In May, Bloomington, Minn.-based Twin Cities Orthopedics added rheumatology services to several of its locations through the addition of 10 new physicians.
This is just one of the many partnerships and expansions TCO has planned for the year. Before 2024, TCO plans to add 24 new providers, two new urgent care locations, further expand into Wisconsin, and partner with Waconia, Minn.-based Ridgeview Medical Center to build the first orthopedic institute in Minnesota.
Janet Benton, chief operating officer at TCO, spoke with Becker's about the new service line, a transition to orthopedic ASCs and what else the orthopedic practice has coming down the pike this year.
Ms. Benton became the organization's COO in 2021. She manages and oversees operations for its 35 clinics, 11 urgent care centers and four ASCs.
Question: What went into the decision to add rheumatology services at TCO?
Janet Benton: TCO is always looking for ways to improve the care experience for our patients. That's the lens that we look through. With this addition, we can provide more comprehensive care. We have been discussing it for quite a while now, and we needed to find the right group of physicians to join us that were established, had an excellent reputation, and this group was looking for the same on the flipside. To join an independent practice that was established and well respected. Providing high-quality care was a must, and they checked that box. Formerly, we were referring out of practice for rheumatology. This gives us the opportunity to keep them in the practice. There's a shortage of rheumatologists across the country, and the wait for appointments can be months long. Bringing these providers allows us to get our patients in and provide more comprehensive care. It streamlines the process and it's a huge win for our patients and providers.
Q: How many new patients will you see every year with the new service line?
JB: Right now, it's hard to tell. We just made the public announcement, and the first rheumatologist starts in mid-June. Of the 10 joining, the start dates are staggered through July and August. We are just getting things up and going now. We've had our scheduling line open for a few weeks and we've already had over 600 patients call and schedule appointments. This speaks to the demand for these services in the market. I think we're excited about the potential growth and we think it'll ramp up nicely.
Q: TCO has been expanding a ton this year — are you having any trouble finding physicians and staff for new sites/new services?
JB: For TCO overall, we have 24 new providers starting this year, including the 10 rheumatologists. We have aggressive recruitment goals that match market goals. From the physician side, we haven't had an issue with provider recruitment. On the staff side, we are experiencing the hiring challenges that everyone else in the market is. We've had to adjust acquisition strategies coming out of COVID-19. We've been fortunate enough that we're well known in the market and we have great employees already. It has not been without challenges. The same challenges others are seeing. People wanting a different work environment and different modes of work. So we've gotten creative in how we do it.
Q: What are some of those creative strategies?
JB: First and foremost, we have a great culture. We've put a lot of focus on culture in the last few years, and more focus in the last year. I really do believe it's the positive culture we have and the exciting work underway that helps us retain staff. We also do the same things other organizations do, like surveying our staff yearly, putting a lot of focus on addressing issues that come up. Our employees want to be heard, and they voice concerns. Open communication has been a key thing, and employees appreciate it. Our HR team also does a lot of research with market compensation to stay competitive with new hires and current employees. We've had to shift to hybrid roles where it makes sense. We have done what we can where we can to make it work. With retaining current staff, it comes back to culture. Physicians and providers play a huge role in that. Employees are proud to work at TCO and proud to talk about new projects underway, which helps with recruitment and retention.
Q: How has the recent opening of new TCO facilities impacted patient care?
JB: We are expanding our footprint and meeting patients where they are. We're expanding our urgent care footprint. We have 11 locations now, and we'll have 13 by the end of the year. We want to make it as easy as possible for patients to get in and to schedule. We launched online booking earlier this year. Part of making things easy and streamlined for the patients includes expanding convenience options.
Q: What trends in orthopedics is TCO most focused on right now?
JB: We're keeping an eye on everything. There's a lot of conversation underway about robotics and what that looks like in surgery centers. We're exploring artificial intelligence in some areas. There's a lot coming with technology, and we're trying to figure out where it best fits in our practice. The other thing we're focused on is expanding our ASC footprint. We will be opening a Plymouth, Minn., location with an ASC later this year. There continues to be that focus on transitioning care into the ASC setting. The orthopedic specialty hospital partnership with Ridgeview is a value-based partnership. It adds another option for expanding our already successful value-based program, providing more concierge care. People want that convenient specialty care, and we're looking to add it however we can.
Q: Do you think ASCs are the future of orthopedic care?
JB: I do. I think we're seeing that continued focus and that continued trend to move into the outpatient setting, where appropriate obviously. I think that's one focus area for us is continuing forward with the ASCs we manage. TCO surgeons operate at a total of seven ASCs, and we manage four of those.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
JB: We've had a clinic in Hudson, Wis., for a while, but we are opening a new location located inside Hudson Medical Center. It's a partnership with Hudson physicians and some other specialty groups, to provide an orthopedics clinic, access to orthopedic urgent care, some of our rheumatologists will work there and we will offer all of our therapy services. We're getting that all under one roof in Hudson, which we didn't have before. This will allow us to expand into the Wisconsin market. They're moving from the old to the new location today and it'll open on Monday. We've been in that market for a while now, but this was a great opportunity for us to consolidate our services.