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Regional primary care group created to improve patient care

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A regional merger of three primary-care physician practices is working to improve communication with other providers for the 25,000 patients the practices serve.

Vanguard Medical Group was recently established by combining Changebridge Medical Associates, in Montville; Cranford Family Practice, in Cranford; and Town Medical Associates, in Verona. The three practices have all been certified by the National Committee for Quality Assurance to work as patient-centered medical homes, where the primary care physician takes ownership of collaborative care between their office and other health care providers.

Dr. Thomas McCarrick, chief medical officer for Vanguard, said improving those cross-provider communications is the first key step to improving care and reducing costs for the practices' patients. While the practices work on the difficult task of getting their electronic health records integrated, a more pressing issue for Vanguard is to close the communication gaps between their physicians and the hospitals and specialists.

"We're trying to use our size but more importantly to use our improved understanding of how to manage health care to help facilitate improving communications," McCarrick said, including breaking down silos of information. "This is something primary care needs to take ownership of."

Vanguard also is not changing the practices' original hospital privileges, so patients will be able to keep their care local.

"Health care is really a local community phenomenon. Most people get their health care in the community, and that's particularly true with older patients, who consume a lot of the health care costs," McCarrick said. "With the baby boom population aging, that's becoming a more significant shift."

"The goal for us is not to move health care away from where we currently work. The idea is for us to actually strengthen and improve the health care collaboration and communication in our own communities," he added.

Vanguard's Montville physicians will keep privileges at Morristown Medical Center, St. Clare's Hospital and Chilton Memorial Hospital. The Cranford practitioners will keep privileges at Overlook Medical Center, and the Verona office will still be affiliated with Mountainside Hospital and St. Barnabas Medical Center. Each office will work on coordinating care with the individual hospitals they have privileges with.

McCarrick said another challenge is getting the major national insurance companies onboard to fiscally support the coordination of care. The three practices, while operating independently, are part of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield New Jersey's PCMH program, but have seen little support for the model from other insurers.

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