'Sacrifice a little profitability to do the right thing for the patient': Thoughts from Summit Medical Group CEO Dr. Jeffrey Le Benger

Jeffrey Le Benger, MD, has led New Jersey's oldest independent multispecialty physician group for 16 years. He sees patients on Saturdays.

Berkeley Heights, N.J.-based Summit Medical Group, which launched nearly 90 years ago, employs over 800 providers at more than 80 locations in northern and central New Jersey and sees 1.5 million patient visits each year. There are a few other multispecialty physician groups in Summit's market in New Jersey, including Atlantic Medical Group and Valley Medical Group, which have about 900 physicians and 200 physicians, respectively. However, Summit's top priority is not finding ways to boost its bottom line by beating out the competition. Instead, the medical group is laser-focused on providing high-quality care to patients.

"We try to provide a way for physicians to practice medicine so they can focus on taking care of the patient," Dr. Le Benger said. The physician serves as chairman and CEO of Summit Medical Group and Summit Health Management, one of the nation's leading physician-owned ambulatory care management companies. He is also chairman of the board for the Summit Medical Group Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes access to healthcare for the community's underserved individuals and educates current and future healthcare leaders.

A patient-centered mindset is too often overlooked by physicians and CEOs who prioritize their practice's bottom line, Dr. Le Benger said. "As a leader, it's important to feel what your physicians see in practice. I've seen patients on Saturdays since 1989." Dr. Le Benger is a board-certified otolaryngologist, head and neck surgeon and facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon.

As a physician-leader, Dr. Le Benger emphasizes making the right move for the patient first, then managing the economic aspects of the organization to make the patient model work — a framework that can be difficult for margin-driven minds.

"It's very hard for a mindset of someone who has to give up a little margin to do the right thing for the patient," Dr. Le Benger said. "We are willing to sacrifice a little profitability to do the right thing for the patient."

In this way, Summit sets unique values for its physicians. "There's a different mindset and different value propositions when you look at who is controlling the healthcare dollar, who is managing the clinical pathway to take care of a patient and who is actually taking care of that patient," Dr. Le Benger said. "I'm in the business of taking care of patients."

Summit Health Management, which Dr. Le Benger helped to create in 2014, recently extended its reach from the Garden State, with two distinct moves in Oregon and Arizona. In September, Summit announced agreements to provide administrative, clinical and financial management services to Bend (Ore.) Memorial Clinic and to Arizona Primary Care Physicians in the greater Phoenix area. As of January, Summit Medical Group Oregon-BMC and Summit Medical Group Arizona were formed.

"A group has to have the right culture to be able to make a quality partnership," Dr. Le Benger said. "The culture absolutely doesn't happen overnight." When evaluating whether a potential partner is a good fit, Dr. Le Benger first looks to its leadership team and how they think. "You may laugh at this, but I look at their body language," he said. "I look at how they talk and the culture of the group. It always starts from the top."

One of Dr. Le Benger's biggest takeaways as a physician-leader is executing consistency when caring for patients. "You cannot play 'Let's Make a Deal,'" he said. "You have to be consistent in your organization and be open and honest with your patients about what you can and can't do."

Dr. Le Benger's emphasis on consistency extends to how Summit recruits physicians. "We are brutally honest about what we expect them to do, the hours they work and the income they will make," he said. "It's that openness and the consistency of that openness throughout our recruiting process that gives us those special recruits." Summit plans to hire about 150 physicians this year.

This mindset is particularly important for the CEO as Summit moves to open a 130,000-square-foot cancer center in Florham Park, N.J., later this year. The outpatient facility, built in partnership with Houston-based MD Anderson Cancer Center, will provide medical oncology, surgical oncology, radiation oncology and radiology services.

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