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Rate Of Healthcare Ransomware Attacks Falls In First Half of 2018

Posted on July 12, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Most research I’ve read lately suggests that the rate of healthcare cyberattacks is at an all-time high, and that ransomware is leading the parade.

But is that really true? Maybe not. A new security report has concluded that the rate of ransomware attacks on healthcare organizations actually fell during the first half of this year, and what’s more, that such attacks trended lower during the same period.

The study, which comes from security firm CryptoniteNXT, notes that cybercriminals target healthcare because they can fetch great prices for the data by reselling it on the dark web. Also, given the complexity of healthcare networks and the high number of vulnerabilities in those networks, thieves see providers as a fat and easy target.

However, when it comes to ransomware, the landscape may be changing. CryptoniteNXT found that the number of ransomware attacks impacting over 500 patient records dropped from 19 major data breaches in the first half of 2017 to 8 major breaches in the first half of 2018. That’s an impressive 57% decrease.

The biggest reported records IT/hacker-driven breach hit LifeBridge Health, affecting 538,127 individuals. Other organizations targeted included academic medical centers, medical practices, ambulatory surgical centers, health plans and government agencies.

Meanwhile, the rate of ransomware attacks as a percentage of IT/hacking events has fallen substantially, from 30.16% during the first half of 2017 to 13.6% during the first half of this year.

On the other hand, the volume of patients affected has climbed. Roughly 1.9 million patient records were breached in the first half of this year, compared with 1.7 million records the first half of 2017 and 1.8 million records the second half of that year, it concludes.

Also, the report notes that ransomware attackers are far from done with the industry. The authors say that ransomware will still pose a “formidable threat” to healthcare organizations and that new variants such as AI-based malware will pose a major threat to healthcare organizations for the next couple of years.

To fend off hacking attacks, CryptoniteNXT recommends adopting new best practices such as moving target cyber defense and network micro-segmentation, which can address the inherent weakness of TCP/IP networks.

Some Physicians Get Personally Identifiable Information Via Texts Every Day

Posted on June 22, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

A new survey has concluded that despite efforts to better protect patient data privacy, a substantial number of providers are still getting unsecured messages that contain patient information.

The survey, which was performed by Black Book Market Research, analyze replies from 770 hospital-based users and 1279 physician practices. Researchers looked at how care teams were retaining secure communications.

The market research firm found that 30% of respondents received texts that included individually identifiable data every day. This result should curdle the blood of healthcare cybersecurity experts since I’m pretty sure most of these patients haven’t agreed to these unsecured texts.

However, both hospitals and physicians are pressing forward with platforms that protect patient data while linking teams together. The vast majority of respondents (94% of physicians and 90% of hospitals) told Black Book that mobile technology, in particular, could improve patient safety and outcomes.

The majority of respondents (85% of hospitals and 80% of physician practices) reported that they were committed to investing in secure communications platforms capable of tying together care teams, patients and families. And they’re in a hurry. In fact, 96% of hospitals expected to budget for or invest in comprehensive clinical indication platforms before the close of 2018.

That being said, 63% of study respondents said they were finding it difficult to get mobile technology buy-in from colleagues. Actually, that’s not too surprising. If you ask physicians to switch from an easy-to-use, effective tool like texting to an unknown communications platform, they’re likely to resist. They probably understand intellectually why using secure, collaboration-friendly software is a good idea, but the truth is that these platforms might disrupt physicians’ routines substantially.

Meanwhile, 90% of hospitals and 77% of physician practices that participated in the survey said they were using intrusion detection systems and secure email. However, this news isn’t that encouraging, as the majority of existing physician portals already offer secure email, and intrusion detection systems are pretty much a given by current standards.

The truth is, with healthcare data growing more valuable than ever and the threat landscape expanding rapidly, both hospitals and medical practices will need to step up their game substantially if they want to avoid security breaches. Investing in secure communications platforms is good, but it only addresses part of their security problems.

