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Charlotte Talks: CEO Dr. Dale Owen on “What Atrium Health’s latest merger means for Charlotte-area residents”

On the May 26, 2022, edition of WFAE’s Charlotte Talks, Tryon Medical Partners’ CEO Dr. Dale Owen joined a panel discussion on Atrium Health’s plan to merge with a major hospital system based in the Midwest, Advocate Aurora Health. Atrium says the merger will allow it to provide better care and more investment in communities, but some critics say it could raise prices for patients and lower wages for doctors, nurses and other staff.

Dr. Owen was joined by Paul Keckley, health care policy analyst and managing editor of The Keckley Report, and Barak Richman, professor of law and business administration at Duke Law School.

Below are a few of Dr. Owen’s contributions to the conversation. Listen to the whole show on WFAE’s website.

  • I can’t figure out who’s really benefiting. If the cost goes up and price goes up, there are no shareholders and the tax base goes down, who is really benefiting from this? It seems to me it’s more likely to be the hospital executives and contracting agents with the hospital system. 
  • We, Tryon Medical Partners, as an independent group of physicians provide this alternative. We had 115,000 patients when we were part of Atrium, now we have 185,000. We had 88 doctors who left and created our own offices, taking all the risk on ourselves because we believed the doctor-patient relationship was the strongest and most important. We’ve also managed to decrease the spend by 20% so far and we haven’t even really begun that fight. 
  • The hospital systems are buying up the referral source. They’re buying up primary care practices, and that’s not a fair game. When you own the referral source, you don’t have to compete on cost, quality metrics or anything else.
  • By coordinating independent primary care, you can significantly decrease cost no matter which hospital you send patients to, because you’re coordinating the care rather than allowing uncoordinated care that drives up costs based on volume and ordering tests that are completely unnecessary.
  • One thing that has helped to level the playing field significantly is shared savings programs which created a way for primary care to stay in business. That is now being done through commercial payers, Medicare Advantage and Medicaid, rather than just competing on a fee-for-service model. It emphasizes value-based medicine quality, not quantity.