The 'innovation in practice' mindset guiding United Digestive's new CEO

Neal Patel, MD, was promoted to CEO of United Digestive in April, and he has his eye on growth in 2024.

In 2023 United Digestive inked multiple partnerships, bolstered its ASC technology and added a new private equity partner.

Dr. Patel shared his goals in the new role and his outlook on gastroenterology.

Note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity.

Question: What are your top goals as CEO? What are the top challenges you're anticipating?

Dr. Neal Patel: United Digestive will continue a very disciplined approach to growth, with an emphasis on organic initiatives that improve access and quality of patient care. Our merger and acquisition strategy will be focused on groups located in our target MSAs that embrace our fully integrated approach. Not surprisingly, the challenges we anticipate will be navigating through macro trends of wage inflation, physician and staff shortages and tight debt markets while executing our ambitious growth plans.

Q: What are you most excited about looking ahead in this role coming from a physician background?

NP: As CEO, I am fortunate to be surrounded by world-class clinical and management teams. Leveraging the unique dynamics of our dyad structure is very exciting. Being physician led will help keep patients and providers at the center of our platform, while we also benefit from the robust organizational structure and culture that was put in place by my friend and predecessor, Mark Gilreath.

Q: United Digestive changed its private equity partners a year ago. How have operations been under Kohlberg & Co. since then?

NP: We were pleased to have several potential partners at the end of our process last year and chose Kohlberg & Co. given their deep expertise in physician services and stellar reputation. Our physician shareholders and management team remain very much aligned with our partner. This positive momentum has not waned a year later.

Q: How would you describe the state of private equity in gastroenterology? 

NP: Over the past five years, the industry has seen tremendous investment from private equity. I do not foresee a significant change to that trend. However, I believe the platforms that are truly focused on physician engagement, disciplined growth and overall value creation through innovation will be the most successful, as opposed to focusing on scale.

Q: Do you think independent gastroenterology practices will eventually have to turn to PE to thrive?

NP: I would restate this to say that many gastroenterology practices will have the opportunity to partner with PE. I have always believed that having a capital partner is not beneficial for every practice. Ultimately, it’s about finding a path that empowers physicians to deliver state-of-the-art healthcare in a financially viable model and manage increasing administrative burdens.

Q: What innovations in gastroenterology have excited you the most in recent months?

NP: As a company, United Digestive has embraced the phrase "innovation in practice." We challenge ourselves everyday with this guiding principle. Over the last few quarters, we invested tremendous capital and energy in proprietary bots and cutting-edge AI tools. These tools are undoubtedly enhancing our management services, including how we use data analytics and dashboards to drive efficiency in our field operations, revenue cycle management and call center functions.

I am excited about the near-term as we continue to put "innovation in practice" to address challenges in enhancing clinical and quality outcomes, GI research, and chronic care management.

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