Innovative Practice Interview: Blue Mountain Surgery
October 23, 2017
Health Innovations in Our Community
WCMS’ Cutting Edge highlights WNC physicians, practices and programs that are on the cutting edge of healthcare transformation, both big and small. WCMS supports local physician members who are change agents by recognizing them and sharing among other WCMS members and the general community information about these local innovations. If you know of such a physician or practice, please contact Miriam Schwarz.
About 21st Century Oncology:
21st Century Oncology is the largest global, physician led provider of Integrated Cancer Care services. The company offers a comprehensive range of cancer treatment services, focused on delivering academic quality, cost-effective patient care in personal and convenient settings. As of March 31, 2017, the company operated 179 treatment centers, including 143 centers located in 17 U.S. states and 36 centers located in seven countries in Latin America. The company holds market-leading positions in most of its domestic local markets and abroad.
Blue Mountain Surgery, a division of 21st Century Oncology and Radiation Therapy Associates of Western North Carolina is a small surgical clinic in Asheville performing general surgical and advanced laparoscopic procedures. Dr. Claudine Siegert, Blue Mountain Surgery’s solo physician, is a long-standing WCMS member. WCMS interviewed Dr. Siegert and practice manager Lindsay McCraw recently about the efficiencies of a small, independent surgical practice and how it helps foster a better physician-patient relationship.
The Blue Mountain Surgery Staff
Innovative Practice Interview: Blue Mountain Surgery
- Why do you think a small clinic setting for surgical services is innovative and what does it offer that a typical practice doesn’t?
Dr. Siegert: Running a small surgical clinic as a solo practitioner is different from current trends among medical practices. Today’s trends show that many practices nationwide are being bought by larger hospital systems.
Moving forward, we intend for our practice to stay small because it allows us more one-on-one time with patients and the opportunity to provide individualized care. I also appreciate having flexibility in decision making, flexibility in timing, and flexibility in scheduling; all of which allows for me to see my patients quickly. Being a small practice with the capacity to do many procedures in-house is more convenient for our patients.
- Tell us about the innovative surgical specialties you offer at Blue Mountain Surgery. What conditions do you treat?
Dr. Siegert: We perform general surgical procedures on numerous conditions such as: colon cancer, breast cancer, hernias, skin lesions and gall bladder issues to name a few. However, since I have my Fellowship training in Laparoscopic Surgery, I am able to provide advanced minimally invasive surgeries which include bowel resection, splenectomies, reflux, hernia repair, and many other surgeries. Laparoscopic surgery is a minimally invasive approach that allows for the patient to return home sooner and with faster wound healing, compared to traditional surgery.
- What is the process for referrals/new patients who need procedures that your practice offers?
Lindsay McCraw: There is a 24 hour turnaround time to call the patient once our office has received the referral. We do our very best to see our patients within two weeks of being referred to us. Exceptions are made for any patient that needs to be seen more quickly for certain illnesses that cause intense pain and suffering.
- What key lessons have you learned working in a small clinic setting and with the referral process? What worked? What didn’t?
Dr. Siegert: I have learned that patients enjoy the personalized attention our medical staff gives each patient. Everyone at Blue Mountain Surgery knows every patient by name. We are keen on keeping medicine personalized and remain available to colleagues. I have always believed in old-fashioned principles of the physician-to-physician relationship. I prefer if referring physicians will call my office for urgent referrals, rather than fax or email.
Lindsay McCraw: We cross-train all of our office staff so that everyone knows how to do a majority of the office tasks. We find this allows better continuity of care which improves our relationships with our patients.
5. How will the innovation(s) in your practice help you handle or manage various aspects of healthcare reform?
Dr. Siegert: We are in a unique situation. We run a small practice that sits under a corporation. The corporation helps ensure that we are compliant with regulation and up to speed on changing policies. However, operating a small office allows us the ability to more quickly adapt to changes that are happening. The corporation assists with time-consuming tasks like HR, payroll and medical billing, which frees up our staff to focus on patient care.
7. In what ways does this innovation(s) improve the physician-patient relationship?
Dr. Siegert: The practice has a hometown feeling. I can build meaningful relationships with my patients while providing up-to-date, quality surgical care. When my patients call, the phone is answered by a person, not a computerized phone tree. The phone will always be answered during business hours, and patients can always speak to me directly if needed.
8. In what ways does this innovation influence the joy and meaning you find in medicine?
Dr. Siegert: I am allowed to focus on relationships, no matter what changes are taking place in healthcare. Knowing the person behind the patient and knowing that I am improving their quality of life is what drove me to practice as a solo practitioner. I am often overheard by my staff using the phrase “nice to help you, my friend.” I do view my patients as my friends and neighbors.
The small clinic setting also makes it easier to schedule more time with my patients to discuss questions that they may have. Surgery is scary, but taking the time before the procedure to speak and connect with the patient allows the patient to experience less anxiety and stress.
9. What advice would you give to others interested in implementing similar innovation(s)?
Dr. Siegert: When I originally came to Asheville and joined another solo practitioner, my goal was to keep a small clinic atmosphere that focuses on individualized patient care in my future practice. I wish that more solo practitioners would come together to network and share experiences about innovative practice ideas, both successes and failures. I would advise anyone interested in opening a small practice to be efficient and follow-up with your patients. When I tell my patients that I will call them personally in two to three days they seem shocked. They tell me that usually they expect an office staff member to call after the office visit.
Lindsay McCraw: I’ll emphasize again that it’s important to ensure that your staff are cross-trained so that there is an actual person answering the phone at all times during office hours. Maintaining positive and thorough communications with your patients is an important part of being a successful small practice.