NORTH BAY -- The Marin-Sonoma IPA today said physicians from the Annadel Medical Group and several associated with Palm Drive and  Healdsburg District hospitals have officially joined the physician network, boosting the ranks of the Novato-based independent practice association to more than 400 doctors in Marin and Sonoma counties.

Coverage of Marin-Sonoma IPALarge regional physician network plannedApril 11, 2011

NORTH BAY — A leading Marin County doctors’ association is heading an effort to create a potentially powerful network of hundreds of North Bay physicians that, if successful, would significantly alter the region’s health care landscape.

County health care official says doctor network ‘important step’April 18, 2011

NORTH BAY — The expansion of a Marin physician’s network further into Sonoma County is a key step in assisting independent health care districts integrate services, and the alignment it will create at district hospitals is “critical to the long-term success,” according to Sonoma County’s top public health official.

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The addition of Annadel physicians, who contract exclusively with Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital's medical practice foundation, St. Joseph Heritage Healthcare, was finalized last night, said Joel Criste, chief executive officer of the Marin-Sonoma IPA.

Annadel has 28 physicians and 5 nurse practitioners. More than 20,000 managed care patients in Sonoma County will be eligible to receive care from physicians in the Marin-Sonoma network, if they choose so, according to St. Joseph Health System--Sonoma County, which runs Memorial Hospital.

The IPA now has a total of 28 primary care physicians and 136 specialists in Sebastopol, Healdsburg and Santa Rosa, Mr. Criste said.

In all of Sonoma County, the IPA has 67 primary care physicians and 194 specialists, Mr. Criste said. Both Petaluma and Sonoma Valley hospitals already had physicians aligned with the network. Petaluma Valley Hospital is operated by St. Joseph Health System--Sonoma County under a lease agreement with the Petaluma Health Care District.

"It's a significant medical network with access to a broad spectrum of services," Mr. Criste said.

The network also has affiliated physicians at Marin General and Novato Community hospitals, and a total of 130 primary care physicians and 373 specialists between Marin and Sonoma counties, Mr. Criste said.

"And we're growing," he said. "We're reaching out to dozens of additional physicians. I would expect that number to climb to over 500 over the course of this year. A significant step in that development is adding the physicians from Annadel."

Mr. Criste called the expanded network a "cost effective, high quality network of physicians for the North Bay."

The network now has a presence in almost every Sonoma County hospital -- except Sutter Health and Kaiser Permanente facilities.

The Annadel group will be a subset of the network, just as the Prima Medical Foundation is, according to Mr. Criste.

St. Joseph Health System--Sonoma County is looking forward to expanding health care options, coordinating treatment and sharing best practices with other providers in the region through the organization, according to Todd Salnas, chief operating officer.

"This alliance will prove an important first step in what we hope will be a continually growing network of physicians and health care providers who share a common long-term vision," said Mr. Salnas.

The collaborative effort between Annadel, Marin-Sonoma IPA and physicians in Healdsburg and Sebastopol will help promote seamless coordination in patient care "by building linkages between local hospitals, physician groups, and independent physicians," according to a statement from St. Joseph Health.

The IPA will negotiate and administer contracts with health maintenance organizations for its members physicians, which will in turn give members better rates with insurers.

Marin-Sonoma IPA's expansion further into Sonoma County is a regional approach that could help hospitals and physicians become better integrated as health care reform takes shape,  Mr. Criste. said, noting that the association is closely monitoring the development of accountable care organizations, or ACOs.

Such groups are encouraged under President Barack Obama's signature health care overhaul as a means of reducing costs while improving access and patient care. Nationwide, some 32 million Americans will become eligible for health insurance. In Sonoma County, that number is anticipated to be around 45,000, according to county health officials.

"This helps assure access of those patients to these physicians and these physicians to those patients," Mr. Criste said. "We are actively evaluating the impact of ACOs, and I would go so far as to say Marin-Sonoma IPA will very likely be an ACO as deemed by [The Centers for  Medicare & Medicaid Services]. The expectation is that we will participate."