‘Shift’ noted in Cooper Clinic physician privileges

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 154 views 

Physicians with Fort Smith-based Cooper Clinic have for decades had privileges only at St. Edward Mercy Medical Center, part of a two-hospital town dynamic that often saw clinics affiliated entirely with St. Edward or Sparks Health System.

But the exclusivity has not been universal, and in recent months has begun to moderate, with Cooper Clinic the first large clinic to “shift” its approach.

A Jan. 31 letter from Cooper Clinic Drs. Dale Asbury and Jeffrey Medlock informed patients that physicians with Eastside Family Practice are now making rounds at Sparks.

“Whenever possible, we would prefer that our patients who must be hospitalized choose Sparks Regional Medical Center so we can oversee your hospital care,” the two physicians noted in the letter.

In addition to encouraging their patients to request services of Cooper Clinic physicians during any local hospitalization, the two physicians also noted the change in hospital access history by noting that “a growing number of Cooper Clinic specialists now have privileges at Sparks.”

“This means inpatients at both Fort Smith hospitals will have have access to Cooper Clinic physicians who are this area’s leaders in such specialties as Cardiology, Orthopedic Surgery and Oncology,” the letter noted.

The Cooper Clinic website indicates that the clinic has 100 doctors in 25 specialties, with 17 locations within a 45-mile radius of Fort Smith.

Doug Babb, CEO of Cooper Clinic, said the letter from Drs. Asbury and Medlock is “information for a specific group of patients and does not reflect a Clinic-wide shift from service at one hospital to the other.”

However, Babb noted in a letter to The City Wire that “this is a shift in the way our doctors have practiced traditionally.”

The change is primarily driven, according to Drs. Asbury and Medlock, by a decision to use hospitalists at St. Edward. Hospitalists are physicians who work for a hospital and typically replace a primary care physician while a patient is in the hospital.

“The programs at Sparks and Mercy are different, and quite simply, the particular doctors referenced in the letter determined that this change would work best for them and allow them to maintain their large office practice and provide inpatient hospital care,” Babb explained in his letter.

Babb said the region “needs two successful hospitals as well as strong independent physicians.” Because Cooper Clinic is Arkansas’ largest independent physician group, Babb said the clinic’s “patient base is broad and not limited to patients who choose just one hospital.

Babb concluded his letter by noting: “(I)n most markets, outside Fort Smith, large medical groups cover more than one hospital. This is not a revolutionary concept; but it is a change — one that could potentially make a truly positive impact on healthcare in our community.”

Link here to read a PDF copy of Babb’s letter.