Five large physician groups from throughout northern Ohio are joining forces to maintain their independence as hospitals continue to employ more doctors throughout the region.

The recently formed Ohio Independent Collaborative brings together independent physician practices that provide care to more than 450,000 patients spanning from Canton to Cleveland to Sandusky.

The collaborative will allow the practices to jointly negotiate some new types of contracts for payments from insurers, President Dr. Gary Pinta said. The practices also will benefit from group purchasing.

The five organizations — which include more than 400 doctors — remain independently owned and operated.

“If we don’t do this, I think it’s certain we will be consumed by a hospital system and we will lose our brand of care,” Pinta said. “The big thing is keeping our brand of personalized care alive. There is a place for us. This is a way for us to scale up and do that.”

Pinta is a primary-care physician with Pioneer Physicians Network, one of the five founding organizations. Other participating practices include Community Health Care Inc., Premier Physicians and Unity Health Network in Northeast Ohio and Northern Ohio Medical Specialists in the Sandusky area.

By remaining independent, the participating practices can provide lower-cost options to patients, who get to keep seeing the same hometown doctor they already know and trust, Dr. Robert Kent, chairman of the collaborative and Cuyahoga Falls-based Unity Health Network said in a news release.

Nationwide, doctors increasingly are employed by hospitals.

According to one national survey last year, 35 percent of physicians described themselves as independent practice owners, a decrease from 49 percent in 2012 and 62 percent in 2008.

Hospitals throughout the region — including the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals in Cleveland and Akron General and Summa health systems in Akron — have been aggressively acquiring doctor practices in recent years to expand their market share and prepare for a major shift in how they get paid.

Under some new “risk-based” payment models, insurers give health-care providers a set payment to manage all their patients’ care. If the patients stay healthier overall and quality measures are met, the providers get the financial benefits.

Several statewide, hospital-based collaboratives, including one led by the Cleveland Clinic, have been forming as part of this trend.

By joining together to contract with insurers, the Ohio Independent Collaborative’s participating practices will be able to spread the financial risk while still maintaining doctor ownership of their individual practices, Pinta said.

“Coming together, we have much more ability to do this than if we had tried to do it individually,” Pinta said.

The participating practices consist largely of primary-care doctors but also include more than 30 different specialties.

The collaborative will look for hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers that want to work with the doctors for risk-based contracting in the future, Pinta said.

Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or Follow Powell on Twitter at