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In new health care shakeup, dozens of Charlotte doctors to break away from Novant Health

File photograph of Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, Novant’s main hospital in Charlotte is on Hawthorne Lane. Novant said about 41 doctors are seeking to break away from the health care system.
File photograph of Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, Novant’s main hospital in Charlotte is on Hawthorne Lane. Novant said about 41 doctors are seeking to break away from the health care system.

More than 40 doctors plan to break away from Novant Health, Charlotte’s second-largest hospital system confirmed Tuesday, the latest shakeup in the metro area’s health care scene.

It was not immediately clear whether the doctors plan to form an independent practice.

“The physicians are leaving our medical group,” Novant spokeswoman Caryn Klebba said in a statement. “That said, Novant Health continues to focus on our goal of delivering a remarkable experience to our patients.”

Klebba said no further details were available about the doctors leaving.

One of the doctors believed to be leaving Novant did not return a call from the Observer on Tuesday.

Winston-Salem-based Novant has about 900 doctors in the Charlotte market, according to the system.

The move comes less than a year after about 92 doctors with Mecklenburg Medical Group sued to get out of non-compete contracts with Atrium Health and form an independent practice. That same month, Atrium, Charlotte’s largest health care system, announced it would grant the doctors’ request by ending their employment agreements.

The doctors who split from Atrium formed Tryon Medical Partners, which opened its first office in September and now has offices across Charlotte. Atrium said it has hired 45 doctors and retained 26,000 patients affected by the physicians who left.

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Consolidation trends

The latest doctors’ split in Charlotte bucks the national trend of large health care systems and insurers acquiring physician practices or other hospital systems.

Barak Richman, a Duke Law School professor specializing in health care policy, said he could not think of another big group of physicians besides Mecklenburg Medical that separated from a U.S. hospital system over the past year. Consolidation in the industry remains the trend, he said.

“We have not had a lot of experiences seeing breakaways,” he said.

For instance, Atrium and Georgia-based Navicent Health in December approved a “strategic combination,” which took effect at the beginning of this year. Atrium, which was formerly Carolinas HealthCare System, had tried to form a similar partnership with UNC Health in 2017. But that deal ultimately fell through.

Some experts fear healthcare costs could go up as competition diminishes with an ever-expanding Atrium Health,

Hospital systems have been consolidating nationwide since the 1990s, said health economist Christina Dalton of Wake Forest University.

As insurers have become more powerful, hospitals have merged to counter the industry’s bargaining power, she said.

Doctors who have gone to work for hospital systems have found pros and cons, she said. Benefits include working for a large player and being able to hand off administrative responsibilities, Dalton said.

But doctors working for hospital systems have had less control over their own pay and how they practice medicine, she said.

“If you’re not the one deciding the changes, you might get annoyed.”


Correction

A previous version of this story misidentified the new name of the group of doctors who broke away from Atrium Health. They are now Tryon Medical Partners.

Cassie Cope covers business in Charlotte, with a focus on Charlotte Douglas airport, Duke Energy, Atrium Health and Novant Health. She previously covered politics at The State in Columbia, S.C., and is a graduate of the University of South Carolina.
Deon Roberts has covered Charlotte’s financial services industry for The Charlotte Observer since 2013. His beat includes Bank of America and Wells Fargo. He attended Loyola University in New Orleans and is a native of Lafitte, La.
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