Greg Foster is looking forward to the end of his long medical commute.
Foster, who lives in Marietta, has been regularly shuttling back and forth to Texas for a couple of years.
He had brain cancer surgery in 2012 at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. It’s renowned as the leading cancer facility in the country, and he says he went there after his personal research determined that it had the neuro-oncologist he was looking for.
And he returned to Houston every other month for a year for radiation therapy, and then every three months afterward.
Now Foster’s travel schedule looks a lot less complicated. That’s because Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta, where he and his family already go for most care, announced Friday that it has joined the MD Anderson Cancer Network. The affiliation, first reported by the Atlanta Business Chronicle, means that many Georgians like Foster won’t have to travel to Houston to be treated.
Piedmont officials said Friday that more than 700 Georgians go to MD Anderson’s Center in Texas each year. “The hope is many patients will be able to be treated here at one of Piedmont’s hospitals,’’ said Dr. Eric Mininberg, an oncologist at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital.
Foster, who runs an Atlanta software company, said that now he will be able to have his regular imaging tests done under the MD Anderson guidelines at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital.
“It’s going to help me a ton,’’ said Foster, 41. He adds that all his doctors now will be coordinated. “With this, there is no loss in translation.”
Piedmont physicians in Atlanta will get access to MD Anderson’s expertise, and are adopting its cancer treatment regimens, Mininberg said.
The agreement is part of Piedmont’s push to buttress its position as a leading hospital-based systems in metro Atlanta. The affiliation is also expected to spark new competition among cancer centers in the area, including those run by Emory Healthcare, Northside Hospital and Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
MD Anderson’s best practices and protocols will be implemented at Piedmont Atlanta and Piedmont Fayette hospitals. Piedmont Henry and Piedmont Newnan hospitals, in southern metro Atlanta, are expected to become network members as well.
“We’re confident it will raise the bar even higher for cancer care in Georgia,” said Dr. Thomas Burke, executive vice president for the MD Anderson Cancer Network.
Piedmont will pay an undisclosed fee to MD Anderson for joining the network.
A national trend
MD Anderson isn’t the only nationally renowned health care organization expanding beyond its home territory. The Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic and the Ohio-based Cleveland Clinic are two others that have extended their reach nationally.
Mayo, in particular, has built a strong Georgia presence. Two years ago, it acquired a health system in Waycross that included a hospital and two nursing homes. And earlier this year, the dominant system in the northwest Atlanta suburbs, WellStar Health System, became the second Georgia health care organization to join the Mayo Clinic Care Network. St. Francis hospital in Columbus announced a similar agreement last year.
Such networking extends the brand of the national organization, said Craig Savage, a consultant with Durham, N.C.-based CMBC Advisors.
“The local hospital gets a bump from this national player,’’ which lends its protocols and ‘’best practices’’ to benefit patients, Savage said.
Under the MD Anderson deal, Atlanta cancer patients will have the opportunity to get the specialized care locally, thereby reducing travel costs and time out of their schedules, he said.
“It’s a good move for Piedmont,” Savage said. MD Anderson, along with Sloan Kettering in New York, is “the gold standard’’ in cancer care, he added.
The cancer network furthers MD Anderson’s mission to eliminate cancer, said Melanie Wong, an MD Anderson vice president. As part of the University of Texas, MD Anderson’s mission includes sharing knowledge, she said.
A goal of its cancer network is “to transfer knowledge so patients can stay at home,’’ Wong said, adding that patients with highly complex cases of cancer would still be able to go to Houston if necessary.
She said Piedmont approached MD Anderson on the affiliation possibility. Twelve other health systems are members of the network.
Foster noted that he won’t have to be away from his family for his care, and that his hotel and airline bills will disappear. Clear of cancer now, he will have to have imaging “for the rest of my life.’’
Now his care will all “be under one roof,’’ he said.
“This is a huge thing for the people of Atlanta,” Foster said.