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Healthcare M&A Links to Integration Questioned

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, July 8, 2014

In many instances in which hospitals have purchased or affiliated with others in their region, there has been little or no real integration, a pair of health policy experts contends.

Hospital leaders who say they must consolidate with their competitors and other providers to achieve integration and improve quality are misstating reality, says a Harvard health policy researcher.

Not only is integration achieved in other ways, but for the nation, consolidation drives up costs and leaves patients with fewer choices when fewer systems dominate their markets.

Hospital leaders "often are touting consolidation as the way to achieve integration, but they're really not the same thing," says Ashish Jha, MD, of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital.

In fact, he says, in many cases in which hospitals have purchased or affiliated with others in their region, there has been little or no real integration.

"There's lots of places where I've seen acquisition but no integration. Yes, you own the hospital, but you don't actually share clinical data, you don't share best practices," he says. "You're part of the same organization technically, but you still have completely fragmented systems of care."

Jha and Thomas Tsai, MD, also of Harvard, made this and several related points in an opinion piece published in JAMA July 1.

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