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When families are looking for a new physician and practice, one of the most important factors is accessibility. As pediatricians managing patients’ care throughout the pandemic, we’ve heard from many of our patients that they’ve noticed the difference in care available to them through the private practice model. 

We’ve been able to experiment, make fast decisions and do everything we could to meet the needs of our families. With no bureaucracy, red tape or series of approvals and proposed budgets, this made a significant difference for Kids First families.

Here are just a few ways we were able meet families’ needs in the pandemic

Private practice can more easily adapt

During the pandemic, new developments and safety measures were put in place on a daily basis. Dr. Shepherd says, “We are able to adapt more easily than a big network. With the pandemic, we quickly had meetings and lengthy discussions on how to make care safe and convenient. We discussed how to still provide care to our families and keep everyone safe. We were able to adjust on a day-by-day basis. This is crucial to the continuity of care for pediatric patients.

Walk-in sick hours even during a pandemic

Due to staff vaccinations and the COVID case rate dropping, Kids First Pediatric Partners was able to open sick hours in the summer of 2020 and even walk in hours in 2021. Dr. Shepherd shares, “We can still accommodate families’ comfort levels. It’s easy to adjust a policy for a reasonable request.”

For example, during regular walk-in hours, some families still feel cautious. Those who do are welcome to call before coming up for walk-in hours, and it’s easy to accommodate them.

COVID testing on site

With COVID, a major roadblock for every practice was getting test kits. We ordered every manufacturer’s tests to make sure something would be available. The most important driver for our practice when considering a change or new program is not how easy or profitable something will be but how beneficial it will be for our patients. 

Vaccines on site

Once the vaccines rolled out to physician’s offices, we were able to set up in-house clinics for families. Our patients trust us to administer and record the vaccines correctly.

Even prior to the pandemic, private practice care means high touch and more convenience for families. 

Nurse triage

Dr. Shepherd says, “Our excellent RN nurses are really experienced and knowledgeable and handle calls all day long. When a family calls in, they are able to talk to a nurse with questions, talk about lab results and get advice on what to do.”

The triage team manages forms for families and writes specialized letters for different clinical situations. They are people you know when you call because they’re part of our staff.

Dr. Kathy Shepherd says, “We all agreed that the healthcare system phone tree is so frustrating, especially when you’re worried or the situation feels urgent.  We have prioritized having our front desk staff answer phones in person so we can best serve our patients in the moment.

Referral system

Kids First refers to the best specialists in the area that makes the most sense for each family’s insurance and location. Because we’re a private practice, we aren’t tied to any specific network and can really focus on quality of care. Dr. Shepherd says, “We have a full time team member, Theo, whose whole job is to find the right specialist for each need. He compiles lists based on specialty, patient experience and insurance.”

Specialty programs

Under insurance, Kids First is able to see lactation patients in the office. It’s a covered benefit because of the way our process works. Most new moms have to pay privately for lactation services, which can be costly.

We also offer specialized asthma treatment and education through our Easy Breathers program, and countless families have told us this is best asthma care is ever received.

We offer nutrition programming on site, as well as mental and behavioral health counseling right in our office. We strive to be a medical home and offer services to support that mission.

Building a private practice from humble beginnings

When the practice first started, it was Dr. Cathy and her mom at the front desk. She shares, “We were very bare bones for the first year or so. The growth of practice seemed organic to me. It was never my goal to be a big practice, but as I met other physicians and nurse practitioners who shared the vision, I realized it was hard for me to be there seven days a week.”

Now, the practice has seven physicians and nurse practitioners and 40+ employees. 

The way we put families first is actually central to our mission since the beginning. Dr. Cathy first opened the practice 17 years ago when her triplets were five years old. It took a few years to design a perfect practice:

Prior to opening Kids First Pediatrics, Dr. Cathy says, “I had my own vision of what I wanted a practice to look like. It was scary starting it and not knowing if it would be successful. The original vision was to create a practice where families felt they were getting excellent care and were 100 percent supported. Like our eventual name, I feel like the practice has to put kids first.”

Pandemic shifts 

The pandemic has impacted the healthcare world in many ways. Dr. Cathy says, “The biggest change since I started as a pediatrician was the explosion of mental and behavioral health issues. They existed before COVID, but COVID blew it up and made it much more pronounced.”

“Families are dealing with sadness, anxiety and school phobia more than ever. Part of what we do is social work–trying to find good services for these kids. At same time, I’m trying to advocate with big hospitals I work with to provide more resources for those families. It’s something near and dear to my heart so I reach out to the head of hospitals showing them models working in other states and asking for a seat at the table when they come up with plans for behavioral health,” Dr. Cathy says. 

Dr. Cathy says, “The expectations for pediatricians has grown. We rely on the AAP to give us guidelines of what we should discuss at well-child visits. That list has grown longer over the years.”

She continues, “Sometimes I see families who I haven’t seen in a year and they saved up a nice long list, which is much harder to get through. If the issue is brewing, don’t wait for the annual visit. With kids, the more we see them the more they trust us.”

It’s important to know Kids First is affiliated with three big hospitals, but we are an independent practice. Dr. Cathy says, “We get to decide if we want to start a new program. If we find something of value that would benefit our patients whether it be asthma care, nutrition, behavioral health on site or lactation. We identify needs and say let’s make this work.”

“The hospital is the Titanic. If they want to get something done it goes through multiple layers of bureaucracy and opinions. We’re the speed boat and can be independent, innovative and test the waters. If you don’t try, you’re never going to know. That ability to be innovative and attentive to patients’ needs is really important.”

Building that speed boat has been a labor of love for all the providers at Kids First. 

Dr. Cathy says, “Kids First Pediatric Practice has been my baby for the last 17 years. Apart from my own family and children, nothing is nearer and dearer to me than the families and staff. The relationship is the heart of everything we do.”