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Physician-owned Advocare looks to enter urgent care market

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Dr. Howard Orel, president and CEO, Advocare.
Dr. Howard Orel, president and CEO, Advocare. - ()

Urgent care has become a booming business in the state’s health care industry, and for Advocare, southern New Jersey’s largest physician-owned practice, it is the next logical step for growth.

Dr. Howard Orel, a pediatrician and one of Advocare’s founders, said that the Marlton-based company will open pediatric and adult urgent care centers in the southern and northern parts of the state, but could not give further details.

“Unfortunately, we’re still in the process where contracts haven’t been signed yet, so there’s a confidentiality aspect to it,” Orel said.

According to the website urgentcarelocations.com, the Garden State has 182 urgent care clinics and another 274 walk-in clinics, an increase of more than 50 percent over the past decade. That makes urgent care one of the fastest growing segments of the state’s health care industry.

What will differentiate Advocare’s urgent care centers from others, Orel said, is its patients will have access to care during off-hours and the centers themselves will be able to access and update the company’s electronic health care records.

“The centers will be open in several markets where our practices are located for both pediatric and adult urgent care, and for patients whose needs are greater than we can currently meet in in an office setting but not sufficient for someone to go to the emergency room,” Orel said.

“The patients’ care providers will have access to their electronic health records, so that the patients’ primary care doctor is aware of what is happening almost in real time, so when the primary care doctor comes in to the office in the morning that doctor knows what’s happened, and if a follow-up is needed, our offices can be proactive in arranging that,” he continued.

Advocare is the second-largest physician-owned, multispecialty practice in New Jersey with 175 offices in New Jersey and another seven in Pennsylvania. Roughly 70 percent of its nearly 600 physicians are in primary care, and the other 30 percent are specialists. It will be celebrating its 20th anniversary next month.

"When someone calls our call centers, if something can be handled in our offices, we will refer them there. If something needs to be handled in an emergency room, we will refer them to the best possible facility." Dr. Howard Orel, pediatrician at Advocare


Its physician-owned business model is unique in that it encourages doctors to be entrepreneurs as well.

“We base ourselves on the principal of being owned and governed by physicians,” Orel said. “When you’re a hospital-employed physician, it’s a different model where the hospital dictates all sorts of things. Our physicians believe that doctors provide the best care when they’re given some control over their own destiny and are involved in decision making. It’s not just medical decisions, but decisions that are crucial to creating a high-quality patient encounter. It’s everything from where your offices are to who works in your office. Our physicians are involved in those decisions, so it is truly an entrepreneurial model.”

Orel and John Mackler, the company’s chief strategy officer, said that the expansion into urgent care fits with the company’s philosophy of providing patients with increased accessibility to medical care and its patient-centered model.

In the past six months, Advocare has expanded its extended access program so patients have access to a call center that is owned and staffed by the company and manned by trained nurses.

“In our extended access program, we want to meet people when and where they need health care,” Orel said. “Our primary care offices offer very extensive hours. Some of them are not only open at night but on Saturdays and Sundays as well. When our offices are not open, we have advertised a program called Call Us First, where we ask our patients to reach out to us for any of their medical needs whether our offices are open or not.

“Routine calls are handled by nurses who will through nationally certified protocols with patients. Those nurses can give advice over the phone, and they can direct patients back to our offices for care the next day if necessary. They do have physicians backing them up, so if a patient needs a doctor, they are readily available.”

In the past year, Advocare expanded its Call Us First program to service all of its pediatric and adult care centers, as well as some of its specialty care centers, Mackler said.

“There was an extensive marketing and education campaign for physicians and patients for this program, and it focused on orienting our patients to patient-centered homes so that they’re relying on their primary care doctors,” he said. “We now have a total of 45 employees in that department. At any one time, there are 10 individuals available to address patient needs.”

The extended access program also fits with Advocare’s patient-centered care model, which focuses on delivering tailored health care in a cost-efficient manner, Orel said.

“When someone calls our call centers, if something can be handled in our offices, we will refer them there,” he said. “If something needs to be handled in an emergency room, we will refer them to the best possible facility.”

Eliminating unnecessary ER visits has made its system more efficient, Orel said.

“So with one of our major health care plans, we saw a year-over-year reduction in our ER visits in the adult population down 9 percent, and in the pediatric population, it went down 11 percent,” he said. “So we are not only cutting down on unnecessary costs, we’re getting people care at the best possible places, which is hopefully at their primary care practices.”

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Vince Calio

Vince Calio

Vince Calio covers healthcare and manufacturing for NJBIZ. You can contact him at vcalio@njbiz.com.

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