“Cath labs” are where heart doctors diagnose heart patients and perform procedures such as installing stents and ballooning arteries.
Patients of non-WellStar cardiologists who need such procedures can either go to another hospital that does allow their doctor, or be referred to a WellStar cardiologist to perform the procedure.
This week, WellStar chief executive Reynold Jennings wrote to members of the medical staff to explain the move.
The decision was made “to ensure consistency in processes and standardization of protocols, and to provide our patients with the highest quality of care,” Jennings wrote, and “is simply good business for WellStar.” “Virtually all of our competitors, including Emory University Hospital, Piedmont Hospital, and St. Joseph’s Hospital operate on this model. Protecting our competitive position in the marketplace is vital to our future success,” he wrote.
Independent doctors, though, fear the move puts their businesses in jeopardy. Those who aren’t cardiologists wonder what will be next.
State Rep. Sharon Cooper, an east Cobb Republican who is a nurse and serves as chair of the House health and human services committee, is also concerned about the change.
“Any time patient access to the physician of their choice is threatened, I have real issues with that,” Cooper said. “This would seem to decrease competition, and I believe competition in the health care market brings down costs. This is not something I have heard that other hospitals are doing. I would certainly hope that the new CEO, Reynold Jennings, would reach out to me to discuss the issue.”
The Journal learned of the change from doctors, though none would speak on the record. One cardiologist in west Cobb said the change threatens to put him out of business.
“At this moment my biggest concern is the viability of my practice and the best care for my patients,” the cardiologist said. “I’m not very happy that I’m being pushed in a corner. A lot of physicians in this community are very concerned that after they spent all this time and money investing in this community they may be kicked out.”
A WellStar spokesman insists that the system is not trying to force any physicians to affiliate with the system.
“Most of the physicians/groups that have joined the WellStar Medical Group (WMG) approached WellStar and not vice versa,” spokesman Keith Bowermaster said. “WellStar strongly supports parity with all physicians — both community physicians and WMG physicians. This decision was about the cath labs and only the cath labs, and was made based on WellStar’s judgment of the best way to run the cath labs and also based on the competitive situation in that service line. There is no question that standardizing protocols and procedures will improve efficiency and outcomes in the cath labs.”