Survival of the Biggest in Healthcare

In a case of a survival of the biggest, large health care organizations are getting bigger, raising eyebrows and concerns among Oregon business and government leaders who worry about the impact on prices, choices and even quality.

In a case of a survival of the biggest, large health care organizations are getting bigger, raising eyebrows and concerns among Oregon business and government leaders who worry about the impact on prices, choices and even quality.

Oregon decision makers are raising the caution flag over consolidation in the health care industry. A recent CFM/Oregon Business online survey found nearly three in four (74 percent) are very or somewhat concerned about the ongoing trend of consolidation in healthcare.

The CFM/Oregon Business online survey was conducted in April among 293 business and government managers.

While the media has focused primarily on recent mergers in the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries, a similar trend has been largely overlooked in the healthcare services market, including health systems, hospitals and physician clinics.

In the Pacific Northwest, Providence Health & Services and OHSU have significantly expanded their market footprints through acquisitions, mergers, affiliations and partnerships. Legacy acquired the Silverton Health System and Kaiser acquired Group Health. A few years ago Southwest Washington Medical Center in Clark County Washington became part of the PeaceHealth organization. Similar consolidation is occurring throughout the country.

Industry leaders tout the benefits of consolidation, citing lower administrative costs, improved efficiencies in capital investments and better quality of care and outcomes. However, Oregon decision makers aren’t sure bigger is better. In addition to being concerned about merger activity in general, decision makers think the problems associated with consolidation will outweigh the benefits in the following seven of eight areas: 

A majority of decision makers say consolidation will have a negative impact on:

· Cost of healthcare services (66 percent negative impact)

· Access to routine healthcare services in rural areas (53 percent negative impact)

· Overall customer service (52 percent negative impact)

 Managers think the impact of consolidation would more likely be negative than positive for:

· Ability to schedule appointments for routine care when you want it (44 percent negative impact)

· Overall quality of healthcare (38 percent)

· Level of respect and courtesy patients will experience (37 percent negative impact)

· Access to medical specialists (32 percent negative impact)

At best, managers were evenly divided about the range of services available (30 percent positive, 29 percent negative impact).

So what does it all mean? Healthcare providers face an uphill battle to reduce concerns about consolidation. As consolidation continues, as it surely will, organizations should develop trust and confidence by implementing these five key pieces of advice.

· Deliver on the promise of better quality of care.

· Be transparent about costs.

· Improve operations, like billings.

· Increase access and availability of care in urban, suburban and rural areas.

· Make every patient touchpoint a positive experience.

Tom Eiland is a CFM partner and the leader of the firm’s research practice. His work merges online research with client communications and engagement efforts, and he has a wide range of clients in the education, health care and transportation sectors. You can reach Tom at tome@cfmpdx.com.