Atrium Health's Mecklenburg doctors form independent group
A group of about 90 doctors who are parting ways with Atrium Health's Mecklenburg Medical Group formed an independent practice, the North Carolina-based providers announced Monday.
The newly minted Tryon Medical Partners plans to open eight offices and hire around 300 employees by year-end. More than 13,000 people have signed up for updates via the practice's website, and the physician group set up a call center to help patients transfer, the group said in a news release.
It has signed up around 11,000 consumers so far. The group of 88 doctors worked with about 115,000 patients over the past two years—as reported in a recent letter to patients from both Atrium and the physicians. Tryon Medical Partners expects to grow the practice to more than 150,000 patients, said Dr. Dale Owen, the group's leader who is currently a cardiologist with Mecklenburg Medical Group.
The entirely physician-funded Tryon Medical Partners aims to finalize contracts with Blue Cross and Blue Shield, UnitedHealthcare, Cigna, Medcost and Aetna as well as Medicare and several Medicare Advantage plans before its Pineville and Steele Creek offices open Sept. 5.
"The response has been overwhelming," Owen said. "That goes to show that the physician-patient relationship is alive and well."
Atrium said in a statement that the company and Tryon will work together to deliver the best medical care.
The physician group has moved quickly since it sued Atrium, formerly Carolinas HealthCare System, for allegedly cutting their pay and including "draconian" noncompete conditions in a new contract.
In a lawsuit filed in Mecklenburg County Superior Court in April, the doctors claimed that "overly broad" noncompete clauses would essentially prevent them from doing any medical work in the Charlotte area for a year. The contracts also allegedly mandated that they refer each patient who needs treatment to an Atrium facility, without consideration of pricing or cost to the patient, the doctors claimed. If the doctors didn't sign the new contracts, they would allegedly be fired for cause.
Atrium officially settled the suit on July 6, allowing the medical group to become independent by Sept. 1. The physicians will continue practicing at Atrium's Mecklenburg Medical Group offices through August. About 15 doctors in the Mecklenburg Medical Group will remain with Atrium, which has been hiring more physicians to fill the pending void.
Tryon, which predominantly comprises primary-care physicians and internists, has every intention of continuing a collegial relationship with Atrium, Owen said.
"This was never about injuring Atrium," he said. "This was always about doing the right thing by patients."
Tryon is an exception to the trend. Fewer physicians are now practicing independently, opting to work for bigger systems that can seemingly better manage the growing administrative workload.
But independent doctors maintain that autonomy allows them to spend more time with patients and better control treatment plans.
Tryon's independence will allow direct contracting with payers and employers, and generally let the physicians be more nimble, Owen said.
"It's on us now—it's a good feeling," he said. "We're in control of our own destiny and that's a good thing."
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