St. Francis joins Mayo Clinic Care Network; only member in Georgia

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 13, 2013 

Doctors and patients at St. Francis Hospital in Columbus will now have access to expertise from the renowned Mayo Clinic through a unique collaboration between the two health-care providers.

St. Francis, close to wrapping up a $110 million expansion of its Manchester Expressway campus, unveiled the partnership Wednesday inside the new Butler Pavilion auditorium. It is the only Georgia hospital in the Mayo Clinic Care Network, and just one of 22 facilities in the United States and Puerto Rico.

“They will have access to Mayo knowledge and expertise here in the community. They will have access to emerging clinical trends and, at times, transformative research, again, here in the community and at no cost to the patient,” said Dr. Stephen Lange, Southeast medical director of the network.

He is based at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. The flagship operation and headquarters is in Rochester, Minn., while a third clinic is in Scottsdale, Ariz. Combined, the medical and research facilities treat nearly 1.2 million patients each year.

Through other initiatives, including the Mayo Clinic Care Network, the organization touched the medical treatment of roughly 20 million patients last year, said Lange.

“The specific intent of the Mayo Clinic Care Network is that fewer patients in this community will have to travel to receive answers to complex medical questions,” he said of the need from time to time for patients to visit other out-of-town facilities and physicians for second opinions and additional medical advice and treatment.

The partnership calls for St. Francis doctors to exchange electronic data and records with the Mayo Clinic through its “eConsult” and “askMayoExpert” technology. That will include video-conferences, web-based information sites and continuing medical education.

For instance, “e-tumor boards” are now up and running in the areas of breast and lung cancer. Local doctors who can’t answer a question on a patient’s case can go before one of the specialty boards and present the case.

“So we bring together a group of specialists — a surgeon, oncologist, breast specialist, radiation oncologist, radiologist, pathologist — and have them in Rochester and connect by video conference to (St. Francis) and discuss the case,” he said.

Robert Granger, president and chief executive officer of St. Francis, said the Mayo Clinic approached the hospital last February about becoming a member of the network. The “very extensive vetting process” included an on-site evaluation over the summer to check the organization’s quality, culture and services.

The boards of trustees of both St. Francis and the Mayo Clinic approved the partnership a month ago.

“They were very attracted to our culture of integration with our physicians,” Granger said. “We are unabashedly copying the Mayo Clinic model for how we are structuring St. Francis for the future. It’s having our physicians be an integral part of what we’re doing, being a physician-led organization, and having direction-setting and clinical decision-making by physicians, not by administrators like me.”

It didn’t hurt that St. Francis was deep into the multimillion-dollar expansion of its campus, with it now nearing an end after the opening of the new Heart Hospital in May and the Women’s Hospital in October. But Lange said that wasn’t the deal clincher.

“I think it was important, but I don’t think it attracted us here or made the final decision,” he said. “We want to align with health-care systems that are looking to the future and trying to improve the quality of the care that they deliver each and every day. And this is an example of that.”

Granger said the hospital will pay a “small fee” for the Mayo Clinic’s services, with an agreement that the hospital use a certain number of consulting hours and other services.

“We would use that anyway, but who wouldn’t rather use the Mayo Clinic as an opportunity of that,” he said.

Granger said the clinic typically delivers a heavy number of “eConsult” second opinions in the area of cancer. There also will likely be a keen focus in the area of cardiac surgery, he said, while Lange expects radiation oncology and pulmonary illnesses to be a major part of the effort.

Bo Bradley, a Columbus attorney and incoming chair of the St. Francis board of trustees, noted that St. Francis has a reputation for being first in the local medical arena.

“It was the first chest pain center, the first primary and advanced throat care center, the first to offer robotic surgery, and the first to offer the women of our community advanced breast care imaging,” he said. “This is another first. We think the Mayo Clinic is a pre-eminent medical provider in this country and perhaps the world.”

Dr. Butch Wolff, a surgeon at St. Francis and medical director of the hospital’s Wound Care and Hyperbaric Center, said it is “amazing” how far the medical facility has come in just a few years.

“When I first walked into the completed expansion of this building, I just had a Mayo-like feel,” he said. “When you walk in, you feel like you’re in a good place where you’re going to get excellent care.”

Wolff should know about that Mayo feel. He spent four years at the main clinic in Rochester early in his career, calling it an “eye-opening experience” because of the medical excellence that surrounded him. He said Wednesday’s news is “icing on the cake” of the major expansion.

“The access to Mayo expertise will help us move forward like never before,” Wolff said. “Given the many challenges that we will likely face in health care in the future, collaboration is key. And I feel like, with Mayo, we will have the best partner possible.”

Lange also used the word collaboration several times. He pointed out the critical importance of managing change the constant flow of medical knowledge in an increasingly high-tech world. And that’s beyond changes “forced upon us” like Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act, he said.

“It’s managing medical knowledge, which is going to explode,” he said. “And how you manage the knowledge that is available is going to differentiate health-care providers in the future. We believe that we can collaborate and help accelerate the innovation that’s coming.”

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