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Baptist Health in an Arkansas State of Denial

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, October 7, 2010
Baptist Health apparently was feeling the heat of competition with new healthcare facilities in the Little Rock area and didn't like that one bit. The health system runs the 248-bed Baptist Health Medical Center in North Little Rock and other facilities. But the health system lost track of what the court said was the "heart of this case"—the "patient-physician relationship.

The "strong patient -physician relationships are the underpinning of good medicine," the Supreme Court stated. "It was controverted at trial that patients who have long term relationships have better success."

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, David Wroten, executive vice president of the Arkansas Medical Society, says gleefully that it has national implications. "The ruling has implications not only for the economic credentialing tool used by some hospitals to interfere with doctor-patient relationships in a knee-jerk reaction to protect themselves to prevent competition in the marketplace."

Credentialing decisions should be within the context of the medical staff, involving competence and quality, and relationships with patients, says Wroten. "But this policy was not up to the medical staff."

The hospital's economic credentialing policy has precluded a physician from working at Baptist hospital "if that physician, or any of several specified family members, holds an ownership or investment interest in any other hospital in Arkansas."

The Baptist policy that blocked family members of physicians from working at competing facilities was particularly a cause for dismay, Wroten says.  It was too extreme, he adds.

Baptist Health was trying to force patients to choose between it and the physicians, according to the American Medical Association.  The state high court's decision showed the physicians' interest in patient-physician relationships outweighed Baptist's interest in protecting its economic position, Wroten says.

Physicians and their families were deeply affected by the Baptist Health policy decision made in 2003. Several years ago, Janet Cathey, MD, an Arkansas gynecologist, became a "glaring example" of the alleged wrongs that Baptist had wrought, Wroten says.

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