SEARCY -- Unity Health announced Thursday that it is the first health system in the state to join the Mayo Clinic Care Network.
In exchange for an annual fee, Unity Health, which includes White County Medical Center in Searcy and Harris Medical Center in Newport, will have access to an online reference tool from the Mayo Clinic Health System and will be able to submit electronic requests for advice to Mayo Clinic specialists.
At a news conference at White County Medical Center on Thursday, former Gov. Mike Beebe called it "a great day for Arkansas," as well as for Unity Health and Beebe's hometown of Searcy.
"Anybody that knows squat about health care knows that if there's anybody better in the world than Mayo, we don't know who they are yet," Beebe said.
Unity Health joins 37 health systems, encompassing about 110 hospitals, in the United States, Singapore and Mexico that belong to the network, which was started in 2011, John Henderson, Unity Health's chief medical officer, said at the news conference.
White County Medical Center, which bought Harris Hospital last year to form Unity Health, first applied to become part of the Mayo network about two years ago, Unity Health Chief Executive Officer Ray Montgomery said.
The process involved three visits to Unity Health by Mayo Clinic staff members, as well as visits by Unity Health staff members to Mayo Clinic sites in Rochester, Minn., and Jacksonville, Fla., Montgomery said.
Ryan Uitti, medical director for the Mayo Clinic Care Network, said the Mayo Clinic looks at data on the quality of care provided at a hospital, meets with its employees and visits the site to "see what is really happening."
"We have a rigorous screening activity, because we want to work with groups that share our values," Uitti said.
On its website, the network describes itself as a group "of like-minded organizations that share a common commitment to improving the delivery of health care in their communities through high-quality, data-driven, evidence-based medical care."
Membership will give Unity Health staff access to an online tool, AskMayoExpert, that provides care guidelines and recommendations updated at least annually by Mayo Clinic staff.
Unity Health physicians can also electronically submit images, test results and other information to Mayo Clinic specialists to get advice on complicated cases.
The specialists typically respond within a few days, Henderson said.
Ryan Koch, an oncologist at Unity Health who was chosen to test the consultation service, said he used it to get advice from a "world-renowned" specialist on the treatment for a patient with a rare blood disorder who was on a waiting list to visit the Mayo Clinic campus in Arizona.
The consultation satisfied the patient, who then decided that he didn't need to spend thousands of dollars on the trip to see the specialist in person, Koch said.
Such consultations will come at no cost to the patient, Montgomery said. The fee paid by Unity Health is based on the hospital's estimated use of Mayo services, and can be periodically adjusted based on actual use, Uitti said.
Although Unity Health officials hope the Mayo Clinic services will save patients from having to travel to other hospitals, they will have priority if they decide to visit a Mayo Clinic site, Uitti said.
Unity Health spokesman Brooke Pryor said the health system doesn't plan to add a Mayo Clinic Care Network logo to its permanent signs or in marketing materials that aren't related to the network.
"It isn't a rebranding," Pryor said.
Business on 05/13/2016