The Team-Based Practice is Focused on Keeping Patients Healthy
Aspen Valley Primary Care, which just celebrated its first anniversary in July, is not like the physician practices most of us grew up with.
In addition to great care from experienced doctors, patients can get help making an appointment with a specialist, learn about beneficial dietary and exercise plans, talk to a social worker about behavioral challenges associated with their healthcare, or simply get assistance arranging transportation to and from their appointment. It is part of the team-based care model that Aspen Valley Primary Care has embraced as the newest clinic in Aspen Valley Hospital’s Center for Medical Care.
The Primary Care team includes four physicians, a nurse care coordinator, a behavioral health specialist, five medical assistants and three clinic coordinators. The doctors include family medicine Drs. Kelly Locke, Karen Locke and Michael Plachta, and internist Dr. Edward Wiese.
The Lockes had until last year been practicing independently in the valley for nearly three decades, so joining the hospital-owned clinic was a new endeavor. “I think we’ve done a nice job building up the practice in the last year,” says Dr. Karen Locke. “Our goal was to expand our services, and we’ve been able to do that by joining with Aspen Valley Hospital.”
Primary Care is also a new service for Aspen Valley Hospital — and critical to the hospital’s population health initiatives of making care more accessible and affordable while improving outcomes. The team-based model that the hospital and all four doctors have employed has been key to achieving those goals.
“It’s taking the work and distributing it among the team members so we can all be doing exactly what we were trained to do,” says Alyssa Franklin, director of Aspen Valley Primary Care. “It gives the doctors more time with their patients.”
The model encourages medical assistants to take ownership of their duties, such as ordering labs or vaccines based on established protocols. Care Coordinator Kelli Higdon, a registered nurse, works with patients on effectively and affordably navigating the healthcare system. And Behavioral Specialist Michelle Miscione, a licensed social worker, assists patients who may benefit from help overcoming personal challenges that affect their healthcare.
“With a designated person to troubleshoot challenges and make connections for patients, there is less chance that something will slip through the cracks, and it helps patients accomplish what they need to accomplish from their healthcare,” Dr. Karen Locke explains.
“Also, having as much as we can in one location is a big plus,” Dr. Locke continued, in reference to the new Midvalley Lab location just upstairs from Primary Care. “It creates a medical center rather than having services scattered in different locations.”
For Dr. Wiese, who spent years practicing in Ohio, the lure of practicing in the Roaring Fork Valley and at Aspen Valley Primary Care was strong. The overall health of the valley’s population and our focus on wellness made this an exciting place to practice medicine. And the team-based and data-focused care model at Aspen Valley Primary Care made it the right call as an employer.
Dr. Wiese helps lead the Quality Care Team, comprised of five staff members who evaluate how Aspen Valley Primary Care is doing and how the practice can improve. Some of the factors they study include work flow at the clinic, adherence to protocols and patient behavior.
“We can look at our patients and their outcomes using the tools we have now with data management and electronic medical records, and work to ensure they are getting the preventive care they need when they need it, such as a mammogram, colonoscopy, flu shot or a physical exam,” Dr. Wiese explains.
“The population health management model at Aspen Valley Primary Care is a fundamental transition in the healthcare model that switches our focus from illness to wellness,” he continues. “The goal is to help patients stay healthy, which improves overall population health and ultimately reduces costs throughout the entire system.”
While the differences between Aspen Valley Primary Care and more traditional practices are clear, the doctors and staff have been busy doing the work that’s always been done — taking care of their current patients’ needs and accepting new patients. About three to four appointments each day are new patients looking for a primary care physician.
The Aspen Valley Primary Care team was also critical in the hospital’s early response to the COVID-19 crisis. They set up and ran the Respiratory Evaluation Tent in the AVH parking lot, and helped move it inside the hospital (now the Respiratory Evaluation Center) as summer temperatures set in.
Dr. Karen Locke says Aspen Valley Primary Care has been actively working to protect staff and patients at their clinics in Aspen and Basalt. “I want to let folks know that we are using all sorts of precautions to make it safe for our patients,” she says.
Aspen Valley Primary Care serves patients in two locations — at Aspen Valley Hospital in Aspen and in Basalt at 1460 East Valley Road.