A Tale of Two Healthcare Systems and Market Share

It’s hard not to believe that on some level, profits share a certain parity with patient care in this scenario.

A few years ago, a group of cancer doctors wanted to open a radiation treatment center in Woodbury. And a rival group wanted to stop them.

And so begins the battle between dueling radiation oncology treatment centers. A group of Twin Cities radiation oncologists cried foul when a group of Twin Cities oncologists wanted to build a high-tech medical device used to treat certain tumors. The medical device — which requires its own facility to house and would cost millions to build, maintain, and operate – would be a referral magnet and revenue generator for any health system responsible for it, racheting up to $50K for the cost of treating just one patient.

The turf war here in Minnesota, as dubbed by the Star-Tribune, between rival groups and specialties — radiologist subspecialties and medical oncologists — is just the latest reason anyone with even a casual interest in healthcare policy can identify and acknowledge skyrocketing healthcare costs in this country. The money spent on each side to lobby for or against a legislative moratorium on the device’s construction has more than eclipsed the cost of setting up the referral center. Naturally, this raises concerns as whom the ultimate beneficiary will be: the health system in charge of the unique treatment center in the Twin Cities healthcare marketplace, or the patient?

MRO [Minnesota Radiation Oncologists] and its supporters say there are plenty of radiation facilities already, including 19 in the Twin Cities area, and that adding more will only raise health care costs.

“Nobody thinks they should be on every street corner,” said Todd Freeman, MRO’s attorney and spokesman, adding that virtually every metro hospital already has one.

Minnesota Oncology, though, says it wouldn’t build more if they weren’t needed, and that some patients are forced to drive longer than necessary.

Implications are huge. Minnesota Oncology stands to reap benefits as it will operate its own referral center, not only affecting MRO, but also the hospitals to which the group already refers — creating the potential for adverse market forces affecting acute hospitals. Time will tell of course, what eventually becomes of the moratorium. One thing’s for certain, however:

“It doesn’t make sense,” [Minnesota Oncology patient, Bill Hargis -- testifying against the moratorium] said. “I don’t know what one of these machines cost, but they each could have bought one by now.”

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26. February 2013 by Michael Douglas, MD, MBA
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