NOVATO -- The Marin-Sonoma IPA today announced its name is now Meritage Medical Network, citing the need to identify itself beyond specific geographic areas as it charts future growth while signaling a first step to becoming an accountable care organization, or ACO.

The 600-plus-member physician network (415-884-1840, said the name change also partly was needed to settle any confusion with the similarly named Marin India Pale Ale beer by Larkspur-based Marin Brewing Co. Marin-Sonoma IPA previously was known just as the Marin IPA before a significant expansion into Sonoma County.

"Strategically, it doesn't make sense any more for our name to be tied to a geography," said Joel Criste, chief executive officer. "In addition, we want to emphasize our network -- we are not only a group of physicians. We are a network of physicians, nurses, clinical and administrative staff, hospitals surgery centers, urgent care centers, rehabilitation facilities, wellness classes educators and more."

The newly named medical network cited two additional factors: the changing health care landscape, noting that physicians are increasingly joining larger groups and aligning with hospitals and other health systems, much of it being driven by the Affordable Care Act, and possible expansion eastward.

"We are looking at expanding further east, into Napa for now," spokeswoman Marcy Norenius said.

Mr. Criste noted the evolving environment for physicians.

"The 'individual practice association' part of our name just does not tell the whole story anymore," Mr. Criste said, adding that coordinated care  systems are no longer solely tied to HMOs.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has established accountable care organizations as part of the ACA, and the Meritage Medical Network has stated in the past that it intends on becoming an ACO, which are aimed at better coordination between providers to reduce costly, redundant hospitalizations. Mr. Criste has previously said the network would seek the designation, hopefully by 2013.

"As a practicing physician I see tremendous value in the sharing  of information in real time," said David Andrew, Meritage's medical director. "The way Meritage Medical Network works together provides the best possible health outcomes for our patients."

In addition to contracting with HMO plans for its member physicians,  the medical network offers continuing medical education classes, patient education classes, clinical management programs and help with adoption of electronic health records.