WellStar Health System will gain access to the medical expertise of the renowned Mayo Clinic through a new partnership announced Thursday.
The dominant system in the northwest Atlanta suburbs, WellStar now becomes the second Georgia health care organization to join the Mayo Clinic Care Network. St. Francis hospital in Columbus announced a similar agreement last year.
WellStar officials told GHN on Thursday that the goal of the Mayo collaboration is to improve the care delivered to patients.
“This is first and foremost about patient care,’’ said Dr. Robert Jansen, executive vice president and chief administrative medical officer of WellStar. Improved care leads to lower costs, he added.
The collaboration will allow WellStar physicians to consult with Mayo experts on complex medical cases. Doctors also will have access to Mayo medical information and guidelines through a Web-based resource created for health care providers.
The Mayo/WellStar partnership adds to the whirlwind of changes in health care, in Georgia and nationally, driven in part by the Affordable Care Act.
Hospitals are dealing with federal funding cuts, health care reform and overall uncertainty over reimbursements. These systems are merging or partnering with each other and with insurers in an effort to improve the quality of care and contain health care costs.
Those two goals were cited last month when Emory Healthcare and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia formed an accountable care organization for the Atlanta region.
The Mayo partnership can reduce costs by helping to eliminate duplication and delays in medical testing, said Reynold Jennings, CEO of WellStar, which operates five hospitals.
Through doctor consultations with Mayo experts, the patient benefits by not having to travel for more medical testing, WellStar officials said. There’s no added cost to patients for this information sharing, they added.
Dr. Stephen Lange, Southeast medical director of Mayo Clinic Care Network, told GHN that the system “carefully picks our partners,’’ and did not rule out other Georgia health systems joining its network.
He said the partner organizations pay a subscription fee to Mayo annually. In addition to medical cooperation, the organizations gain access to Mayo’s expertise on business-related matters.
Mayo, based in Minnesota, is one of the top brands in the medical field. It built a presence in Georgia in 2012 by acquiring a health system in Waycross that included a hospital and two nursing homes. Mayo also has a major campus just across the state line in Jacksonville, Fla.
Craig Savage, a consultant with Durham, N.C.-based CMBC Advisors, said WellStar “is taking the next step to differentiate themselves’’ from Georgia competitors by adding the Mayo brand name.
Mayo Clinic, in turn, is acquiring a strong presence in the Atlanta market, Savage said. Mayo, the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and other internationally known hospitals “are trying to extend their networks,” he added.
“Everybody’s continuing to choose sides to be price-competitive,” Savage said.