Merging Physicians in Hospital Mergers

hospital-merger

By: Jeff Cowart, BMc Consultant

A recent article in the New York Times carried the headline, “New Laws and Rising Costs Create a Surge of Supersizing Hospitals.” The article noted that the U.S. is seeing a wave of mergers, with much more activity expected over the next 5-7 years.

The merger movement is being driven by “a confluence of powerful forces” according to the NYT, not the least of which are the demands of the Affordable Care Act, changing economics, and the imperatives for traditional hospitals and health care systems to manage the health of populations.

Having served on the merger team for one system several years ago, and working now with clients expected to complete a merger over the next several months, there are also significant challenges in merging cultures. What typically gets the most focus is the integration of employees. But, equally important is the merging of physician cultures.

As larger systems create overarching principles in the areas of quality, safety, medical device use and medical staff policy, to name a few, the need for a smart, relevant and sustained communications plan for physicians becomes essential. And, frankly, many hospitals and healthcare systems have weaknesses in this area already.

Imagine the need in the context of a political warroom. There, a team of skilled and seasoned communications professionals works every day on overall message and adaptation of that message to issues and challenges of the day. They command access to a range of message distribution channels to reach the audiences and they select those channels wisely based on the context of the need. And, they monitor feedback loops to ensure that the message is getting through. They don’t see communications as an item or a task. They run a “campaign” of relevant and efficient information delivery, because the philosophy is you cannot communicate too much.

The same model is needed in hospital and healthcare mergers, or even for hospitals and systems not merging. Physicians in times of uncertainty and change have an opportunity to vote with their feet in markets where splitting practice between hospitals is an option. Making a commitment to clear, relevant and sustained communications with physicians — focused on their needs – is a key to retention and successful transition.

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