Is the widely reported lawsuit pitting Montana Interventional and Diagnostic Radiology Specialists against St. Peter’s Hospital another sign of a particularly litigious future for radiology? As hospitals continue to opt for exclusive contracts, Mark F. Weiss, JD, believes the answer may indeed be yes.
In the case of Montana Interventional, radiologists at the Helena-based practice are accusing St. Peter’s officials of exerting monopoly power. “The plaintiff radiologists are claiming here that the hospital has an illegal monopoly,” explains Weiss, owner of Advisory Law Group, with offices in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, Calif. “They have exercised this monopoly by not permitting the plaintiff radiologists to obtain medical staff privileges at the facility.”
In the practice’s official complaint, filed earlier this month in a Helena District Court, radiologists also accused St. Peter’s of actions that jeopardized patient access. “The physicians of Radiology Specialists were the only fellowship-trained and sub-specialty trained radiologists in the Helena area,” says additional wording in the complaint. “So, the vast majority of patients in Helena had no access to radiologists having these credentials.”
As more hospitals decide to terminate or not renew contracts with local groups, Weiss predicts the trend might swing toward large nationals. “One of the arguments sometimes made, and this argument is opposed by the national groups, is that the quality of the radiologists who work for the national groups is not as high as the quality at the local groups,” he says. “That appears to be part of the argument here in this Montana case, except the Montana case is also wrapped up in the anti-trust lawsuit.”
According to Weiss, there are essentially two categories of anti-trust—price fixing and monopoly. Price fixing is not at issue, so all eggs are in the monopoly basket. “The hospital will argue that to control quality of the service, they entered into an exclusive contract, and they will say there is nothing wrong with that,” he says. “From what I know of similar lawsuits, I think they [the private practice radiologists] have a tough road to hoe.”
After a quick google search, Weiss pointed out that some of the radiologists in Montana Interventional were already familiar with the tense anti-trust climate in the big sky state. According to open records in Montana Federal Reports, a group called Capital Radiology ended up suing St. Peter’s Hospital and Montana Interventional in late 2007. The lawsuit went forward on anti-trust grounds, but the resolution remains unclear.
St. Peter’s Hospital is not commenting on ongoing litigation filed this month. An ImagingBiz reporter spoke with the attorney for Montana Interventional, but the attorney declined to go on the record.