Six radiologists sue Sutter Health over hospital privileges

Six physicians associated with Radiological Associates of Sacramento Medical Group, Inc., have filed two lawsuits against Sutter Health, a 26-hospital system in Northern California, for banning them from three Sacramento-area hospitals while other independent doctors continue to perform similar procedures there, reports the Sacramento Business Journal. Citing discrimination, the doctors are asking the courts to force Sutter to reinstate their hospital privileges.

Earlier this year, Sutter Health broke off negotiations with RAS to extend one of two longstanding service contracts between the two companies. A May 17 letter--citing an exclusive contract between Sutter Health and newly formed in-house radiological provider Sutter Medical Group--informed the RAS doctors that they could not, except under extremely limited circumstances, perform interventional radiological procedures at Sutter General, Sutter Memorial or Sutter Memorial Medical Center. However, other non-radiologist physicians such as vascular surgeons and cardiologists have retained their rights to use the equipment at the hospitals.

Thus, the lawsuit asserts that interventional radiologists do not fall within the four categories of specialists that can form exclusive contracts with medical facilities under California law and that a decision by Sutter to exclude the interventional radiologists from using its facilities is discriminatory, said Dr. Mark Leibenhaut, RAS president.

Although a Sutter spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuits, the company has stated it sought to improve quality, timeliness and cost-effectiveness with more integrated care provided by forming its own radiology panel. According to the Sacramento Business Journal, that's legal if the doctors are organized through a medical foundation. Whether medical staff bylaws prevent the lockout of a small group of interventional radiologists will be argued in court.

According to RAS, Sutter's interventional radiology services are provided by temporary, nonlocal physicians in combination with a few newly hired Sutter Medical Group physicians, reports Diagnostic Imaging.

"The facts are the facts" Michael Chase, co-counsel for RAS, told the Business Journal. "The group that benefits from precluding RAS is Sutter's own group."

To learn more:
- see this article in the Sacramento Business Journal
- read this piece in the Sacramento Bee
- check out the story in Diagnostic Imaging