A Mount Vernon medical practice will merge with Family Care Network, which is based in Whatcom County, beginning Dec. 9.
North Cascade Family Physicians will become the 11th medical group in the network, and Family Care's first foray into Skagit County.
North Cascade will remain locally owned, and its doctors will enter Family Care Network as physician owners.
Family Care Network now has 10 offices in Bellingham, Blaine, Everson, Ferndale and Lynden.
"We will learn from them and they will learn from us about some of the opportunities in each community, and best practices and things," said Dr. David Lynch, vice president and medical director for Family Care Network.
"For us the attraction is Skagit County provides options for us in terms of new partnerships and maybe new opportunities," Lynch added.
North Cascade approached Family Care Network about the partnership.
Both sides said they needed to grow to remain independent in a health care environment that is changing rapidly across the region and nation - with large hospital systems acquiring medical practices in order to control the market and then consolidating with other hospital systems.
"Our approach has been to stay independent, stay rooted in the communities," Lynch said, of what he described as a "giant contest" between two different visions of medicine.
"It is bigger without completely giving up your autonomy," added Dr. Roger Estep, who is the chief financial officer for North Cascade Family Physicians.
The merger also will help as medicine becomes more complex to administer, they said, and that includes meeting the requirements of the Affordable Care Act and contracting with insurance companies.
Estep said the merger will be "relatively seamless" for the vast majority of North Cascade's patients.
North Cascade Family Physicians, founded in 1980, has nine doctors, one physician assistant, two nurse practitioners and about 40 employees.
Founded in 1999, Family Care Network has 62 doctors, eight physician assistants, seven nurse practitioners, and about 305 employees.
Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or firstname.lastname@example.org.