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A new agreement will combine the cancer services of a regional clinic with the medical and administrative services of WellStar Health System at six locations throughout north Georgia.

WellStar Health System soon will join with a north Georgia cancer clinic to benefit cancer patients of both health care providers.

Marietta-based Northwest Georgia Oncology Centers, whose services include chemotherapy infusion to cancer patients, will also begin serving as WellStar hospital outpatient departments in June in its Hiram and Cartersville clinics, according to officials with both companies.

WellStar CEO Candice Saunders said in a statement the partnership “aligns with our core belief that strong and trusting partnerships yield healthy outcomes.”

“(Northwest) has consistently and positively impacted the quality of care and well-being of its patients with the most advanced cancer treatment options in the region,” Saunders said.

“As a community-based health system, and one of Georgia’s largest, we are pleased to partner in extending their access to WellStar’s innovative, collaborative and patient-centered care,” she said.

WellStar patients will benefit from Northwest’s drug research program in which cancer patients can participate in drug trials, a news release stated.

The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved 22 different cancer drugs after they were studied as part of the Northwest's program, the release stated.

Dr. Bruce Gould, the oncology centers’ founder and president, said the drug research program was “part of what we bring to the table” in the agreement.

He said the clinic’s “hope and goal” is to expand its resources in such areas as use of WellStar’s marketing power. It also will be able to provide “seamless” care of patients between Northwest and WellStar, he said.

Northwest includes 22 physicians and 22 physician extenders who provide oral and IV cancer treatments. It was the first of its kind in the country accredited by the Commission on Cancer, a WellStar news release stated.

It operates a total of seven offices and six are part of the agreement, including the Hiram location at 144 Bill Carruth Pkwy. and the Cartersville location at 100 Market Place Blvd. They will become “provider based” hospital outpatient departments, Gould said.

WellStar operates 11 hospitals throughout Georgia. It also features 15 urgent care center and partners with 250 medical offices and more than 1,700 physicians, the release stated.

Meanwhile, Northwest physicians and most of the staff will continue to provide cancer care and blood disease treatments. The clinics’ senior management team also will continue to oversee their day-to-day operations, Gould said.

“Patients will get a bit higher standard of care,” he said.

Gould said the agreement will provide the clinic the resources needed to provide “very expensive” chemotherapy drugs which now are cost prohibitive for a clinic of its size, he said.

It also will allow the two health care providers to use a physician care method that could significantly cut the time of a patient’s treatment plan, Gould said.

“When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, they want the cancer dealt with yesterday,” he said.

Dr. Michael Andrews, chief cancer officer for WellStar Health System, said the two health care providers will offer “an advanced multidisciplinary approach” called the “stat” clinical model.

“Through this model, patients with new cancer diagnoses are seen by multiple physicians at one time,” he said.

“This facilitates better communication among the physicians and patients which leads to significant reductions in time to treatment, improved patient satisfaction and, most important, enhanced survival rates,” Andrews said.

WellStar’s affiliation with Mayo Clinic will give Northwest patients access to national cancer trials and second opinions from Mayo physicians without requiring travel to Mayo’s clinics outside Georgia.

The new services agreement between the two also will include WellStar providing some billing and collections services and assistance in facilities management. Some of the oncology group’s staff will become WellStar employees, the Georgia Health News reported.

Gould founded Northwest in 1995. He said early this decade the two companies began discussing the possibility of WellStar patients having access to Northwest’s infusion services but were unable to work out an arrangement.

"Unfortunately, there was no legal way to do it without becoming too tightly woven with them,” Gould said.

Federal law prohibits health care entities receiving Medicare funds from referring patients to an independent clinic such as Northwest.

The new professional services agreement between the two companies allows the partnership to be formed, he said.

Chris Kane, a consultant for Progressive Healthcare, told Georgia Health News that prominence in the area of cancer treatment helps any hospital company compete for patients.

Northwest's reputation as a premier physician group helps increase WellStar's prominence while making access more convenient for patients, Kane said.

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