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SMH's First Physicians Group Celebrates 20 Years of Service to Community

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SARASOTA (Aug. 13, 2014) – Twenty years ago, a handful of physicians teamed up with Sarasota Memorial to combine their resources and strengthen the primary care network in the community.

Longtime Sarasota physician Robert Oppenheimer, MD, was one of five internists who became Sarasota Memorial's first First Physicians Group (FPG) practice. At that time, he said, physicians were considering leaving medicine, pressured out of private practice because of the financial challenges associated with declining reimbursements and rising overhead expenses and the administrative pressures caused by complicated insurance negotiations and changing regulations – some of the very same issues driving physicians out of medicine today. 

"Back then they were problems just looming on the horizon. Now they are day-to-day, and they have become even more complex," Oppenheimer said. "Fortunately, the partnership was a good fit. We were strong supporters of Sarasota Memorial, and they've been strong supporters of us."

Over the past two decades, First Physicians Group has touched literally millions of lives – more than 4.5 million patient visits – and has grown to a network of 21 practices with 93 physicians providing not only primary care but more than 15 specialty and subspecialty care. FPG also employs 23 ARNPs and PAs and 310 employees to help manage and support the care and practices. 

FPG is celebrating 20 years of service to the community with a physician and staff celebration at 5:30 pm Thursday in the hospital's first floor auditorium. Sarasota Memorial CEO David Verinder will be among those slated to honor the group on its 20th anniversary.

"First Physicians Group has been a role model for excellence and innovation," Verinder said. "Not only has the group strengthened the base of primary care in our community, it continues to ensure Sarasota Memorial provides highly specialized services, such as cardiac surgery, pain care and gynecological cancer care, that not all area hospitals provide."

Hospital owned physician groups have become a critical safety net for communities across the nation experiencing physician shortages – and promise to become more important in the years ahead. Surveys show a growing number of physicians across the nation are leaving medicine, or are strongly considering doing so in the next five years. 

A "2013 Physician Outlook & Practice Trends" survey by Jackson Healthcare Research revealed the number of physicians planning to leave medicine jumped from 14 percent in 2012 to 23 percent in 2013. Top reasons cited included burn out, dissatisfaction with healthcare reform and economic factors such as malpractice insurance, overhead, EMR, etc. 

"One of our top priorities is to deal with the financial pressures and administrative hassles of operating a practice, so that doctors can be doctors," said Ilene Gilbert, Chief Operating Officer of First Physicians Group.

In fact, FPG has been repeatedly recognized at the national level for its exceptional work. The group has been named a “Better Performing Practice” by the Medical Group Management Association 10 times since 2002.  This prestigious designation recognizes FPG's superior operational performance compared with similar practices nationwide.

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