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Physicians Hail Arkansas Court Victory Against Baptist Health
Date:2/27/2009

Court finds patient-physician relationship is entitled to "exceptional protections"

LITTLE ROCK, Ark., Feb. 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In a legal victory that preserves the patient-physician relationship and promotes competition, an Arkansas state court has ruled that Baptist Health, Arkansas' largest hospital system, acted improperly by inappropriately restricting hospital admitting privileges and interfering with the continuity of patient care.

(Logo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081209/AMALOGO)

The ruling in Baptist v. Murphy permanently prohibits an economic credentialing policy adopted by Baptist Health in 2003, which would have allowed the hospital system to interfere in the patient-physician relationship by denying hospital-admitting privileges to medical staff members based on financial concerns.

As the court observed, "The heart of this case is the patient-physician relationship. The relationship is entitled to exceptional protection." The court went on to say, "Strong patient-physician relationships are the underpinning of good medicine, and it was uncontroverted at trial that patients who have long term relationships with their doctors have better outcomes."

The American Medical Association (AMA) and the Arkansas Medical Society (AMS) successfully challenged the unfair hospital policy by arguing that the primary factor in credentialing physicians should be competency, not economic factors unrelated to quality.

"Hospital admitting privileges have long been considered an indispensable component of a medical practice," said Rebecca Patchin, M.D., chair-elect of the AMA Board. "Baptist Health took advantage of this fact to coerce physicians and squash competition from other medical facilities."

"Patients benefit when their physicians have staff privileges at multiple facilities, because the patient has a choice of facilities to select from that best suits their needs in terms of costs, quality and convenience," said AMS President David Jacks, M.D.

"This important court victory demonstrates that economic policies that restrict physician credentialing are really intended to prevent patients from choosing medical facilities that might compete with large hospitals," said Dr. Patchin. "Hospitals cannot use their financial interest to justify policies that interfere with patients' health care choices."

"Hospitals must address the economic realities of the health care environment through innovation and fair competition, rather than relying on unfair policies that restrict patient choice and impede the continuity of care," said Dr. Jacks.

The combined resources of organized medicine were brought to bear on this case through the Litigation Center of the AMA and State Medical Societies, which provided substantial financial support and, along with the Arkansas Medical Society, worked in support of the physicians who were subjected to Baptists' inappropriate credentialing policies.

"This case shows yet again that when doctors enlist the help of organized medicine, the best outcome for patients and doctors can be achieved," said Dr. Patchin.

Editor's Note: A copy of the court's decision is available on the AMA website at: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama1/pub/upload/mm/395/order-for-permanent-injunction.pdf


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SOURCE American Medical Association
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