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Practice succeeds in a growing market

Ron Tillotson

A new Sparks medical practice is gaining success by using proven business techniques and by focusing on a growing niche in northern Nevada.

Sierra Pulmonary and Sleep Consultants (SPSC), located in the Vista Medical Terrace just up the hill from the Northern Nevada Medical Center, opened just more than a year ago to treat asthma, emphysema and other chronic lung problems.

Previously, the specialty was served by one group practice in Reno.

Established in October 2002 by Dr.

Michael A.

Lucia, SPSC has grown steadily to meet the needs of patients referred by doctors throughout northern Nevada and eastern California.

This growth has included the recent addition of a second boardcertified pulmonary specialist, Dr.

Christina A.

Szot, who joined Lucia in August from the UCLA Medical Center.

SPSC’s staff now includes 13 other administrative and health professionals.

A third pulmonary specialist, Dr.

Bruce Denny, is scheduled to join them in July.

“Our practice relies on referrals 100 percent,” Lucia said.

SPSC focuses on providing consultative input to primary care physicians for patients who are experiencing wheezing, chronic cough and other pulmonary symptoms.

In addition, SPSC built a two-bed sleep laboratory for evaluation of patients with sleep apnea, narcolepsy and other sleep disorders.

Starting a practice from scratch has been a continuous business-learning experience for Lucia.

He created a strategic plan that includes time-lines and goals.

He networked with primary-care physicians and focused his marketing efforts on them to gain referrals.

He explained that physicians coming out of medical schools get little business training and must learn on the job when they join a practice.

Many patients who are referred to SPSC, for instance, are afflicted with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a combination of asthma, bronchitis and emphysema, Lucia explained.

To treat COPD patients, Lucia partnered with NNMC to design the Sierra Pulmonary Education and Rehabilitation program.

As its medical director, he supervises an eight- to 12- week outpatient program that combines individualized exercise training and behavioral and educational programs with group support to help patients with chronic lung disease control symptoms and improve day-to-day activities.

He said he chose SPSC’s location because Sparks is business friendly, NNMC provides marketing support, and patients have easy access from north and east of Reno.

Szot explained that the practice closely coordinates patients’ treatment with their referring physicians.

“Every day we are on the phone with referring physicians, coordinating diagnostic and treatment options,” she said.

She added that this kind of personal treatment is only available from smallgroup practices and, thus, she and Dr.

Lucia want to limit the size of SPSC to four physicians.

Small-group medical practices face many business challenges, Lucia said.

An important one is simply making both patients and their physicians aware of a new practice.

“Many of our patients tell us they like the easy access to our clinic and do not like going to downtown Reno,” he said.

“They also tell us that we seem more approachable than larger group practices.”