This is a challenging time for independent physician practices, but Dayton Physicians Network is continuing to look for innovative ways to deliver cancer treatment.

For example, Dayton Physicians is one of seven physician practices nationally participating in a Medicare study of an oncology patient medical home concept that’s designed to improve care and lower costs by making the oncology practice the primary care provider for cancer patients.

“What we’re asking patients is that they call us first for any type of questions, problems or issues they have,” says Robert Baird, Dayton Physicians’ CEO. “We have a pretty sophisticated triage system staffed by oncology-certified nurses to manage patients, bringing them into our offices for appointments, getting them tested when needed or seeing them in the evening and weekends if it’s any type of urgent problem.”

By being the primary source of cancer patient care, the medical home concept is designed to avoid more expensive emergency room visits and unplanned hospital admissions, he says.

Two years into a three-year pilot, Baird says the program has saved Medicare “a lot of money.”

So far this year, he says 1,000 of Dayton Physicians’ patients have taken advantage of its evening and weekend program and about 45 percent, or 450, of those patients avoided an ER visit as a result. The average cost of an ER visit for a chemotherapy related problem is $800, he says, so that’s $360,000. And some of those visits could have resulted in hospital admissions that average about $22,000 for chemotherapy problems.

In another recent trial for UnitedHealthcare, Dayton Physicians was one of five oncology groups across the country using bundled payments for patient care rather than reimbursing on the fee-for-service approach currently used. The cost of treating about 800 cancer patients was about a third less using bundled payments versus the cost of treating the same number on a fee-for-service basis, according to a recent article in the Journal of Oncology Practice.

“We’re going to continue to invest in our practice and in the oncology medical home concept,” Baird says. “We think that’s the way to go. We’re continuing to look for partnerships with health systems, payors and employers to show the value we can bring.”

Created in 2005 when three Dayton specialty groups in urology, medical oncology and radiation oncology combined, Dayton Physicians was one of the first oncology-focused physician practices. It originally had 14 physicians. Today, that number has grown to 36. It employs a total of 350 at 18 practice locations, from Greenville to West Chester. Last year, it saw 43,000 patients representing almost half a million office visits.

Although the number of independent physician practices has continued to decline in the face of consolidation and declining reimbursements, Baird says Dayton Physicians aims to remain independent. “We have a very entrepreneurial group,” he says.