She had lost in-network access to her primary care physician at UPMC, their relationship a casualty of disintegrating ties between the hospital system and her insurer,
Then arrived the invitation: a speed-dating-style event at which Simonson could nibble hummus and mingle with 22 primary care doctors and specialists. She could handpick a compatible doctor based on insurance and easy access -- and perhaps even their charm.
"It's great because you get to meet doctors in person and get a sense of their personality and their bedside manner," said Simonson, a physical therapist from
The dominant insurance company and its health care system plan several more gatherings through the summer, a targeted approach to cultivate business and foster primary care as Western Pennsylvanians navigate a recast insurance landscape.
"You need to make sure you're comfortable with your doctor," said Simonson, who lingered near a bowl of fruit punch. She planned to make an appointment after the three-hour shindig.
"A lot of people I know avoid going to a doctor because they're uncomfortable and put it off."
About 20 percent of the attendees late Thursday scheduled appointments that evening, delighting
Inside the 175,000-square-foot pavilion that opened in October, visitors had their pick of high-end cheeses, salsa, even a healthy cooking demonstration that featured Cajun salmon. Doctors in white coats milling casually around tall, rounded tables lent a cocktail-party vibe as would-be patients chatted them up.
Organizers allowed walk-ins but sent invitations specifically to Highmark customers living in a 10-mile radius of the pavilion, a medical mall that houses preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic care under one roof.
"It shouldn't be a decision that goes lightly for somebody to select a primary care provider," said Carlson, who called the relationships critical to health care. He said sustained coordination and communication between a patient and a primary care doctor can help prevent illness and keep long-term health care costs in check.
Health policy analysts expect the growing rift between Downtown-based Highmark and UPMC, the largest hospital system in the region, will nudge many Western Pennsylvanians to switch insurance plans or physicians. The companies on
Fallout began emerging in February, when Highmark disclosed its regional market share had fallen to 60 percent from 63 percent over 2014. The company has said it needs to boost admissions in the
UPMC said it offers after-hours primary care, extended-hours offices, a friendly call center and other services to help people meet doctors. Speeding dating-type events are not on its list, UPMC spokeswoman
"As the area's only medical center with system-wide electronic medical records, we know you and can instantly connect to your records and doctors and their care when you need it," she said.
Hospital systems across the country have big incentives to make matches between patients and primary care doctors, said
"You get that only by meeting the individual," said Williams, who encouraged open conversation. "Good communications can keep a small problem from turning into a big one."
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