Hospital mergers and acquisitions (M&A) are increasingly affecting the way women buy and acquire healthcare in America. Mergers and acquisitions include the consolidation of separate hospitals into a system (whether a larger hospital acquiring a smaller one or several smaller hospitals merging), as well as hospitals / health systems purchasing doctor’s offices or other provider services. It is also about the merger and acquisition of health care services such as qualified nursing practices, ambulance services, outpatient surgery centers, nursing homes, pharmacies, etc. .
Mergers and acquisitions often represent significant changes for hospitals and healthcare systems. The challenge for female healthcare consumers, who 80% of healthcare decisions in America, is to determine the pros and cons of mergers and acquisitions in their market, and then use what they know to make the best health care choices for themselves and their families. My work as CEO of Northlich, a healthcare-focused marketing agency, has given me a better understanding of the concerns many women have about the impact of mergers and acquisitions on their healthcare choices. Below are some of these concerns.
• As mergers and acquisitions give hospitals the opportunity to lower the costs eliminating redundancies often does not result in savings for patients. In fact, mergers and acquisitions tend to reduce competition in their geographic regions, which means consumers have less choice. It also means a reduced price competition, which tends to be bad for consumers.
• Full integration of a hospital or healthcare system can take a long time after a deal is struck. And a healthcare system that is not homogeneous or has poor internal communication can present challenges for patients.
• As medical practices are acquired by hospitals, more and more physicians are practicing in hospital settings. This can make navigation more difficult for consumers than independent physician-owned practices or smaller establishments.
However, many women are unaware of the potential benefits of mergers and acquisitions. Hospital and healthcare marketers have the opportunity to educate them on these points.
• When smaller hospitals merge or are acquired by larger networks, they have more access to capital, which means they can invest in modernized facilities, equipment and more staff.
• After a merger, hospitals and healthcare organizations typically standardize clinical protocols across the system. As a result, patient outcomes may improve.
• Merged systems can offer more types of services to their consumers, with the added benefit of a single Electronic Health Record (EHR) keeping track of each patient’s medical history and current needs.
• When healthcare information is digitized and consolidated after a merger, it creates richer, cleaner data sets, which can be used for research.
Consumers are right to worry about mergers and acquisitions, but marketers for hospitals and healthcare systems can ease their concerns by focusing on how the benefits will directly affect consumers. Here are just a few examples of the myriad of ways marketers can change the way healthcare buyers perceive a hospital merger:
• In a testimonial campaign, patients can share stories about how they gained easy, direct access to specialist care that improves or even saves lives following a merger. As part of my agency’s work with a rural community hospital that became part of a larger network, we used a testimonial campaign to introduce a patient who was a well-known member of the community. She benefited from the larger system’s diagnostic expertise, but was able to experience most of her treatment at her local facility near her home – a key benefit for many patients of this system.
• Television, outdoor advertising, radio, and other traditional campaign tactics are good ways to share statistics on how a recent merger or acquisition has improved patient outcomes. They can also explain what standardized protocols are and how they help patients. In my experience, while many hospitals release their post-merger rankings, statistics that speak of new and improved access to more sophisticated procedures and / or equipment stand out. Showing the care team‘s appreciation for access to these additional resources, and making the voices of front-line staff such as nurses and other providers heard, can also improve internal culture.
• Having to contact other health systems for health information can be time consuming and complicated, especially when those other systems use different EHRs or use the same EHR in a different way. Social media can be a good messaging platform to help patients understand the benefit of having all of their health information in one EHR. That way, if they need emergency or specialist care, the doctors treating them will immediately have all the information they need, including information that goes beyond dosage and warnings to include practical advice on care. Patient and caregiver approvals about working with a coordinated team that has effortless access to accurate information can be very powerful.
When a change in healthcare or in a hospital is large or complex and will affect many of its patients, the best tactic for marketers is often to help consumers view the change in a positive light. Hospital marketers are uniquely positioned to help female healthcare buyers do just that.