20 Sep Behind the deal: West Cancer exec on how OneOncology happened and why it matters
Last week, West Cancer Center announced that it is joining OneOncology, a partnership with two other independent community oncology practices: Tennessee Oncology and New York Cancer & Blood Specialists. A private-equity capital infusion of $200 million from General Atlantic put the new partnership in motion.
At the same time West Cancer Center’s new relationship began, an older one, with Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, ended.
Memphis Business Journal spoke with Dr. Lee Schwartzberg, the executive director of West Cancer Center and one of the founding management members of OneOncology, about the “how it happened” and “why it matters” of the deal.
MBJ: How did the relationship with Methodist Le Bonheur benefit your practice, and what went into your decision to move away from that to this new opportunity with OneOncology?
Dr. Lee Schwartzberg: The relationship with Methodist was very beneficial to our patients. We created multidisciplinary conferences and tumor boards, as well as multidisciplinary clinics, and advanced the care of our patients. The radiation oncologists who came under the West Cancer Center umbrella … allowed us to create more integrated care. We were able to … have more people involved in helping patients navigate through a complex cancer landscape, to work together to reduce disparity in our community and to raise money together for cancer research. And, that’s just a partial list of the many positive attributes over the past six years.
What was the timeline for discussions about launching OneOncology?
Tennessee Oncology really launched the discussion a little over a year ago. We’ve been in active discussions for the past several months, really since the beginning of the year.
Has it been difficult to align West Cancer Center with Tennessee Oncology and New York Cancer & Blood Specialists?
We were very excited to work with these other groups. They share very similar cultures to us. That’s important to us as OneOncology grows, that we have a patient-centered culture and culture of innovation and growth. All three of the founding partners share those attributes. We came together because we felt that by sharing management, infrastructure and technology, we could build for the needs of the patients in an increasing complex environment going forward.
Private-equity firm General Atlantic invested $200 million to launch OneOncology. How will an influx of capital like that impact West Cancer Center locally and OneOncology as a whole?
Having a capital partner for a physician-led organization … will allow us to invest capital in technology, in growing the organization and potentially growing relationships with other providers, both locally and certainly nationally. It will allow us to invest in other parts of the oncology enterprise and expand [our focus] on the entire continuum of cancer. This is something that the leadership is very interested in, including prevention and early diagnosis all the way through survivorship and palliative care. So, investing in the entire cancer trajectory is important to us and [helped by] having these resources.
How will OneOncology use technology?
One of the things that OneOncology will be doing is setting up a whole informatics infrastructure and is currently recruiting a CIO. I’m sure that having that kind of expertise, which is beyond any given practice to do on its own — even large practices like us and Tennessee Oncology — will allow us to invest in innovative technologies that are coming out now.
The informatics piece is very important. We’re all going to be working on one [electronic medical records] platform, and part of the money will be invested in building tools to allow that platform to be responsive to what we need for dashboards and quality measures, so we can deliver high-quality care.
Can you give an example of some of the more innovative technology that’s coming out now?
Artificial intelligence is now moving into medicine, [and] we’re very interested in exploring ways we can use AI to make better decisions about patients. One example of that is Watson Health. And, there are many other people … who are developing new ways to use technology to help take better care of patients. In addition, we will be investing in in technology for imaging and new advances in that area.
What will cancer care look like at West Cancer Clinic with the partnership with OneOncology?
The patient care we deliver will only be enhanced and won’t change. We’ll be working across practices to identify the best practice of each of the groups. One group may do something a little better in one area — they may have a strategy to keep patients out of the hospital — and another group may have a pathway that works better for all of us in terms of how we treat a complex cancer over multiple lines of therapy. By sharing our best practices, the individual treatment of our oncologists here will be elevated. From having technology tools — which will help us identify the best treatment — we’re also positioning OneOncology … to deliver higher quality and therefore better value treatments to our patients, which will allow us to also work with payers in a more favorable way.
How does the OneOncology partnership move toward attaining a National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation, how does the influx of capital help, and how will the capital be distributed among the group?
The [distribution of] capital will be decided jointly between OneOncology [members]. One of the things we discussed before deciding to do this was whether they would be in favor of us continuing our local hospital and academic relationships [with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center], and they were very strongly in favor of that. We’ve been working on [the NCI designation] for a couple years already with fundraising, and it will take additional philanthropic efforts and creation of both translational research and our clinical research, which is already quite robust — but can grow even further. [We] can use capital to help that.
Do you see OneOncology bringing in more physician groups?
OneOncology is carefully evaluating additional groups to join. This is just the beginning. Potentially, there could be other groups regionally or statewide. … There’s a strategy to roll out nationally over time but in a careful and considered fashion. We want to have practices that are innovative, that are here for the long haul, that are committed to patient-centered care and to building all of the components that entails.