North Hollywood's IPC on leading edge of 'hospitalist' specialty

IPC has become one of the nation's largest independent hospitalist companies

In 1996, the term "hospitalist" was coined in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that described the growing medical specialty of doctors and other healthcare professionals devoted to caring for patients in hospitals.

In 1995, a doctor named Adam D. Singer helped found a company with that specialty in mind. Now called IPC the Hospitalist Co., the North Hollywood firm has become one of the nation's largest independent hospitalist companies.

Hospitalists focus on a person's inpatient hospital care, from admission to discharge, rather than seeing patients in an office or a clinic.

IPC's doctors, nurses and physician assistants provide care under contract at hospitals and other facilities.

The company opened its first physician practice in 1998, just as the hospitalist business was beginning to boom, growing to more than 40,000 physicians industrywide by 2013, according to the Society of Hospitalist Medicine.

"We have a lot of momentum," Singer, IPC's chief executive, said at the Credit Suisse Healthcare Conference last month. As of Sept. 30, "we had 1,838 providers. That's about a 17% growth rate over the previous year period. And we're practicing in about 1,700 facilities."

IPC uses acquisitions to expand a business that has reached 26 states.

The company owns more than 300 doctor group practices and averages about 17 acquisitions a year, Singer said. IPC declined to make an executive available for comment.

The latest

On Nov. 20, the company announced it was acquiring a medical group called Hospital Practice Associates Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla.

One day earlier, IPC said that two of its doctors were named by ACP Hospitalist as among the top 10 hospitalists in the nation.

On Nov. 14, IPC said it was acquiring a medical practice in western Michigan.

Accomplishments

IPC is one of the largest hospitalist companies in the U.S., with more than 1,760 affiliated hospitalists, including physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants at more than 410 hospitals and 1,100 other inpatient and post-acute care facilities.

IPC says it has had 16.5 million "patient encounters" since the beginning of 2011, adding that the company works with more than 39,000 referring physicians and 3,600 health plans.

Challenges

In June, the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit in relation to an earlier lawsuit involving a whistle-blower's allegations of improper Medicare and Medicaid billing.

The department accused IPC of violating the federal False Claims Acts by knowingly engaging in systematic overbilling for hospital evaluation and management services billed to Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health benefit programs.

The lawsuit alleges that IPC physicians sought payment for higher and more expensive levels of medical service than were actually performed - a practice commonly referred to as "upcoding."

IPC said the company "continues to work expeditiously toward a resolution with the Department of Justice. The company believes it has a strong compliance focus, and that it operates with appropriate billing policies."

Analysts

Of the 15 analysts who regularly cover IPC, two rate it a strong buy, one calls it a buy and 12 suggest holding the stock, citing concerns about how its return on equity trails its peers and the S&P 500.

Ralph Giacobbe, an analyst with Credit Suisse Securities, says the company "has been meaningfully accelerating its presence in the post-acute [care] space."

ron.white@latimes.com

Twitter: @RonWLATimes

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