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Northern Arizona Orthopaedics

NAO orthopedic surgeons (left to right) Joel Rohrbough, Mark Mellinger and Bourck Cashmore stand together in the NAO clinic Friday. 

Despite losing four physicians to a new local competitor, the remaining Northern Arizona Orthopaedics team remains optimistic about the future of the private practice.

Northern Arizona Healthcare, which manages the Flagstaff Medical Center, joined two existing local practices earlier this summer -- Northern Arizona Orthopaedics (NAO) and Flagstaff Bone & Joint -- in providing orthopedic care.

The health care organization recruited orthopedic surgeons from both practices and while none chose to leave Flagstaff Bone & Joint, four transferred from NAO: Brandon Clark, Chris Diefenbach, Peter Gibson and Scott Gibson.

“We lost four. That is a challenge for us. The biggest impact has been in our outreach efforts in other markets in northern Arizona. Our other providers, physicians and nurses have stepped up and we have largely been able to cover that. Our next stage will be to recruit,” said NAO President Dr. Tim Bonatus.

The physicians who left for the larger organization attributed their transfer to a desire to serve a greater range of people and focus more on patients than business and administrative duties.

Orthopedic spine surgeon Eamonn Mahoney suggested another possible explanation, though: money.

“The hospital has a lot of money and gave them very appealing contracts. … As private physicians, they’re going to make less than what a hospital can offer them. They’re young, they have high student loans and high debt and saw a big contract,” Mahoney said.

He added that administrative tasks do not overwhelm his work, especially since NAO partnered with an external organization, Healthcare Outcomes Performance Company (HOPCo), in June 2018 to manage these duties.

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“HOPCo and NAO share a history of commitment to quality clinical outcomes. Through this partnership, we will build a unique, clinically integrated experience,” HOPCo Chairman and CEO David J. Jacofsky said in a statement.

The national orthopedic organization now helps local employees with services like billing, accounting and human resource duties, Bonatus said.

“It’s much more cost efficient and compliant with the changing health care environment. Our billings and collections have become much more efficient. We’ve been able to improve scheduling in the office, have less wait time on the phone and reduce wait time of various medications we use,” Bonatus said of the partnership.

With the help of HOPCo -- and additional incentive from the increased competition -- Bonatus said the future will bring a greater focus on quality of care and costs to patients.

Because NAO has seen a 12% increase in new patients in the last year, the practice is looking to expand to a new ambulatory surgical center, whether on its own or in partnership with Flagstaff Bone & Joint, which is currently building a 9,000-square-foot facility on North Switzer Canyon Drive.

Any possible partnerships between the practices following NAO’s loss of physicians will be mutual, Mahoney said.

The goal is to keep as many practices in town as possible to provide patients with more options.

“We had a good thing going. Unfortunately, that’s been disrupted. It’s not really a benefit for the community looking for orthopedic care [if the hospital controls the majority of the specialists], but we’ll be here and we’ll be providing care to patients in need,” Mahoney said.

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Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at kolson@azdailysun.com or by phone at (928) 556-2253. 

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