News Column

Memorial Hospital Doctors' Network Jumps 40 percent

Dec. 6, 2012

Barbara Cotter

Doctors

A year or so ago, the patient was struggling, but Colorado Springs voters literally gave it a new lease on life in August, and it's making a rapid comeback.

Faced with uncertainty over its ownership and governance, Memorial Hospital was having trouble retaining and attracting doctors, and its patient volume dropped. But since Memorial became part of the University of Colorado Health system under a voter-approved lease agreement that took effect Oct. 1, the number of local doctors who have joined the system's physicians' network has grown by 40 percent.

The biggest boost came this week, when Memorial announced that Colorado Springs' largest cardiology practice, Pikes Peak Cardiology, has been acquired by the Colorado Health Medical Group, which also employs doctors who practice at Memorial's sister hospitals in northern Colorado. The acquisition brings 88 Pikes Peak Cardiology employees into the UCHealth system, including 14 doctors.

"A year ago, I think some physicians, because of consternation over all the issues we were facing, chose to seek an environment that offered a little more stability," Memorial CEO Mike Scialdone said Tuesday. "Now that those things have been put to bed, I think we now have a stable platform to talk to physicians about ways of how best they choose to collaborate with us."

Colorado Health Medical Group also recently acquired the practice of Dr. Laura Pomerenke, a Colorado Springs breast surgeon, and signed two neurosurgeons, Dr. John McVicker and Dr. Todd Thompson, to beef up Memorial's network of physicians. Locally, 56 doctors are in the network.

In an era of high operating costs and uncertainty in health-care financing, more doctors are giving up private practice to join with hospitals and other organizations.

A recent story in the New York Times cites one report indicating that about 39 percent of doctors in the U.S. are independent, compared with 57 percent in 2000. Among cardiologists, about 50 percent are employed by health care systems, said Dr. David Rosenbaum, who was president of Pikes Peak Cardiology and is governor-elect of the American College of Cardiology Colorado Chapter.

"And of the remaining 50 percent, the majority are in negotiations with health care systems, so what we're seeing locally at Memorial is typical of what's going on across the country," Rosenbaum said.

The doctors with Pikes Peak Cardiology will benefit from being out of what Rosenbaum calls the "medical arms race," which forces practices to invest millions of dollars to purchase state-of-the-art equipment. By being part of a larger organization, especially one tied to a teaching hospital and medical school, Memorial will be able to take advantage of economies of scale.

But Pikes Peak Cardiology didn't sell the 21-year-old practice just for economic reasons, Rosenbaum said.

"I think it's because of the partnership with University of Colorado Health: the economies of scale it brings, of course, but the potential for partnering opportunities not only with University (Hospital) in Denver, but certainly the physicians in Fort Collins at Poudre Valley and the Medical Center of the Rockies. I think it's a huge opportunity to pool resources, participate in clinical research and really bring, I think, novel health care therapies to the Pikes Peak region."

The cardiology practice leases space in Memorial's Boulder Street hospital and has had a longstanding relationship wih the hospital system.

Memorial started its own physicians network in 2011 to double down on efforts to create an "integrated medical system," which is heralded as a way to better coordinate patient care and reduce duplication and costs. With the long-term lease agreement, Memorial was brought under the UCHealth umbrella, which also includes Poudre Valley Health System and the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, and its doctors became part the Colorado Health Medical Group.

Memorial spokesman Brian Newsome said the expansion of doctors in the UCHealth network isn't the only promising sign for the Colorado Springs hospital system. Memorial recently received certification as a primary stroke center, and acquired an O-arm, a precision surgical imaging device.

"If you look at Memorial -- where we were, having trouble moving forward and really losing ground -- in a couple of short months, we've been able to turn things around," Newsome said.



Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2012 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)


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