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VOL. 126 | NO. 8 | Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Baptist Forms Partnership With Stern Cardiovascular

By Aisling Maki

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Consistent with a national trend of health care systems partnering with physicians groups – cardiology groups in particular – Baptist Memorial Medical Group has announced its partnership with Stern Cardiovascular Center, one of the region’s largest cardiology group practices.

Stern will continue to run its clinical, day-to-day operations at its three main locations and its 17 cardiologists will continue to practice at other area hospitals.

“We’ll continue to practice as we have for many years,” said Dr. Steven Gubin, president of the newly formed Stern Cardiovascular Center Foundation. “We’ll still go to other hospitals, and nothing really changes in that aspect. We’ve always practiced what we’ve thought is state-of-the-art medical care and Baptist did the same thing.”

Stern Cardiovascular Center was founded by pioneering cardiologist Neuton S. Stern, who brought the city’s first EKG machine to Memphis in 1919.

“The group’s been around for 90 years, and the focus has always been patient care. … If you have two strong organizations like Baptist and Stern that are around for a long time, you can combine their strengths to provide even better patient care,” said Gubin. “This partnership will only enhance patient care, which is our primary objective.”

The partnership is the latest for Baptist Memorial Medical Group (BMMG), a nonprofit medical group foundation affiliated with Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp., which now includes about 200 physicians in West Tennessee, Eastern Arkansas and North Mississippi.

“With the robust infrastructure we have in place with BMMG now, we think the opportunities for partnerships with additional physicians are really attractive, given the expertise that we already have on the ground and the successful track record that we’ve already enjoyed with those 200 physicians,” said Jason Little, vice president of Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp.

Since April of 2009, BMMG has opened primary care and internal medicine physician practices in Arlington, Lakeland, Collierville and several other locations with ongoing plans to expand.

In early 2010, BMMG formed a partnership with Jonesboro-based NEA Clinic, which, with roughly 100 physicians and providers, makes it the largest physician group in Northeast Arkansas.

Little said BMMG is poised to continue its growth, and it’s hardly alone in its move to align with physician groups.

In July, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare partnered with Sutherland Cardiology Clinic, a regional practice with 17 board-certified physicians and offices in Memphis, Dyersburg and Munford, Tenn., West Memphis and Oxford, Miss.

The clinic retained its name and location at 7460 Wolf River Blvd.

Methodist also acquired internal medical practice Foundation Medical Group, and just last month purchased a 10,118-square-foot medical office building at 7690 Wolf River Circle for $1.9 million as part of the acquisition.

Elsewhere in Tennessee, Memorial Health Care system announced in the fall that it had integrated with the Chattanooga Heart Institute, that region’s largest provider of cardiology services.

And further south, The San Antonio Express-News reported in the summer that three San Antonio, Texas, cardiology groups were acquired by a nonprofit affiliate of Methodist Healthcare System.

Health care systems have also recently acquired cardiology and other specialty groups in Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Florida and Wisconsin.

Baptist Memorial Medical Group CEO Jim Boswell said health care reform plays a major role in the growing trend.

“With health care reform and with the challenges of health care in this country in terms of continuing to focus on maximizing our quality and our outcomes, these two parties – the physicians and the hospitals – really are natural partners,” said Boswell.

“But they’ve not always been inside the same organization. This alignment that you’re seeing around the country is because it certainly makes a lot of sense from a business perspective. For the country, it’s going to drive more efficient care, with these partners working together hand-in-glove.”

Timing, as they say, is everything, and the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act allocated just less than $25 billion for health information technology investment, including incentives for providers to implement and use electronic medical records.

The act has sent health care providers racing to ensure that their IT infrastructure is solid and electronic health records (EHR) are ready.

And while many larger medical facilities and groups have adopted EHR technology over the last few years, many smaller physician practices continue to lag behind.

“Our ultimate goal is to continue to improve and maximize our quality and patient outcomes, and ultimately the patient will see a seamless medical record,” said Boswell. “Stern and, of course, our hospitals have fully electronic medical records, and their partners throughout BBMG will all be on the same electronic medical records. From the patients’ perspective, it eliminates some of the fragmentation of care, and everything’s more accessible.”

According to Little, financial incentives for hospitals and physicians have differed historically.

“One of the things that reform seeks to do is align those incentives. The way that we can best take advantage of those and provide the best care to the patient is to quite literally get on the same team,” he said.

“The driver is providing the best care to patients, but what reform does is it creates a timing. The time is now for us to all really look at the continuum of care and how each one of us, as a provider in that continuum, can come together to get a better outcome. Everybody’s just taking advantage of what is a good time.”

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