Unity Health, a Searcy-based health system, announced Thursday that it is the first medical provider in Arkansas to join the Mayo Clinic Care Network.
The arrangement means Unity Health doctors will have access to electronic consulting with physicians with the Mayo Clinic, one of the country’s top-ranked medical providers by U.S. News & World Report. Patient medical information such as MRI scans will be transmitted to those doctors. Unity Health also will have access to the AskMayoExpert database with information on disease management and care guidelines.
Unity Health will pay a yearly subscription fee to access the network, which is composed of 37 hospital systems with about 110 hospitals in the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Singapore. It began the network in 2011.
The non-profit Mayo Clinic has major campuses in Rochester, Minn.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Scottsdale and Phoenix, Arizona.
The Unity Health system has hospitals in Searcy and Newport and clinics in Beebe, Heber Springs and Bradford.
CEO Ray Montgomery said Unity Health looked at several options before deciding on the partnership with Mayo. He emphasized that the relationship is not a merger or acquisition and said the county-owned and -operated hospital run by a nonprofit organization plans to remain independent.
“We’re strong financially, and we really believe we have great quality, but we’re always pushed to make improvements, so we know partnerships and alliances without a merger or acquisition has been the stalwart on what our board focuses in on,” he said after the announcement.
He said during the announcement that patients will not be charged for the service.
“It is basically, essentially, a free service,” he said.
Members of the network not only have access to Mayo Clinic physicians but also with physicians across the network. Nearby members of the network include Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis and the Methodist Dallas Medical Center.
Dr. Ryan Uitti, M.D., professor of neurology at Mayo Clinic and medical director for the Southeast Region of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, said the Mayo Clinic is selective about its network members. After Unity Health contacted it about two years ago, the health system conducted extensive on-site research with Unity Health before making the move. He said no other Arkansas medical providers are slated to join the network for the foreseeable future.
Uitti said the Mayo Clinic’s 4,200 physicians see more than 1 million patients a year in person. He said the system wanted to be able to offer its tools to collaborators. He said Mayo has chosen not to consider mergers and acquisitions.
“Health care needs to leverage the ability to take care of patients in different ways, not just restricted to face to face contact,” he said in an interview. “There’s so much technology out there you can leverage, teams that might be set up at one institution that really can’t be reproduced at multiple locations and still take advantage of those teams. Telemedicine is something that is, I think, here to stay and really potentially a tremendously helpful technology.”
The two entities have been collaborating for some time. Dr. Ryan Koch, chief of medical staff, described one patient diagnosed with a rare blood disorder who would have had to wait three months to see a Mayo Clinic doctor and then would have had to finance a trip to Arizona. Instead, his local physicians were able to package the information and send it electronically to that doctor, who soon called Koch with advice. A similar situation occurred with a cancer patient when a Mayo Clinic physician called within two days of the electronic transmittal and then presented the case to a tumor board where many experts were able to offer their thoughts.