Christopher Snowbeck, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn. –
Heading to the Mall of America?
Feel free to put heart transplants — or at least information about them — on your shopping list.
The Mayo Clinic is extending a small portion of its organ-transplantation service for adult patients to a storefront it operates inside the Bloomington mall.
Transplant surgeries won’t actually be performed at the Mall of America, where the Mayo Clinic last year opened a retail outlet focused on health and wellness products. But the move is raising eyebrows in the local health care market, where people have questioned for years whether the Mayo Clinic will more directly compete for patients in the Twin Cities.
Starting this month, patients can schedule one-on-one consultations in the mall to learn about heart, lung, liver, kidney and pancreas transplant options at Mayo Clinic’s hospitals in Rochester.
“If there are patients in the Twin Cities area that are looking for an opinion about transplantation, we should be able to deliver that type of consultation in that venue,” said Dr. David Hayes, the lead physician on Mayo Clinic’s operation at the mall, during an interview Friday, June 8.
Adult patients already have a choice of Twin Cities hospitals that offer organ transplants.
Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis provides heart and kidney transplants, while Hennepin County Medical Center has a kidney transplant service. The University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview offers those transplants plus liver,
pancreas, lung and intestine transplants.
Dr. John Lake, the transplant chief at the U, said he’s not worried that Mayo’s outpost in the Twin Cities will pull away patients. Among other things, the U’s service offers “one-stop shopping,” he said, without the 150-mile round-trip journeys for care in Rochester.
Patients at the U and Mayo are placed on the same waiting list for organs, Lake said, so there’s no chance that patients might get quicker access to a transplant at the Mayo Clinic.
“We’re one of the oldest and most well-established services in the world,” Lake said. “We take great pride in the excellent clinical service we provide to patients.”
But some Twin Cities patients already go to the Mayo Clinic for transplant surgeries, said Hayes, the Mayo physician.
In a letter sent to physicians in the Twin Cities last month, the Mayo Clinic described the Mall of America service as “a convenient option for patients in need of a second opinion in regard to transplantation.” In addition, the consultations will provide an introduction to the clinic’s service, the letter said, and help with scheduling a transplant-evaluation appointment.
There’s also the chance that transplant patients from the Twin Cities might be able to receive some follow-up care at the mall, Hayes said. He added that Mayo doctors in Bloomington also might provide patients with “first opinions” on transplants.
Organ transplant services are a departure from the clinic’s other offerings at the retail outlet, which is called Mayo Clinic Healthy Living at the Mall of America. It includes a clinical space that looks like a standard doctor’s office in addition to a prominent storefront that sells health and wellness products.
“This is an exception,” Hayes said. “It falls out of the health and wellness arena.”
There are no current plans, he added, for other such exceptions. The Mayo Clinic is the process of experimenting to see what services might be sought out by patients visiting the Mall of America.
The mall is in the process of building a $200 million expansion, with plans for a medical office tower. Hayes, however, said that while the Mayo Clinic is considering taking space in the development, the clinic still hasn’t completely committed to the idea.
“Right now, we have a very small operation in the existing mall space,” he said. “We’re still deciding if we will have a larger space.”
The idea of providing consultations at the Mall of America for organ transplant patients makes sense, said Stephen Parente, a health economist at the University of Minnesota.
Most patients considering a transplant must wait a while before they get an organ, Parente pointed out, since they go through an evaluation process before being placed on a waiting list for donated organs. Patients, in other words, have time to shop around.
He added that Mayo Clinic’s foray into services at the mall beyond health and wellness shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a sign that the clinic is encroaching on the Twin Cities health care market. Suspicions about that intent have grown in recent years as the Mayo Clinic has taken over hospitals and opened clinics in locations near the southern edge of the Twin Cities metro area.
“If it really made sense for them to do that,” Parente said, “they would have done it already.”
Lake, the transplant director at the U, said that the vast majority of transplant patients in the Twin Cities get their care locally. Patients who travel to Rochester, he added, do so either because of a personal connection to the Mayo Clinic or because their doctor has a link to Mayo physicians.
In 2011, the Mayo Clinic performed 178 kidney transplants, 124 liver transplants and 29 heart transplants, according to federal government figures. The U, meanwhile, performed 132 kidney transplants, 79 liver transplants and 23 heart transplants last year.
Lake said he is not critical of the Mayo Clinic’s plan for transplant consultations in Bloomington, noting there’s “no restraint of trade” in the state. At the same time, the university is not about to start recruiting transplant patients in Rochester.
“I don’t think that would be money well spent … to go down to the Mayo Clinic and try to recruit patients to Minneapolis,” Lake said. “I think patients are best served being transplanted close to where their loved ones are.”