USC, Palmetto Health explore merging doctors’ practices

12/17/2013 8:59 PM

12/17/2013 10:41 PM

The University of South Carolina and Palmetto Health have agreed to look at merging their medical practices in a move that would pool together 1,300 physicians and staff.

Details, including the costs and a name for the merged practice, remain under negotiation, but the sides have agreed USC’s new medical school dean would head the combined operation if the deal proceeds.

The state’s flagship university and the region’s largest hospital system have cooperated as teaching partners since the 1970s.

Merging the physician practices, however, would give USC more options to offer different types of care, such as cardiology, allow easier access to testing and provide students access to four hospitals with more than 1,100 beds, school leaders said.

For Palmetto Health, the arrangement would provide a better pipeline of doctors, a hospital executive said.

In addition, a USC-Palmetto Health combination would pair two well-known brands in the state while helping shave administrative and purchasing costs at time when the health-care industry is undergoing dramatic change, university officials said.

“We’ve seen a lot or mergers and acquisitions lately in this field,” USC president Harris Pastides said.

The arrangement could add appeal to Palmetto Health patients with “academic medicine, being treated by doctors who teach and/or do research,” Pastides said.

USC already works closely with the Greenville Health System after opening a medical school next to that hospital last year.

Palmetto Health sees an opportunity to better integrate care for patients under one operation, chief marketing officer Todd Miller said. The merged practices would have about 300 doctors.

“Patients want a one-stop shop ... where everything is coordinated,” he said.

Having USC medical school students work more closely with Palmetto Health physicians should help replenish an aging population of doctors, Miller said. “We found it better to teach and train our own and help them stay here,” he said.

The school and hospital have been talking for more than a year, Pastides said. USC trustees approved the merger Tuesday.

Palmetto Health’s board also has agreed to the arrangement. The sides are assembling a transition team.

USC is searching for a successor to former medical school dean Richard Hoppmann, who stepped down this year but remains on the school’s staff. The search is expected to take several months.

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