Over the long haul, both hospitals and doctors will have to get better at protecting both their mobile and enterprise data assets. There are good reasons to focus on secure mobile communications now, but providers can’t let it distract them from enterprise-wide security problems.

 

Hospital Using AI To Handle Some Tasks Usually Done By Doctors And Nurses

Posted on May 30, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

One of the UK’s biggest facilities has announced plans to delegate some tasks usually performed by doctors and nurses to AI technology. Leaders there say these activities can range from diagnosing cancer to triaging patients.

University College London Hospitals (UCLH) has signed up for a three-year partnership with the Allen Turing Institute designed to bring machine learning to bear on care, a project which could ultimately spark additional AI projects across the entire National Health Service. The NHS is the body which governs all healthcare in the UK’s universal health system.

UCLH is making a big bet on artificial intelligence, investing what UK newspaper The Guardian describes as a “substantial” sum to develop the infrastructure for the effort.

UCLH officials believe — like other health organizations around the world — that machine learning algorithms may someday diagnose disease, identify people at risk for serious illness and more. Examples of related projects abound. Just one case in point is a project begun in 2016 by New York-based Mount Sinai Hospital, which launched an effort using AI to predict which patients might develop congestive heart failure and offer better care to those who have already done so.

Professor Bryan Williams, director of research at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said the move will be a “game changer” which could have a major impact on patient outcomes. “On the NHS, we are nowhere near sophisticated enough,” Williams told The Guardian. “We’re still sending letters out, which is extraordinary.”

UCLH’s first AI effort, which is already underway, is intended to identify patients likely to miss appointments. Using existing data, including demographic factors such as age and address plus outside factors like weather conditions, researchers there have been able to predict with 85% accuracy whether the patient will show up for outpatient visits and MRIs.

Another planned project includes improving the performance of the hospital’s emergency department, which, like many NHS hospitals, isn’t meeting government performance targets such as maximum four-hour wait times. “[This is] an indicator of some of the other things in the entire chain concerning the flow of acute patients in and out of the hospital,” UCLH chief executive Professor Marcel Levi told the newspaper.

The hospital envisions solving its wait-time problem with machine learning. Drawing on data taken from thousands of patients, machine learning algorithm might be able to determine whether a patient with abdominal pain suffers from severe problem like intestinal perforation or a systemic infection, then fast-track those patients. This kind of triage is generally performed by nurses in hospitals around the world.

That being said, the partners agree that machine learning performance must be incredibly accurate before it has any major role in care. At that point, it will be ready to support clinicians, not undercut them. According to Professor Chris Holmes of The Alan Turing Institute, the whole idea is to let doctors do what they do best: “We want to take out the more mundane stuff that’s purely information driven and allow time for things the human expert is best at.”

In The Aftermath Of Sutter Health EMR Crash, Nurses Raise Safety Questions

Posted on May 24, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

In mid-May, Sutter Health’s Epic EMR crashed, accompanied by other technical problems. Officials said the system failures were caused by the activation of the fire suppression system in one of their IT buildings.

As you might expect, employees at locations affected by the downtime weren’t able to access patient medical records. On top of that, they didn’t have access to email or even use their phones. In addition, the system had to contact some patients to reschedule appointments.

On the whole, this sounds like the kind of routine issue which, though embarrassing, can be brought to heel if an organization does the disaster planning and employee training on how to react to the situations.

According to some nurses, however, Sutter Medical Center may not have handled things so well. The nurses, who spoke on condition of anonymity with The Sacrament Bee, told the newspaper that the hospital moved ahead with some forms of care before the outage was completely resolved.

The nurses told that when some patients were admitted after the systems failure, clinicians still didn’t have access to critical patient information. For example, a surgical nurse noted that the surgical team relies upon EMR access to review patient histories and physicals performed within the previous 30 days. According to Sutter protocols, these results need to be certified by the physician as still being valid on the date of surgery.

Instead, patients were arriving with their histories and physical exam records on paper, and those documents didn’t include the doctor’s certification that the patient’s condition hadn’t changed. If something went wrong during elective surgery, the team would’ve had to rely on paper documents to determine the cause, the nurses said.

