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Sanford Health: Retreat looks to improve primary care

Dr. Bruce Pitts, president of Sanford North in Fargo speaks at a primary care retreat Friday afternoon at the Sanford Center. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Fifty of Sanford Health's leading primary care physicians and professionals have converged in Bemidji to answer one question: How can we do better?

A study recently showed that if a primary care physician did everything in one day that is actually required, it would take him or her 21 hours.

That, obviously, is not possible, said Dr. Bruce Pitts, the president of Sanford North in Fargo.

Physicians and staff were chosen from each of Sanford's three hubs - Bemidji, Fargo and Sioux Falls - to come to Bemidji to develop ideas for improving how primary care is delivered.

"We're picking their brains about what primary care needs to look like throughout Sanford," Pitts said.

The two-day retreat began Friday at the Sanford Center in Bemidji. It is the first retreat focused on primary care - including the specialties of internal medicine, psychiatry, family medicine, pediatrics and ob/gyn - since Sanford Health merged with MeritCare in November 2009.

"Primary care is the bedrock on which we're built," said Dan Blue, the president of Sanford South in Sioux Falls. "We want to focus on the role and the value of primary care in the system."

It is the primary care physician who knows the patient best, who has the most contact with him or her. That ongoing relationship is crucial to the patient's long-term health, doctors noted.

"Patients do best when they have a doctor they go to regularly," Pitts said.

"It's easy to take that for granted," Blue added. "(That relationship) has never been stronger or more important."

But there is a gap in timing between when a patient wants to be seen by his or her physician and the first available appointment.

"That's the challenge," said Dr. Howard Hoody, senior vice president of Sanford Bemidji and Thief River Falls. And, that is one of the reasons the retreat is being held.

Sanford needs to examine how to deliver care in the most effective and efficient manner so patients are able to get in quickly to see their doctors, he said.

The retreat is not a conference of seminars. Medical staff are together developing ideas and telling administration how things can be improved.

"We're redesigning and re-energizing the way health care is going, especially with primary care," Blue said. "Primary care is central (to Sanford) and will lead the way."

Once identified, Sanford plans to implement changes immediately. A key question facing retreat participants is: What can Sanford do to effect change in 100 days?

Sanford is very dedicated to making changes quickly, Pitts said.

"We'll leave here knowing what we can do within 100 days and beyond," he said. "