In The News

UC plans to create women's center

December 20, 2012  |  UC Women's Health Center

Written by Cliff Peale

WEST CHESTER — Lisa Larkin says she has spent years envisioning an all-purpose women’s health center with everything from primary care to gynecology to a headache center under one roof.

Next spring, she will get her chance.

After selling her own practice in Madisonville to UC Health, the operator of University of Cincinnati Medical Center (formerly University Hospital) and West Chester Hospital, Larkin will direct the system’s Women’s Center here when it opens in April.

“I’ve pitched this to various hospital systems for years,” said Larkin, who founded her practice in 2002. “They (UC Health) were the right one. This is a new way to deliver health care.”

UC Health’s push to expand women’s health services is emblematic of providers all over the region and all over the country as they chase new sources of revenue.

More doctors and health systems are using integrated women’s health centers to attract female customers, a population increasingly willing to spend on their own health care for the right services in a convenient one-stop-shop package.

The business model is straightforward. UC Health hopes combining services in one location, with a link to the region’s major academic health center, will lure patients from all over Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky who want the most current care targeted to women.

“There’s definitely a synergy in having those services all in one place,” said Susan Kornstein, executive director of the Institute for Women’s Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, a model for the UC Health program. “But beyond that, it’s better care for women.”

Because some women use their gynecologist as a primary care doctor, other medical problems often are overlooked, Kornstein said.

The new women’s center is among the biggest 2013 initiatives for UC Health, formed by the University of Cincinnati two years ago from the remnants of the Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati.

“I think this is an enormously exciting and under-served area in Greater Cincinnati, one where we are going to be leaders,” said Tom Boat, dean of UC’s College of Medicine.

With annual revenue of more than $1 billion, UC Health is one of five big systems in the region, joining TriHealth, Mercy Health, Christ Hospital Health Network and St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Northern Kentucky. It is chaired by Margaret Buchanan, The Enquirer’s president and publisher.

All of those systems are seeking to brand themselves as experts in particular clinical areas.

TriHealth, for example, has built a reputation over generations for its maternity units, and Christ Hospital is known nationally for its heart-care programs.

UC Health has long argued that the combination of the medical school, clinical services through UC Physicians and the research generated at UC is what makes it unique, and the women’s center is one of the first tests of that theory.

For example, a clinical trial that started earlier this fall at UC will examine the best method for cardiac catheterization in women.

Beyond the hospitals, UC Health includes the UC Physicians doctors group and the Drake Center rehabilitation hospital.

Combined services offering is needed

The system’s future centers in this fast-growing Butler County community, where the campus overlooking Interstate 75 is built around West Chester Hospital.

UC Health hopes that eventually complements University of Cincinnati Medical Center and other services on the traditional “Pill Hill” in Corryville.

Larkin’s vision calls for a three-year plan building up to 75,000 visits a year from women looking for a primary care medical home, a referral center for complex problems and a hub for other women’s health offices throughout Greater Cincinnati.

“There are a lot of great doctors who are doing a lot of great primary care out there,” she added. “But I really hope the center can become a resource for breast care, for gynecology and other types of issues. I hope it can be a referral center and becomes the region’s source for women’s health.”

A 2011 survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that although the vast majority of women have seen a doctor in the past year and they view a doctor as the most important source of information, access to specialists is worsening.

“Women’s health care can be extremely fragmented,” Kornstein said. “As women get older, often they need different care than that. Here, (services) are all in one place.”

In Greater Cincinnati, nearly every health system has facilities targeted to women.

At Christ Hospital, for example, women can access centers for obstetrics, breast health, pelvic floor disorders and surgery. And St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Northern Kentucky has opened Women’s Wellness Centers at several of its hospitals featuring mammography, bone density imaging and other services targeted to women.

Center will target area's unmet needs

Larkin said by integrating primary care with specialties and new research produced by UC’s Academic Health Center, the new UC Health facility will add a new dimension that is not available now.

Larkin will recruit about eight new providers for the facility, which at 26,000 square feet will feature 47 exam rooms on the fourth floor of the medical office building adjacent to West Chester Hospital.

Unmet needs, she said, include sexual health, transitional adolescent care for teenage girls and a cancer survivorship program.

Larkin’s practice off of Red Bank Road will remain open to serve the current base of about 12,000 patient visits a year.

Larkin said she envisions several other locations for the women’s center in other parts of the region as well.