UPMC brags about "Life Changing Medicine" in its pervasive marketing campaign and Highmark promises"a greater hand in your health."
But if the behemoths of regional health care want to put more truth in their advertising, they should start telling patients "We care for our own business interests first."
Some patients already have learned that lesson the hard way. Patients of a group of UPMC-affiliated obstetricians and gynecologists are the latest consumers caught in the crossfire between the two rival systems. This time, UPMC is the heavy.
On Dec. 17, five physicians gave their required six months' notice that they were leaving UPMC for Highmark and its would-be partner, the West Penn Allegheny Health System. The next day, the doctors were sent packing, told they couldn't return to their offices at Magee Women's Hospital of UPMC or the Womancare clinics.
A few years ago, the same scenario worked in reverse, when a group of internal specialists left West Penn Allegheny for UPMC. Before that, another obstetrics group moved in the other direction. And on it goes.
Each time, it is the patients who suffer. Because of non-compete clauses in their contracts, the physicians -- no matter how much they might want to arrange continuous care for their patients -- are not allowed to contact them to say when or where they are moving. It is confusing and disconcerting, particularly for patients who are in an active treatment plan and for women who are preparing for the birth of a child.
For them, the choice of a doctor and a place to have their babies is not just business; it is highly personal. But the response of the medical systems is one of nonchalance: Another doctor will see you. What's the big deal?
It should not be this way. The AMA code for doctors says their first obligation is to their patients and they shouldn't abandon them. They should be able to manage the transition in a way that gives patients the choice of whether to remain in the old practice or follow their doctor.
But it's the systems that put up impediments that prevent doctors from doing so. If UPMC and Highmark want to win the regional health care war, they should consider a motto that says "We put patients first." Then they should follow it.