward the economic healthcare resources of their community in a manner that is aligned with their desire to be altruistic with their professional skills. 

What advice would you give to others interested in implementing direct primary care? 

Be prepared to stretch yourself and your organization. Change is hard and the current system will resist this change. You have to decide what you really want for yourself professionally and then work every day to try and make that happen. Surround yourself with individuals who believe in your cause and will give every effort to see it happen. There is no time for complaining about what is or what has been. We have to use today to define our professional value and use it to advance the formation of an equitable and effective primary care delivery system. We cannot wait on others (health care executives, insurance companies, politicians) to do this for us. If we do, we will have lost our opportunity to create the system we aspire for.