Mergers and acquisitions are the norm rather than the exception in the business world, but in the healthcare space, industry consolidation trends have risen exponentially in recent years.
Definitive Healthcare, the leading provider of intelligence, analytics and data in the healthcare market, cited mergers and acquisitions as the top trend in 2019.
One of the rationales at the forefront of healthcare consolidation is clinical standardization to reduce costs and improve quality. Another justification is the support that smaller hospitals receive in shouldering the financial risk of a value-based payment system.
What happens to quality of care in a healthcare organization merger?
Hospital mergers and expansions can have both a positive and negative impact on the quality of patient care. When a smaller, independent hospital or clinic is no longer able to operate, merging with a larger organization can enable it to continue. Without the acquisition, patients served by the smaller medical practice may have suffered by losing access to care.
But a study conducted by Harvard Medical School which set out to measure the quality of care after hospital acquisitions, showed that “consolidation did not improve hospital performance, and patient-experience scores deteriorated somewhat after the mergers”.
The study showed, however that the decline in patient-experience scores were predominantly in hospitals acquired by organizations that already had a poor patient-experience score. The finding suggests therefore, that consolidation tends to encourage the spread of low-quality care, but not of high-quality care.
The role of IT in measuring quality of care
Hospital expansions, mergers and consolidations can also present huge challenges in healthcare IT. With the rise of telemedicine, it’s no surprise that technology has the proven capability of improving performance in healthcare delivery, increasing patient safety and strengthening the interaction between patients and practitioners.
- Smartphones, tablets and computers are now providing superior communication and accessibility for both practitioners and patients.
- Cloud-based medical information systems are allowing hospitals to provide a more holistic and streamlined approach to healthcare delivery through collaboration.
- Electronic storage and data collection systems are saving costs, time and lives.
- Call centers are an important part of an integrated health care delivery system. Nurse advice lines, triage management, and disease advice programs can create more co-ordinated patient care, easing the burden on both physicians and administration.
The mammoth task of IT integration
When healthcare practices integrate, there may be differences in computer systems, communication networks and software in use at each location. In addition, a healthcare facility with a smaller emphasis on technology may have a very difficult time integrating with a more advanced partner. Collaboration between IT teams is crucial. Monitoring and troubleshooting the entire new infrastructure is an important part of the integration process.
Challenges facing IT teams include:
- Creating a data map for both the merging organizations. This includes an inventory of all the applications and systems.
- Updating complex infrastructures to the same platform.
- Merging and restructuring all patient data and records like the Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems.
- Training all users on the new combined system.
Is Hyperconvergence the answer?
In a merger and acquisition the resulting scenario might result in a fragmented system, with several separate data centers, sometimes even managed by their own IT organizations. But hospitals can reduce data center complexity and increase scalability by combining computing, storage and networking in a single system.
John Grieco, CTO of the University of Vermont Health Network says that healthcare organizations can simplify their IT architecture with HCI.
“We are working to take years of patchwork environments and move those workloads onto a simplified, cohesive reference architecture,” he says. The number of healthcare mergers and expansions are increasing every year.
The future of healthcare, particularly due to the increasing incidence of mergers and acquisitions depends on collaboration.
Third party monitoring and troubleshooting solutions can help you manage communications systems, create better quality of care, and prevent avoidable issues that lead to a negative patient experience.