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St. Clair Hospital announces partnership with Mayo Clinic

| Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, 12:54 p.m.
St. Clair Hospital

A new partnership between St. Clair Hospital and the Mayo Clinic could aid diagnosis and treatment while helping the community hospital compete with larger regional health systems, according to hospital officials and brand specialists.

St. Clair is the 41st organization to join the five-year-old Mayo Clinic Care Network, which aims to make the Minnesota-based system's experts more widely available, said Dr. David Hayes, the clinic's enterprise medical director. Through the partnership, announced Wednesday, the Mayo Clinic will provide medical opinions, training and other support for the Mt. Lebanon hospital.

“This is a way that Mayo Clinic affiliates with other independent health care organizations that have a strong reputation regionally, (are) known for having high-quality safety and practice standards (and are) very oriented toward the patient,” Hayes said.

St. Clair doctors may ask Mayo Clinic doctors in any specialty for a second opinion on difficult diagnoses, said St. Clair President and CEO James Collins. The second opinions will rely on reviews of electronic medical records, and in the future could involve video consultations, Hayes said.

The hospital officials said the partnership is focused on improving treatment, but such arrangements — which are becoming common among major medical centers — are also part of marketing and branding strategies, said Rob Rosenberg, an expert in health care branding and president of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, near Chicago.

“It gives St. Clair a little bit of a specialty, it gives them something in their brand to make them stand out,” he said. “And I think people notice that sort of thing.”

The partnerships benefit community hospitals by adding cachet, and top medical centers stand to gain referrals for expensive specialty procedures, Rosenberg said.

Hayes and Collins said referral relationships between the two systems would not change.

Patients may benefit from the partnership, Rosenberg said, but they need to understand that Mayo Clinic doctors are not practicing at the network hospitals. And St. Clair should be transparent in advertising what the partnership entails, he said.

St. Clair has focused on achieving high marks in safety and patient satisfaction ratings in recent years as it competes with regional health systems UPMC and Allegheny Health Network.

“We're very proud of all that St. Clair has become. … What this relationship is about is that St. Clair wants to be even better,” Collins said. “We think through the clinical knowledge, the innovations and the training available through Mayo Clinic, we have a plethora of resources to make St. Clair an even higher-quality institution.”

St. Clair declined to share financial details of the partnership. The two systems entered into a yearlong, automatically renewing agreement, Hayes said.

Patients will not be charged extra for the consultations, Collins said. The hospital will encourage those who want a second opinion to talk to their doctor, he said. The consultations were available as of Wednesday.

In addition to consultations, Mayo doctors will participate in group discussions of how to treat tumors that may be cancerous, Hayes said. Mayo will provide educational materials for patients and training for doctors and nurses, along with step-by-step guidance on diagnosing complex illnesses. The clinic will offer consultation for any new services or programs St. Clair launches, he said.

Allegheny Health Network partners with Johns Hopkins Medicine for cancer treatment and research. Saint Vincent Hospital, an AHN hospital in Erie, partners with Cleveland Clinic for cardiac care, AHN spokesman Dan Laurent said.

UPMC partners with smaller community hospitals to provide some services and consultations, including a partnership with Washington Health System, in Washington, Pa., in which UPMC cardiac specialists perform surgeries at the hospital. It also has a partnership with Uniontown Hospital for cancer care, cardiology and women's services.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676 or wventeicher@tribweb.com.

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