They argue that Sutter Medical Center shouldn’t have taken those cases until the EMR was fully online. “Other Sutter hospitals canceled elective surgeries,” one nurse told a reporter. “Why did Sutter Medical Center feel like they needed to do elective surgeries?”

Also, they say that at least one surgical procedure was affected by the outage, when a surgeon needed a particular instrument to proceed. Normally, they said, operating room telephones display a directory of numbers to supply rooms or nurse stations, but these weren’t available and it forced the surgical team to break its process. Under standard conditions, the team tries not to leave the operating room because a patient’s condition can deteriorate in seconds. In this case, however, a nurse had to hurry out of the room to get instruments the surgeon needed.

While it’s hard to tell from the outside, this sounds a bit, well, unseemly at best. Let’s hope Sutter’s decision-making in this case was based on thoughtful decisions rather than a need to maintain cash flow.

Let this also be an important reminder to every healthcare organization to make sure you have well thought out disaster plans that have been communicated to everyone in your organization. You don’t want to be caught liable when disaster strikes and your staff start free wheeling without having thought through all of the potential consequences.

TigerConnect Successfully Rebrands in Just 9 Months

Posted on April 16, 2018 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

Rebranding is not easy. Rebranding a well-established company that has become synonymous with a form of healthcare communication is even harder. Executing that rebrand in just 9 months while simultaneously preparing for healthcare’s biggest event – the annual HIMSS conference – is a near impossible task. Yet that’s what the team at TigerText, now TigerConnect, pulled off earlier this year.

At HIMSS18, TigerText became TigerConnect. Along with the new name came a new logo – albeit one with a clear homage to their company’s past. The new logo features a cleaner font style and a clever graphic element. If you look closely you will see that the graphic is four interlocking C’s which represent the company’s goal – Connected, Clinical, Communications, and Collaboration. The four colors are meant to represent the four different members of the care team: Doctors, Nurses, Allied Health Professionals, and Patients.

“The old brand was really about texting and compliance,” explained Kelli Castellano, Chief Marketing Officer for TigerConnect. “Not only was the word ‘text’ front and center, but our old brand also had a text box with a lock symbol as the main graphic. You couldn’t get more literal than that. When we first started, we were focused on being the best secure texting and compliance solution in the market. We sold to healthcare compliance officers and to CIOs. The TigerText brand personified that focus and it really served us well.”

But then in 2016, the company launched a new clinical workflow solution called TigerFlow.

“When we showed TigerFlow to prospects it was well received,” Castellano continued. “But people would leave the meeting wondering why their texting company was talking to them about clinical workflow. Worse, many clinicians were confused on being invited to a meeting with TigerText – a company they viewed as a technology infrastructure provider.”

By early 2017, after a few months of research and introspection, the team realized that the company name and brand was holding them back. It was simply too much to ask their target audience, which now included clinical decision makers like CMOs, CMIOs and CNOs, to see the company as anything more than a texting platform.

Castellano and the rest of the Marketing Team knew that rebranding the company would be risky. After all, hundreds of thousands of users click the TigerText logo each day on their phones to communicate securely with their peers. “TigerTexting” had even become a verb used by their customers to describe the act of sending messages through their system.

To gain buy-in and build internal momentum for a rebrand, Castellano asked her team to “do the research” and gather feedback from stakeholders including: customers, board advisors, partners and staff. They found there was consensus for changing the TigerText name.

After three months of work, Castellano and her team, with the support of Co-Founder and CEO, Brad Brooks, officially began the rebranding initiative.

It was now the end of spring 2017 and Castellano set an ambitious goal of launching the new brand at HIMSS18 – only 9 months away. “It was definitely an audacious goal,” admitted Castellano. “But we all knew that it just had to get done. Our Sales Team needed it. Our company needed it. We just had to move forward.”

Castellano allocated half of her ten person team to work on the rebrand while the other half worked on HIMSS18 pre-show marketing and building up their sales funnel. Everything came together and on March 6th the new brand was revealed.

