What's the merger diagnosis?

Hank Hayes • Jan 22, 2018 at 8:30 AM

KINGSPORT – How will Holston Medical Group (HMG), the region’s largest independent physician practice, be impacted by the biggest hospital system merger in our region?

In the 1970s, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded a $476,000 grant starting up HMG under founder Dr. Jerry Miller. On January 3, 1977, HMG saw its first patient.

Now, HMG employs 160 providers, with about 50 of them being mid-level providers. HMG, a primary care provider, also has multiple specialty practices.

With the merger of Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance about to close in Tennessee and Virginia and create Ballad Health, HMG President and CEO Dr. Scott Fowler is looking for the answer to that how-the-merger-will-impact-things question.

“Our first duty is to our patients … the big building we have (on Stone Drive) … all of those are ways to improve care, have all our docs in one place and try to create a better experience,” Fowler said in an interview. “The new pressure on health care is to improve quality and report it, we have to be able to say ‘We’ve done something better for somebody’ and also do it at a lower cost.”

Fowler also fielded these questions:

What are the major trends in health care now?

“There’s going to be better coordinated care for chronically ill patients, some patients who have multiple diseases, who are in the Medicare population for the most part or maybe they’re on Medicare and Medicaid. They tend to have a lot of different doctors and see people in different places. Those systems are very fragmented … sometimes they are owned by different segments of the health care marketplace … if you’ve had an elderly loved one you’ve had to take anyplace, you realize all the doctors may not be talking to each other at least in an effective way … we’ve got to do it at a lower price.”

What is Holston Medical Group’s footprint right now in our region?

“We go from about Rogersville all the way up to Lebanon, Va., and we go up to Duffield, Va., and we go down to Johnson City … we’re in all three Tri-Cities … we have some practices in Morristown. We’re the largest independent physician practice.”

How do you think this Ballad Health merger will play out?

“I don’t know that anybody knows for sure. It certainly is a choice to address some of the issues … I think the more centralized it is, you would think it would be more likely to succeed. On the other side, you have to remove some of the competitive pieces from the puzzle. HMG is here. We’re not going to change what we’re doing. Our goal is to provide better care to our patients and do it at a lower cost … you’re talking about two big systems that control 98 percent of the product for in-patient services ... we have physicians working in the hospitals and we’re also in competitive roles because we have urgent cares … both the hospitals and Holston Medical Group employ doctors. We both run diagnostic centers. We both manage surgery centers … the Certificate of Need law is impacted. Under the new COPA (Tennessee’s Certificate of Public Advantage), they have restrictions on how many doctors they can employ. It is going to change the environment and hopefully it will be for the better.”


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