Reynold Jennings, president and CEO of WellStar Health System, said the partnership, which has been in the making for 18 months, makes good business sense.
The collaboration will allow specialists at WellStar to consult with experts at the Mayo Clinic about diagnosis tests and treatment plans for complex cancer cases.
Local physicians can submit a specific question to the Mayo Clinic Care Network with supporting notes, image scans and medical records to get a formal response within two days.
Jenninngs said the collaboration is a cost-efficient way to increase the care offered by WellStar.
The Mayo Clinic could also be a best-practice resource on changes to WellStar’s business structure. And, there are plans to open access to the Mayo Clinic’s research, clinical trial information and education tools.
WellStar has always been able to refer patients to Mayo clinics, most commonly in Jacksonville, Fla., or Rochester, Minn.
Now, the online sharing of knowledge will keep WellStar patients closer to home, without additional costs for travel. The second opinion from the Mayo Clinic will be free to WellStar patients.
Pooja Mishra, who has been the director of oncology operations at WellStar for three years, said the partnership will bring doctors together to evaluate specific cases through “tumor boards.”
This type of telecommunication on a unique case is in the best interest of patients, “when they are already going through a very troubling experience,” Mishra said.
WellStar staff reaction
On Thursday morning, board members, hospital administrators, medical staff and community leaders gathered at the WellStar Development Center in Smyrna for the announcement.
Robert Jansen, executive vice president and chief administrative medical officer of WellStar, began the event by making sure the crowd knew it was not a merger announcement.
“We remain independent, but this is a collaboration,” Jansen said.
With more than 13,000 employees, WellStar is one of the largest health systems in the Southeast, serving a population of more than 1.4 million residents in five counties.
The collaboration will rely on WellStar doctors acknowledging they need help to solve a problem.
“No matter how great physicians are, humility is a great quality,” said Avril Beckford, WellStar’s chief pediatrics officer.
Beckford, who has been with WellStar since it was Northwest Georgia Health System in the early 1990s, said she has seen the network grow through many changes.
“This is one of the best decisions ever,” Beckford said.
Janie Maddox, chair of the WellStar Board of Trustees, said the Cobb community expects excellence in treating personal health.
“We kind of know how good we are,” Maddox told the crowd. “But to be able to collaborate with Mayo is just over the top.”
Stephen Lange, southeast medical director of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, attended Thursday’s event with several administrators and chief officers from their clinics around the country.
The Mayo Clinic Care Network began in 2011, and has 25 members in 14 states, Puerto Rico and Mexico.
“Working together, we can increasingly assure patients that they have access to the latest medical knowledge here, in their community,” Lange said. “Medical care is improved by collaboration. We do it because it is the right thing to do for the patients.”
The partnership with WellStar will stretch Mayo’s influence in the medical field and accelerate innovation in treating cancer, he said.
Maddox told the Mayo representatives, “You may learn as much from us as we learn from all of you all.”