Business

Doctors group seeking better ways to interact with patients

Atrius Health, the state’s largest independent doctors group, is pouring $10 million into an “innovation center” that will study ways to shake up how health care is delivered.

Atrius, headquartered in Newton, includes a home care agency and about 750 physicians who make up Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, Dedham Medical Associates, and Granite Medical Group, serving 675,000 patients in Eastern Massachusetts. Atrius executives said they must rethink traditional doctor-patient relationships and office visits as the health care industry moves toward payment models that demand greater efficiency and better performance.

Atrius’s innovation team will study ways to change care, for example by allowing patients to video chat with doctors and deploying health coaches to help patients manage their diseases. Dr. Karen DaSilva, vice president of innovation at Atrius, said the new team will start by interviewing staff and patients to find areas that need improvement.

Advertisement

“I think it’s going to result in a complete new look on how we’re delivering care,” said DaSilva, an internist who practices in Chelmsford. She said it is important for Atrius to focus more on patient satisfaction as their needs and demands change.

Get Talking Points in your inbox:
An afternoon recap of the day’s most important business news, delivered weekdays.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

She expects patients will increasingly seek health care in settings outside the traditional doctor’s office, “whether it’s a Skype visit or stepping into a booth that’s set up in a kiosk or going to a MinuteClinic.”

Other health care organizations are also experimenting with new ways to deliver care:

 Massachusetts General Hospital has a “practice of the future,” which uses technology more than the average medical practice to strengthen communication between patients and providers.

 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is testing a telemedicine program that allows patients to video chat with doctors from their homes.

Advertisement

 A variety of startups are developing mobile apps and other technologies to help patients track their health and allow providers to monitor them from afar.

Lawrence W. Vernaglia, a health care lawyer at Foley & Lardner LLP in Boston, said it makes sense for Atrius to look at new ways to deliver care, because a large portion of Atrius patients belong to health plans that reward organizations for keeping patients healthy and penalize them if patients require expensive medical services.

Atrius wants to capitalize on these payment systems, Vernaglia said, “and to do that they have to move away from traditional models of practice, which aren’t designed for efficiency.”

Atrius has six people in its innovation office and plans to at least double the staff by the end of the year.

“Our goal is not to bring the next greatest app,” DaSilva said. “What we’re looking to do is to change the conversations we have with our patients so we can help them be as well as they can be in every way.”

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.