Why maintaining consistency matters in health system mergers

While hospital and health system mergers have increased, literature around patient outcomes, quality and processes is lacking, according to a 2022 study led by researchers from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome, Italy. Without it, executives are often left to establish their own guidelines and learn from others' practices.

So, without a formal guide, how do C-suite leaders juggle integrating quality, experience, best practices and strategies while maintaining consistency? With patience, thoughtful discussion, approaching each step with values — and prioritizing people, leaders told Becker's.

Step 1: Solidifying the foundation

Joshua Kooistra, DO, the chief medical officer at Corewell Health in Grand Rapids, Mich., told Becker's when the system was merging Beaumont Health and Spectrum Health in 2022, a key focus was building a foundation for "common leadership." 

"Any time organizations come together, there needs to be some combination of culture," Dr. Kooistra said. The two leadership teams took part in exercises intended to tease out valuable parts of historic culture, values and best practices and move forward by molding them into a renewed, shared foundation.

Additionally, he added that doing so also created room for strategic integration to solidify best practices and allowed for "the adoption of shared goals with regional accountability for metrics we wanted to prioritize. The measurement and reporting of these metrics was also standardized on a common platform," which allowed them as leaders to "speak the same language," he explained.  

In a similar vein, when Los Angeles-based City of Hope acquired the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in 2022, Vijay Trisal, MD, the chief medical officer noted that the process benefited from taking a step back to realize the value of having "the collective intelligence of the whole," when combining systems. He said that allowed City of Hope to ultimately work closely with CTCA and "percolate into giving the best output for the patients." 


Step 2: Know you will face — and overcome — challenges

While each merger and acquisition path looks different from the next, Rick Evans, the senior vice president and chief experience officer for New York-Presbyterian Hospital, told Becker's there are key ways to navigate some of the challenges that teams may face throughout the process: Communication, connection and consistency

"Really it comes down to individual communication, the quality of interactions and team communication, and it is communicating with patients about what they want and need to know." Mr. Evans said. "You've got to be able to connect with that patient and the constellation of people around them effectively. What inspires me is that patient experience is not so much about happiness as it is about confidence. Being able to see your team create confidence when they communicate and connect in a consistent manner matters." 

Additionally, Dr. Kooistra underscored that "determining those that can be consistent should be implemented early," throughout processes as well. 

What not to do in a merger or acquisition includes not moving too quickly or slowly through the process, failing to involve key stakeholders and in some cases not prioritizing geographical differences if there are several locations, the experts said.

"I don't think they are really impediments, but you have to adjust to them," Dr. Trisal explained. "That means you have to create different ways of dealing with them. Some of those things we are still navigating and still learning from too." 

Step 3: Listen, evaluate and prioritize people

At the end of the day, resoundingly Dr. Kooistra, Dr. Trisal and Mr. Evans emphasized the importance of listening, evaluating and re-assessing methods while prioritizing people: both employees and patients.

"It's about what makes people feel at ease in our beds or on our exam tables and in our own offices — and what does that is really feeling that they're all being communicated to in a way that feels consistent, that feels like it hangs together," Mr. Evans said.

Dr. Trisal said when bringing employees together through a merger or acquisition, it is important to understand "what your people think, how they think, who they are and what matters to them." "The second part is what resources do you give them to be able to make their job easier and get out of their way? That also becomes an important component." 

Ultimately, the work of mergers and acquisitions, while complex, time-consuming and sometimes a painstaking process, is "work that can all be done in the spirit of both empathy and respect, both individually and collectively in an organization," Mr. Evans said.

Copyright © 2023 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.