University, AU Health sign agreement to work together on cancer treatment

University Hospital and AU Medical Center have an agreement to partner on some outpatient cancer services, with the goal of boosting Augusta University’s Georgia Cancer Center into a nationally recognized status it has sought for years.

The agreement, which would cover University Medical Oncology outpatient physician practices, infusion centers and pharmacy services, would allow AUMC oncologists to co-manage those facilities at 1348 Walton Way and 450 Society Hill Drive in Aiken. Those patients would stay under the care of their University physicians, said Dr. David Hess, the dean of the Medical College of Georgia.

The partnership, which will go into effect June 1, would be overseen by a joint management committee, with each side comprising half the committee. It would affect about 50 University employees, who would then work for AUMC, but it does not include cancer diagnosis or cancer surgery services, which would remain separate.

“It’s really a win-win-win,” Hess said. It will allow University patients to have easier access to clinical trials and cutting-edge treatments at the Georgia Cancer Center while the center increases the number of patients under its care, he said. Both would help the center meet criteria needed for designation as a National Cancer Institute Cancer Center, which it has sought for years.

“You want the community to have the latest and greatest” in terms of treatment, Hess said.

“Operating cooperatively with the goal of receiving a National Cancer Institute designation means cancer patients have access to real-time research and the latest advances in diagnosis and treatment options without having to leave our community,” University CEO Jim Davis said.

The closest NCI centers are a Comprehensive Cancer Center at Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University in Atlanta and a Cancer Center at Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

The partnership will not be a noticeable change for patients, Hess said.

“It will pretty much be seamless to the patient,” he said. “They’ll have the same doctor-patient relationship.”

The physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners would continue to be employed by University, and those physicians will continue as medical directors but will be accredited at both institutions. Some, such as Dr. Mark Keaton, have worked at both in the past and are familiar to the center, Hess said. The partnership would allow University to meet some current and future changes to pharmacy and other regulations that AUMC has already had to meet, he said.

University, which traces its more than 200-year history back to its beginnings as City Hospital and served as the teaching hospital for the Medical College of Georgia for most of it, had been discussing the move with AU for a few months, Hess said. The two partnered in 2015 to create a dozen family medicine slots at University, in addition to some already in place there that MCG residents rotate through.