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Business Observer Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021 3 months ago

USF Health and Tampa General Hospital join forces

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Pair of area medical giants, in teaming up for many administrative areas, aims to become the 'Apple of health care.'
by: Louis Llovio Commercial Real Estate Editor

After decades of working together, two medical powerhouses in Tampa are making their relationship official.

Tampa General Hospital and the University of South Florida in Tampa are forming a partnership that will combine clinical practices and administrations of each into a new organization.

It's not a merger. Instead, the entities are putting both of their medical practices under an administrative umbrella they will control together.  The move is designed, in part, to expand the university medical school’s reach and research capabilities, give Tampa General patients more choices and streamline the sharing of information.

The move, officials say, will also loosen the burden on USF Health to turn a profit and reduce costs for the two organizations and their patients — as well as help boost revenue over time. All told, officials believe the savings and economies of scale will help both USF and TGH do more, faster, for the community. “The truth of the matter is, if you are not doing well financially as an organization, you can’t invest in the things that impact the community the most because money is the fertilizer that makes the grass grow,” says John Couris, president and CEO of Tampa General.

Tampa General's operating revenue for 2020 was $1.6 billion. USF's was $302 million in 2019.

The new organization — University of South Florida Tampa General Physicians — has been in the works for about three years and will officially launch in October. A search for a CEO is currently underway.

In all, about 1,400 nurses, doctors and employees will be part of the new organization. USF-affiliated doctors will remain employees of the university but work for the new enterprise.

“We’re calling it an enhanced affiliation,” says Charles J. Lockwood, senior vice president of USF Health and dean of the university’s medical school.

Lockwood says the arrangement will limit the university’s financial exposure while allowing it to bring more services to patients and hire more specialists. That’s key for USF, which must balance its responsibilities as a learning and research institution with the reality of having to keep the lights on.

To explain what the new relationship will mean to USF, Lockwood uses the endocrinology department as an example. He says endocrinologists “lose a huge amount of money for our practice but are absolutely critical to the academic medical center.” The new arrangement, he says, allows USF to hire more endocrinologists and stomach the losses.

“The other key to this, from my academic perspective, is that this allows us to generate a margin off the entire enterprise. Not just the physicians/faculty net services revenue, but from the entire net services revenue,” Lockwood says.  “Which means more money that the medical school can use to re-invest in our teaching and our research, particularly our clinical research.”

While those are all worthy — and necessary — advancements, outside of classrooms and boardrooms the partnership will most likely be judged on how it benefits patients.

“Essentially, what we are creating is an ecosystem that is very patient centered and we’re building a system of care that’s designed to drive quality and safety up and costs down.”  John Couris, Tampa General Hospital 

Couris says patients will see more comprehensive care under the new arrangement. That includes improvements in communication, in how their treatment is structured and how their information is made available to those who need it to manage care.

What he envisions is that in a few years the partnership will become “the Apple of health care in this community, region and state,” with patients seeing it as reliable, integrated and simple to use.

One way for that to happen is to have a single system in place for patients to get access to their information — regardless of which office they go to and for the individual offices to easily pull a patient’s records. This will allow primary doctors to see the same information specialists see. Patients also will be able to see and track appointments, medications and test results on mobile devices.

“After all, we’re in the clinical coordination business and a big part of care coordination is having our physicians collaborating, partnering and innovating in a seamless environment,” Couris says. “Essentially, what we are creating is an ecosystem that is very patient centered and we’re building a system of care that’s designed to drive quality and safety up and costs down.”

Other benefits, Couris points to are an improved ability to recruit new doctors, better access to clinical trials, improved opportunities for sub-specialists and increased volume and growth.

And despite chatter about cutting costs and increasing revenue, Couris says that's a means to a better end, in focusing on improving quality, clinical outcomes, safety and service in sustainable ways. “You have to do well financially in order to invest in education and to invest in research and to invest in clinical care and to invest in your people. Right?” Couris says. “It’s OK to make money.”

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