It was an idea that started a little over five years ago: place Penn Medicine neurologists in the community to provide easier access for people with chronic neurological conditions. Today, that idea has blossomed into a thriving community network of about 15 providers at six locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The reason for this growth can be summed up in one word: demand.
“Neurology is increasingly becoming an extremely in-demand specialty area,” shares Frances Jensen, MD, FACP, Professor and Chair, Department of Neurology, Penn Medicine. “There’s a lot of need in the community, so our initial thought was to bring in more subspecialists to manage things like epilepsy and stroke and increase general neurology access for conditions that are being followed in partnership with family physicians.”
Even with this change, however, the department was still experiencing bottlenecks at its main campus location. So, Dr. Jensen took things one step further and tried placing experienced Penn general neurologists in local primary care centers in West Chester and Kennett Square. The concept was so well received that neurologists were soon added to centers in Valley Forge, Woodbury Heights, Cherry Hill and Rittenhouse Square. To help oversee and unify this thriving network, Dr. Jensen appointed Roderick Spears, MD, FAHS, FAAN, as Regional Director.
“All of the practices have done really well and have grown significantly since they were established,” says Dr. Spears. “A lot of this has to do with the quality of care but also with the comprehensive services we provide.
“For example, at Penn Medicine Valley Forge where I practice, we offer interventions such as Botox® for migraines, spasticity and cervical dystonia,” he says. “We also have an infusion service for headaches and offer dedicated programs for neuromuscular and peripheral nerve disorders as well as a full radiology suite and lab services for diagnostic tests. Other sites offer specialized services such as EMG and nerve conductive studies.”
Staying in Touch with Innovation
Additionally, the network sites serve as gateways to clinical trials for qualifying patients. “When we hear about trials, we’re able to share this information with our patients and refer them downtown for the initial uptake appointment,” Dr. Spears explains. “After that, patients can often be seen locally by their regular Penn neurologist. This is really the main difference between the community sites and main campus. We’re clinically focused, and the main campus is research focused.”
As the network sites became a reality, one thing became very clear, says Dr. Jensen: the department needed to maintain a strong connection with its neurologists practicing in the community.
“The field is changing rapidly with innovative treatments and protocols emerging at an incredible pace,” she says. “Within the last three years we’ve seen new therapies for multiple sclerosis, spinal muscular atrophy, and epilepsy as well as several cutting-edge diagnostic tools. It’s very important that we keep our general neurologists up to speed on these options so they can continue providing exceptional care.”
One way in which they are doing this is by providing network neurologists with access to streamed lectures and CME courses. Some of these neurologists also teach and mentor residents at the main campus, thereby helping these future neurologists gain a better understanding for the community setting.
“This model has really worked well, and we fully anticipate adding more physicians to our network practices in the future,” says Dr. Jensen. “Ultimately, it comes down to providing our patients with the care they need in a setting that works for everyone, and I think we’ve found a great way to do that.”