There are a number of trends happening in healthcare right now that are hard to ignore. Plus, they are going to absolutely change the dynamics of healthcare as we know it. I think one of the biggest trends we’re seeing is the healthcare consolidation.
Healthcare consolidation is happening as hospitals come together and as hospitals buy up physician practices. I’ve heard some people argue that soon we’ll only have about 15 companies that own all the hospitals in the US. That seems pretty aggressive, but I think consolidation will likely amount to that many major ones with some minor ones in areas where the major corporations don’t really care.
In a lot of ways, consolidation of hospitals can be a great thing. Consolidation can often mean a lot of cost savings for the hospitals since you can merge departments and gain savings. Plus, your buying power is larger and so you can get the same goods at a lower cost. As we continue to move towards the ACO world consolidation can be a good thing as well since you need everyone involved to make an ACO a success. What better way to get them involved than to have them all in one company?
Also, if all the hospitals are under one company, then it makes for easy exchange of healthcare data between hospitals. Oh wait, for some reason healthcare still hasn’t figured this one out (Yep, we can’t even share healthcare data within a private HIE very well). Maybe this will change.
While there can be many benefits to hospital consolidation, there can also be a number of huge challenges. What if a doctor works for a hospital and they hate the EHR (or insert other reason as you see fit) that the hospital uses? If the hospital system owns all the hospitals in that area, then the doctor doesn’t have much choice. Same goes for a patient who wishes the hospital provided more advanced services. They’ll try to go to the hospital across town and find that it’s the same company and the same processes.
At that point, what incentive does the hospital system have to really truly improve? Sounds like a monopoly waiting to happen to me.
I asked someone how we stop the hospital consolidation. He said, “We don’t.” It’s a fast moving shift that can’t really be stopped. So, we just need to learn to adapt to the new environment.
It will be interesting to see how the EHR world plays out with hospital consolidation. Is a hospital system going to force a certain EHR on their acquired hospitals so they have one EHR to serve all? I bet the answer is they’re likely going to have a number of EHR software in every hospital system. This is going to require a change in mentality for many.