CEO Brooks explained the new name this way: “Our new name – TigerConnect – allows us to clearly articulate the true value our solutions deliver. We connect care teams, existing data systems, and ultimately healthcare communities across a centralized and highly scalable clinical messaging platform. It is this real-time connection to data and people that dramatically improves the way healthcare organizations communicate to drive better results. We wanted that value to be reflected in our name and brand icon which are 4 interlocking C’s that represent Connected Clinical Communication and Collaboration.”

According to Castellano the reaction internally has been overwhelmingly positive. “We gave our staff a preview of the new brand in January. Everyone was very proud and happy with the new name. It was fresh and new, yet it still had a nod to our heritage and roots. Everyone felt that the new brand would allow us to better position the company and elevate the conversations we were having.”

“The reaction at HIMSS was also very positive,” noted Brooks. “The name change gave us the opportunity to talk about our story. We talked about where we had been and where we were going. It was really a lightbulb moment for visitors to the booth. We got a lot of ‘Aha…that makes sense’ comments.”

Having led three rebranding initiatives at three different companies, I applaud Castellano and her team for achieving their goal in such a short time frame. To do it on top of preparing for HIMSS is simply incredible.

It will be interesting to track the growth of TigerConnect in the years to come to see if the rebrand helps the company reach its desired financial results.

Yale New Haven Hospital Partners With Epic On Centralized Operations Center

Posted on February 5, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Info, info, all around, and not a place to manage it all. That’s the dilemma faced by most hospitals as they work to leverage the massive data stores they’re accumulating in their health IT systems.

Yale New Haven Hospital’s solution to the problem is to create a centralized operations center which connects the right people to real-time data analytics. Its Capacity Command Center (nifty alliteration, folks!) was created by YNHH, Epic and the YNHH Clinical Redesign Initiative.

The Command Center project comes five years into YNHH’s long-term High Reliability project, which is designed to prepare the institution for future challenges. These efforts are focused not only on care quality and patient safety but also managing what YNHH says are the highest patient volumes in Connecticut. Its statement also notes that with transfers from other hospitals increasing, the hospital is seeing a growth in patient acuity, which is obviously another challenge it must address.

The Capacity Command Center’s functions are fairly straightforward, though they have to have been a beast to develop.

On the one hand, the Center offers technology which sorts through the flood of operational data generated by and stored in its Epic system, generating dashboards which change in real time and drive process changes. These dashboards present real-time metrics such as bed capacity, delays for procedures and tests and ambulatory utilization, which are made available on Center screens as well as within Epic.

In addition, YNHH has brought representatives from all of the relevant operational areas into a single physical location, including bed management, the Emergency Department, nursing staffing, environmental services and patient transport. Not only is this a good approach overall, it’s particularly helpful when patient admissions levels climb precipitously, the hospital notes.

This model is already having a positive impact on the care process, according to YNHH’s statement. For example, it notes, infection prevention staffers can now identify all patients with Foley catheters and review their charts. With this knowledge in hand, these staffers can discuss whether the patient is ready to have the catheter removed and avoid related urinary tract infections associated with prolonged use.

I don’t know about you, but I was excited to read about this initiative. It sounds like YNHH is doing exactly what it should do to get more out of patient data. For example, I was glad to read that the dashboard offered real-time analytics options rather than one-off projections from old data. Bringing key operational players together in one place makes great sense as well.

Of course, not all hospitals will have the resources to pull something off something like this. YNHH is a 1,541-bed giant which had the cash to take on a command center project. Few community hospitals would have the staff or money to make such a thing happen. Still, it’s good to see somebody at the cutting edge.

Apple Trials Tech Offering Patient Access To Their Health Records

Posted on January 29, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

In recent times, tech giants have been falling over themselves in a race to offer consumers the best access to their health data, including even dark horses like Amazon. And it’s little wonder – it’s become increasingly obvious that he who controls patient health data access controls a critical sector of the entire healthcare industry.

