Chattanooga's Erlanger Health System to switch radiology groups

Chattanooga's Erlanger Health System to switch radiology groups

May 13th, 2014 by Kate Harrison Belz in Local Regional News

Erlanger tile

Erlanger Health System is ending a seven-year contract with its onsite diagnostic radiology group, meaning several doctors will be replaced at the hospital this summer, executives said Monday.

By law, Tennessee hospitals are not allowed to directly employ radiologists. Erlanger had contracted with RadCare, now owned by national company Emcare, for radiology physician services since 2007.

The hospital is not planning to renew the contract in July, said Robert Brooks, Erlanger's chief operating officer. Instead the hospital is planning to contract with Tennessee Interventional Associates, which already handles the hospital's interventional radiology - and will soon add the word "Imaging" to its name.

Of the 12 Emcare radiologists at Erlanger, five have been hired by the new group, said Tanner Goodrich, administrator of oncology and radiology services at the hospital.

The rest will remain employed by Emcare, but will no longer be with Erlanger.

Brooks said that having Tennessee Interventional handle both diagnostic radiology - where doctors read patient scans and make diagnoses, and interventional radiology - where radiologists perform minimally invasive procedures - will bring more "cohesiveness" to patient care.

"In an environment where we have to be cost-conscious, we find it better to work with one entity," Brooks said.

The new contract will mean the hospital pockets some savings. While final details are being worked out, Brooks said the new contract would be for less than what Erlanger currently pays.

The contract with Emcare provided for a maximum payment of $1.6 million if there were 17 radiologists employed at the hospital, though there have never been that many radiologists with the system.

Emcare officials declined to comment Monday on the change. Tennessee Interventional did not respond to requests for comment Monday afternoon.

Brooks said another advantage of working with Tennessee Interventional will be the end of what's called "nighthawking" - the practice of outsourcing scans to be read at other locations in the country during late-night hours.

Under the new physicians' group, radiologists will be at the hospital 24 hours to read the images, which will improve quality of care, Brooks said.

The switch will take place July 3, with no disruption in services, hospital officials said.

There will be at least 12 radiologists on site under the new contract, and possibly more after national recruitment is finished, Goodrich said.

Emcare still contracts with Erlanger to employ the hospital's emergency department physicians. That relationship remains intact and Erlanger "is happy with that contract," Brooks said.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.