Hospitals, Not Better Together

By Joshua Beltran, Research Assistant, Center for Health Equity Engagement Education and Research

As explained in this article from CBS news’s website, although there has been an increase in mergers between hospital systems there seems to be a decrease in overall quality of care as a result. Hospital mergers can occur for a few reasons, the more common being, cost reduction (for the hospital) and an effort to standardize clinical practices. However, these mergers have been shown to worsen patient experiences and lead to higher costs for patients. The article cites a study submitted to the New England Journal of Medicine as a reference point that helps explain why the dip in quality occurs. One explanation revolved around the notion that the mergers reduce competition between the hospital systems. Without competition from fellow healthcare institutions, there may be less emphasis on improvements to help acquire and retain patients. People will at some point or another need medical treatment and if only one hospital system is in an area, due to a merger then that system almost by default gets all the patients of that community. While there are exceptions, if mergers continue like this, it won’t matter which area patients opt to go to since they’ll be a part of the same system. Another possible reason for the decline is that hospitals with lower ratings for care are the one’s doing the acquiring. A focus for the mergers is to standardize clinical practices, but what if the practices that are being disseminated to the acquired system are coming from a lower standard than what was previously in place? This would lead to a drop in quality at that newly acquired hospital while it may seem normal at the other. The article further explains that the act of merging systems in itself could very well be the cause of decreased quality in care. Obviously merging two systems together involves a great deal of resources from both parties, to meet these needs some resources can be diverted away from care consequently leading to lower quality ratings. If the trend continues those with limited health care options may feel forcibly bound to a system that doesn’t treat them well. This could be detrimental to areas with a lower socioeconomic status because one system could be taking advantage of a community with no other options. Looking forward, I hope hospitals recognize they have a duty to uphold care for their patients. While competition seems to dwindle as way to force their hand, hopefully something new will be a driving force to increase quality. Overall, it may be like a good idea to consolidate resources and create cohesive networks for treatment, but shouldn’t be at the expense of quality care to patients.