Local health care providers are still reeling from the March 19 announcement that Ochsner Health is acquiring the largest OB/GYN practice in the market, Louisiana Women’s Healthcare, which is based in the physician’s office building at Woman’s Hospital.
LWH says its approximately 70,000 patients will notice few changes under the new ownership—except better access to telehealth and electronic medical records platforms.
It has also said it will continue to deliver babies at Woman’s Hospital, which is no small thing, as LWH physicians do nearly 60% of the deliveries at the Airline Highway facility.
But while things may appear unchanged on the surface for now, the implications of the acquisition are significant for the market. Even if LWH physicians continue doing deliveries at Woman’s, they’ll eventually be incentivized to do other types of procedures at Ochsner facilities and, more importantly, to refer their patients to Ochsner physicians in other fields—internal medicine, say, or oncology.
Moreover, since women statistically make most of the health care decisions in the family, LWH patients will eventually be more inclined to send their spouses and children to Ochsner primary care physicians and specialists.
“Is this the first step in more to come? Absolutely,” says Kerry Drake, president of employee benefits at BXS Insurance. “If you control the doctors, you control the access.”
Officials at Woman’s Hospital, who were aware that talks between LWH and Ochsner were underway, are trying to downplay the potential magnitude of the acquisition.
“LWH has been very supportive of their intention to continue to provide care at Woman’s Hospital so this will not significantly affect our day-to-day operations,” Woman’s CEO Barbara Griffith says. “We’re learning how we’re going to work together in this new relationship. … It may be that we will have new options to consider in how we pursue partnership or how we improve aspects of Woman’s as it is today, so we see the LWH Ochsner partnership as simply broadening our options.”
LWH has touted the access to Ochsner’s robust medical records platform, EPIC, as one of the primary drivers behind the deal. Health care providers increasingly need access to such tools to compete efficiently, and acquiring the platform on its own was cost prohibitive, LWH officials previously told Daily Report.
Griffith says Woman’s is aware of the need to upgrade the medical records platform utilized by the hospital and its physician groups, and was in talks with LWH about moving to a new system.
“That was a key priority that came out of our strategic planning work (in 2019),” she says. “LWH physicians were part of that with us and we had plans to upgrade very soon.”
Another factor behind the deal, though, was the money, according to sources familiar with the situation. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but those familiar with the deal say Ochsner offered LWH a price that was hard to refuse, particularly for older physicians eyeing retirement.
Ochsner has made no secret of its intention to grow its footprint in the Baton Rouge market, as it has throughout the region, and the LWH acquisition clearly fits into those plans.
That said, Ochsner CEO Warner Thomas told Daily Report earlier this month that the acquisition should not be seen as a first step toward trying to buy Woman’s Hospital.
Griffith says she can understand “why it would be perceived that way,” but says she interprets it as a sign of Woman’s strength in the market.
“Ochsner recognizes the value and quality of care that Woman’s provides,” she says. “Similar to our other providers, they want to be part of it.”
(Editor’s Note: This story has been revised to correct the number of patients at LWH. Daily Report regrets the error.)