According to Tal David, president of Synergy Orthopedics Specialists Inc., consolidation in healthcare between hospitals and payers has led to providers becoming “boxed out” from negotiating healthcare delivery and reimbursement. Which is why David is quick to point out the irony in Synergy’s latest move to remain an independent, physician-owned, private healthcare provider – consolidating through partnership with San Diego Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center, Inc. (SDSM).
The partnership, announced March 1, creates a practice with over 25 physicians and surgeons specializing in musculoskeletal system treatment, making it the largest independent orthopedic group in San Diego. SDSM’s Alvarado Road location will be added to Synergy’s existing network of 15 locations stretching from Chula Vista to Encinitas that includes several physical therapy locations and an MRI imaging center. Synergy is also building an 18,000 square-foot surgical center in Mission Valley.
Partnering with other independent medical practices allows physicians to “remain in control of the way their business is handled,” David said, adding that the economies of scale work against small independent practices which in many cases do not have the financial means to keep up with all the regulatory requirements and changes to human resources requirements.
“There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on the private practice practitioner to be able to remain solvent,” he said.
Despite the challenges of being a private practice practitioner, there are also some advantages.
“Remaining independent also helps the combined practice remain agile and able to improve efficiency and quality, as well as pass along cost savings,” said Michael A. Sirota, MD, an SDSM orthopedic surgeon.
A Good Fit
In the partnership agreement, SDSM will maintain its name and operate as it always has, with the exception of administrative aspects of the practice such as human resources, accounting and billing.
“Our patients will see the same doctors and staff at the same campuses and offices they have built trust in,” said David Burnikel, MD, an SDSM orthopedic surgeon. “The two medical practices have the same goal – to provide the San Diego community with unsurpassed, personalized orthopedic care.”
Sirota, Burnikel, as well as SDSM doctors James P. Tasto, Matthew C. Shillito, Enoch H. Chang and physician assistant Sarah Potter-Smith officially began practicing under the Synergy Orthopedic Specialists group on March 1. However, the two orthopedic groups had been discussing joining practices since 2020.
SDSM was a “good fit” for Synergy because the practice had a “good reputation,” David said. “They put patient care first and I think that’s the most important thing.”
The partnership also made sense geographically, David added, because Synergy lacked a presence east of the I-15.
Another way SDSM fits into the Synergy group is its focus on sports medicine. “Synergy at its core stated as a sports medicine practice – we’ve added other specialties since, but I think sports medicine and the care of the athlete is kind of at the heart of the practice,” David said.
Synergy’s sports medicine bona fides include partnerships with local pro teams, having served as official care for the Gulls since 2014; the Chargers from 2015 until their move to Los Angeles; Major League Rugby team San Diego Legion since 2020; and as of this year, the Loyal Soccer Club.
David pointed out that Synergy’s partnerships with local teams differ from typical sponsorship deals because the partnerships began with relationships with athletes in the community, which led to some business development. Sponsorship agreements, on the other hand, begin with a financial negotiation and if an agreement is reached, then a medical team is created.
“And that’s not a good recipe for a sustained relationship because at its core, it’s a business transaction and the athlete’s know it. They know it’s not about their care, it’s about the dollar first,” he said. “The driving force for us, as physicians that do this, is the passion for the sport and the passion to help the athlete perform at his or her highest potential.”
Synergy Orthopedics Specialists, Inc.
CEO: Alex Fernandez
Business: Physician-owned orthopedic medical group
Employees: 150 employees; 23 physicians; 3 physician assistants
Notable: Synergy has partnerships with local professional sports teams, including the Gulls (hockey), SD Loyal (soccer) and SD Legion (rugby.)