For more than 150 years the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., has been a destination for healthcare. While Northwest Arkansas continues to work toward being a destination for healthcare excellence as well, Springdale-based Northwest Health said its partnership with the Mayo Clinic is bridging that gap.
In April, Northwest Health announced joining the Mayo Clinic Care Network. The partnership gives local doctors access to specialty consults and second opinions from more than 3,300 doctors at Mayo, as well the expertise from any of the other 43 member partners around the globe.
On Monday (Oct. 29), Northwest Health partnered with AETN to host a brief viewing of a recent documentary produced by Ken Burns about the Mayo Clinic and also provide an update on the success of the partnership.
Denten Park, market CEO for Northwest Health, said there is great access to healthcare in Northwest Arkansas, but there just aren’t enough specialists to go around despite strong recruiting efforts.
“We did recently recruit three new cardiovascular specialists to our network, but our partnership with the Mayo Clinic helps us reach out to hundreds of specialists any time we need help with some of the missing pieces in the region,” Park said during Monday’s event in Springdale.
The Mayo Clinic partnership with Northwest Health is one of two in the state, along with Unity Health of Searcy. David Hayes, medical director for the Mayo Clinic Care Network, told Talk Business & Politics there are no ongoing talks with any other hospitals across the state. He said through the first six months of the partnership, the number of consults with Northwest Health is on par with other new members.
“Over time we expect to see more local doctors use the Mayo network,” Hayes said. “That has been the case with our long-term partners. We would love to talk to other hospitals in Arkansas, but we won’t sign any others in this region that compete with Northwest Health.”
Ranga Balasekaran, a gastroenterologist at Northwest Health, is one of the doctors using the Mayo Clinic Care Network with his patients. Balasekaran said he’s six years into his practice, post-medical school, and there are so many ailments with the digestive tract and yet he might only see three certain cases a year, whereas the Mayo Clinic will see hundreds.
He primarily uses the service for second opinions, which are sometimes at the patient’s request and other times to confirm his own diagnosis or treatment options.
“I had a case where one patient wanted to have surgery for his condition but I didn’t feel that was the best option,” Balasekaran said. “He didn’t want to take my word for it. I sent off for a consult with Mayo specialists and in two to three days the consult came back which agreed with my assessment. He didn’t have to take my word for it. He took Mayo Clinic’s word for it.”
James Tanner, chief medical officer at Northwest Health, said the consults are free to the patient and the results are back within three to five days.
Scott Musick, a family practitioner in Bella Vista, said he’s used the Mayo Care Clinic Network six times with his patients. Only one time did the patient need to go on to Mayo in Rochester. The other five times the patient care continued at home.
Musick told Talk Business & Politics the timeline for getting in to see a specialist in Northwest Arkansas can be two to six weeks. He said the quick turnaround from the Mayo Clinic in less than a week is incredible given the high-level of expertise. Musick said as more people in the region become aware of the Northwest Health partnership with Mayo, he expects to see them ask for the consults more often.
“I had one patient who did come in and ask me to try and help her get into Mayo Clinic for her condition,” he said. “The wait she was told was six weeks to be seen at that hospital. By seeing Northwest Health she was able to get a consult within five days and she also got her treatment locally which saved her the time and expense of traveling to Rochester.”
The Mayo Clinic sees one million patients a year from all over the world. Within any one 24-hour period there are 14,000 patients, 9,000 examinations and 300 surgeries. There are 5,000 lab specimens evaluated, 4,600 diagnostic procedures will be conducted with 230 radiologists able to read the results and report back within 90 minutes, according to the Burns documentary “The Mayo Clinic: Faith-Hope-Science.”
Hayes said the Mayo Clinic Care Network helps hundreds of patients get the care they need closer to home. He said the program began offering partnerships seven years ago because Mayo continued to see so many people travel to Rochester that didn’t need to make the trip. He said they are looking for answers many times, but those answers can be provided through their local doctors within with the network. He said local doctors like Musick and Balasekaran can connect electronically with specialists at Mayo, they can use the AskMayoExpert database that offers point-of-care, Mayo-vetted information on disease management, care guidelines, treatment recommendations and reference materials for medical conditions.
The partnership also allows for eTumor Board conferences that invite Northwest Arkansas physicians to present and discuss management of complex cancer cases with a multidisciplinary panel of Mayo specialists and other network members. Tanner said another great part about being partners with the Mayo Clinic is learning more about the culture of the storied institution which dates back 150 years. A culture that thrives on collaboration.
“Culture is critical and it eats strategy for lunch,” Tanner said.
He said some of the work being done between Northwest Health and Mayo Clinic also involves better care for patients with congestive heart failure. Tanner said the relationship between Mayo and Northwest Health continues to grow and that benefits Northwest Arkansas residents seeking specialty care close to home.