ANNAPOLIS – The Carroll County General Hospital Board last month passed a controversial policy limiting the work doctors with privileges at the hospital may perform in their practices, and now physicians are alarmed.
The conflict-of-interest policy is the first of its kind in Maryland and won’t go into effect for a year. The hospital passed the policy to improve revenues and maintain hospital services.
Doctors say it limits competition and raises patient costs.
“We are still talking to the doctors about the implications and are trying to iron out misconceptions,” said Lee Primm, board chairman of the Carroll County General Hospital.
The board’s main reason for enacting the policy, Primm said, was to protect the hospital from large, multi-faceted surgical centers. If these centers are operated with doctors who have privileges with the hospital, the hospital will lose revenue. The board took into account some physician concerns, and, indeed, solo-practice specialty physicians are not affected.
“This is a common policy through the universe of corporate domain,” said Primm.
The hospital’s interpretation of the policy may be narrow, said Michael Preston, executive director of MedChi, the Maryland state medical society. He said he believes it targets any physician who is a competitor of the hospital.
“Ultimately, this is a short-sighted and self-defeating effort on the hospital’s part,” said Preston.
Doctors said if the policy remains intact, further regulation is likely not far behind.
“It was clear that the physicians were universally opposed to this and nevertheless, the hospital accepted the policy,” Preston said.
The policy prohibits physicians in a multiple-doctor practice from performing services that would otherwise be provided by the hospitals.
This type of policy is an emerging trend nationwide as nonprofit hospitals try to maintain revenues and quality of service.
The doctors are prepared to fight.
“An independent medical staff should not be hinged to an economic factor . . . such as whether you bring in business or not,” said Preston.
“I can’t say no physician will be impacted,” said Primm, adding that communication remains open until the policy becomes effective Sept. 2, 2004.
“We remain hopeful that the hospital’s governing board will revisit this decision,” said Preston. “We, together with the medical staff, will evaluate our next step . . . including whether or not this needs to be challenged in court.”