Lourdes buys big New Jersey cardiology group

One of South Jersey’s largest private cardiology groups has been sold to Lourdes Health System.

The move by Associated Cardiovascular Consultants is part of a growing trend, as heart specialists grapple with falling Medicare reimbursements and increased costs as well as changes in federal law.

The group’s seven offices — in Cherry Hill, Egg Harbor, Hammonton, Medford, Swedesboro, Voorhees and Woodbury — will remain in place. So will its relationships with other hospitals, president Steven Fox said Tuesday.

Fox said the group of 31 cardiologists first discussed selling about two years ago. By changing payment formulas — increasing the emphasis on quality of care as opposed to just volume — the new federal health law encourages practices to join larger systems, he said.

“It appeared that we were going to have to integrate, as I think all practices are going to have to do at some point in time,” said Fox, who would not disclose the sale price. “We didn’t want to wait to the last minute. We wanted to be the first ones in.”

The practice already sent most patients who needed complicated procedures, such as bypass surgery, to Lourdes’ hospitals in Camden and Willingboro, where they were seen by the group’s cardiologists or the health system’s surgeons.

As hospital employees, the cardiologists will now work with Lourdes on programs to improve care and save money, and will be paid in part based on how well they succeed.

Such efforts to “redesign how care is delivered” will define those health care systems that succeed under the new law, said Lourdes chief executive officer Alex Hatala.

The trend could grow quickly, said Patrick White, president of MedAxiom, a Florida-based consulting and networking organization for cardiology groups.

As of August, about 22 percent of groups responding to a national survey of its members had joined a hospital system, most of them in the past four years, White said. He expects that to reach 80 percent by the end of next year.

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