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4 Communication Strategies During a Hospital Merger or Acquisition

As soon as any sort of management or governance deal between two hospitals or health systems is announced, anxiety among employees and physicians may develop. As the deal progresses further, rumors about the future of the organization, its employees and its stakeholders may also develop. Hospital executives need to realize that no matter what they do, rumors — both positive and negative — will spread. The best method to get ahead of negative rumors is to effectively and strategically communicate to the hospital's audience early on in the process.

"When the timing is right, the hospital leadership needs to get in front of the deal and start communicating in a strategic way to all parties in the hospital. They need to provide a mechanism for staff and other leaders to funnel questions and concerns back through the organization," says Carol Geffner, PhD, co-founder and president of Newpoint Healthcare Advisors.  

A transaction is a process for the hospital and its leaders as well as the hospital's employees and community. Hospital leaders cannot expect to control the response to the transaction, but they can control how they communicate the deal. According to Dr. Geffner, hospital leaders need to form strategic communications plans with multiple deliverables, outcomes and objectives. Plans need to be developed at the beginning of the transaction so communication can begin before the deal is signed and sealed, Here are four tips to help hospital leaders create effective, strategic communications.

1. Communicate the shared vision. Communicating the shared vision and goal of the transaction will help employees and other stakeholders to understand and accept the deal. "It is part of the leader's job to help paint the shared view of the future. This is where we are going. We understand it is different. You may or may not like it. We are committed and want to help you understand the goal," says Dr. Geffner. The hospital leaders should already have the vision laid out, so it will just be a matter of sharing those ideas with the hospital's audience.

2. Utilize the communication continuum. The rule of thumb with communication is to use as many mechanisms and vehicles that fit the circumstances as you can. In order to combat negative feelings and rumors as well as pushback from stakeholders and employees, hospital leaders should utilize the whole spectrum of communication, according to Dr.. Geffner.

"On one end of the spectrum, the CEO could send out periodic mass emails to share progress and occurrences with the hospital. As you move up the continuum, you would have small meetings between key hospital executives and leaders. Further down the continuum, the hospital would hold larger town hall meetings where the executives can meet with all the departments," says Dr. Geffner. Hospital leaders should utilize each area of the continuum when the timing is right to ensure that there is appropriate communication at the appropriate time.

3. Consider social media. Social media may be a valuable tool for hospitals to communicate to the community during a transaction, but the applicability of social media does depend on the hospital and its situation. "If it is a larger hospital and it has an established social media presence, it may want to use social media as an asset. Usually, this tool would not be used until the transaction is closed," says Dr. Geffner. Social media can be effective for responding to and mitigating community and employee concerns. However, best practices need to be implemented such as employing one individual who monitors, reads and responds to the content regularly.

4. Respond to concerns. Whatever forms the communication plan takes, hospital leaders need to include channels and vehicles to hear and respond to employee and community concerns. "Strategically communicating and providing a vehicle for a dialogue is key. This does not mean polling the staff but providing a mechanism to encourage a two-way dialogue, which will help executives learn what is on the minds of the physicians or staff — before or during the transaction process," says Dr. Geffner. Anything the hospital executives learn during this phase of the communication plan could be incorporated into the operations of the hospital post-transaction. Overall, it would be a valuable learning opportunity for the hospital leaders.

In order to manage negative — or even positive response — to a transaction announcement, hospital leaders need to form strategic communications plans. Plans should be developed early so that when the deal is signed and sealed, the communication strategy is sound. The above four tips will help leaders to begin effective communications during a merger or acquisition process.  

More Articles on Communication Strategy:

Transparency is the Key: 3 Tips to Manage Physician Opposition to a Transaction
12 Ground Rules for Communicating During a Hospital Transaction

5 Best Practices for Cultural Changes Following a Transaction

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