Memo sheds light on tension between Massachusetts General physicians, Partners: 9 things to know

An emailed memo from Walter O'Donnell, MD, a longtime physician at Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital, brings to light the tension between some physicians at the hospital and its parent company, Boston-based Partners Healthcare, according to the Boston Globe.

 Here are nine things to know:

1. Dr. O'Donnell is the clinical director of pulmonary and critical care at Massachusetts General. He was elected to the Physicians Organization Executive Committee, tasked with consulting hospital leaders about clinical staff concerns. 

2. Dr. O'Donnell recently resigned from the panel in frustration over Partners’ failure to consult with physicians and the committee on key decisions.

3. He detailed his frustrations and concerns in a letter announcing his resignation from the committee. The memo was emailed June 1 to more than 2,800 Massachusetts General physicians, who are part of the Massachusetts General Physicians Organization.

4. "Over the past two years, in actions and announcements, Partners has progressively overlooked or bypassed [the committee]," Dr. O'Donnell's memo read, according to The Globe.  "I had to regretfully conclude that my continued presence meant tacit approval of decisions about which the [committee] was little informed and involved, and of the sidelining of the [committee] itself. Hence I respectfully resigned."

5. The memo discusses several examples of key decisions that were made by Partners without consulting Massachusetts General physicians or the committee.  Dr. O'Donnell said physicians had little input when Partners shifted Medicaid patients to an ACO; physicians were not consulted before Partners joined Apple's pilot study to give patients access to medical records on their smartphones; and the committee has failed to learn the rationale for Partners' plan to acquire Providence, R.I.-based Care New England.

6. One Massachusetts General physician, who received the memo but didn't want to be named because he was worried about repercussions, told The Globe, "Something's really askew when this venerable physician resigns in protest."

7. Timothy Ferris, MD, chief executive of the Massachusetts General Physicians Organization, said other physicians share Dr. O'Donnell's concern about the "lack of agency" over their futures, according to The Globe.

8. Tensions between Partners and its two main hospitals, Massachusetts General and Boston-based Brigham and Women's, have been brewing for years, but the complaints were usually voiced and resolved in private, which makes Dr. O'Donnell's memo stand out.

9. Dr. Ferris said that the memo caused Partner's CEO David Tochiana, MD, to want to make changes. This summer Dr. Tochiana plans to "re-examine the management structure of Partners [and] among the issues to be considered is the best way to position the voice of physicians within the Partner's organizational structure."

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