The most recent stake in the ground comes from Apple, whose latest update to its Health app allows customers to see their medical records on their iPhone. The Health Records section of the Health app, which comes with the release of the iOS 11.3 beta, collects FHIR-based records from multiple sources and makes them available through its Health Records section.

The patient data display will pull together patient data from various healthcare organizations into a single view. The data will include lists of allergies, conditions and medications taken, immunizations records, lab results on procedures and vital sign information. When providers published new information, iPhone users will be notified.

To conduct its Health Records beta test, Apple has partnered with a number of high-profile health systems and hospitals, including Johns Hopkins Medicine; Cedars-Sinai; Penn Medicine; Geisinger Health System; UC San Diego Health; UNC Health Care; Rush University Medical Center; Dignity Health; Ochsner Health System; MedStar Health and OhioHealth.

As part of its launch, Apple told the New York Times that unless consumers specifically choose to share it with the company, it will never see the data, which will be encrypted and stored locally on the iPhone.  A recent (if unscientific) poll suggests that consumers trust Apple with their health data more than other top tech vendors, so this reassurance may be enough to ease their fears.

But security is hardly Apple’s biggest concern. How does the tech colossus expect to profit from its health data investments?  When I break the issues down, it looks like this:

  • Unlike hospitals and clinics, which can expect medium- to long-term ROI when patients manage their health better, Apple doesn’t deliver care.
  • Apple might want to sell anonymized aggregated patient data, but as far as I know, the company would still have to get patient permission, and that would be an administrative and legal nightmare.
  • If Apple or its competitors have some vision of selling access to the patient, good luck with that. Providers have a hard time attracting and keeping patients with nifty technology even if those patients live in their backyard.

While I could be missing something major, from what I see, Apple, Google, Samsung, Amazon and the rest are engaging in a series of preemptive patient data land grabs. My sense is that none of them know exactly what to do with this data, they’ll be damned if they’re going to let their competitors get there first.

That said, many in the industry are suggesting that this move is just another effort by Apple to sell more iPhones. The question I ask is how valuable will the information be to the patients? Certainly the beta hospitals and health systems are large and have a lot of data, but how is this going to scale down to the smaller providers? If you don’t have these smaller providers, then you’re going to be missing some of the most important health data.

Roche, GE Project Brings New Spin To Clinical Decision Support

Posted on January 10, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

The clinical decision support market is certainly crowded, and what’s more, CDS solutions vary in some important ways. On the other hand, one could be forgiven for feeling like they all look the same. Sorting out these technologies is not a job for the faint of heart.

That being said, it’s possible that the following partnership might offer something distinctive. Pharmaceutical giant Roche has signed a long-term partnership deal with GE Healthcare to jointly develop and market clinical decision support technology.

In a prepared statement, the two companies said they were developing a digital platform with a difference. The platform will use analytics to fuel workflow tools and apps and support clinical decisions. The platform will integrate a wide range of data, including patient records, medical best practices and recent research outcomes.

At least at the outset of their project, Roche and GE Healthcare are targeting oncology and critical care. With a pharmaceutical company and healthcare technology firm working together, providing tools for oncology specialists in particular makes a lot of sense.

The partners say that their product will give oncology care teams with multiple specialists a common data dashboard to review, which should help them collaborate on treatment decisions. Meanwhile, they plan to offer critical care physicians a dashboard integrating data from patient’ hospital monitoring equipment with their biomarker, genomic and sequencing data.

The idea of integrating new and possibly relevant information to the CDS platform is intriguing. It’s particularly interesting to imagine physicians leveraging genetic information to make real-time decisions. I think it’s safe to say that we’d all like it if CDS systems could bring the rudiments of precision medicine to thorny day-to-day clinical problems.

But the truth is, if my interactions with doctors mean anything, that few of them like CDS systems. Some have told me flat out that they end up overriding many CDS prompts, which arguably makes these very expensive systems almost irrelevant to hospital-based clinical practice. It’s hard to tell whether they would be willing to trust a new approach.

However, if GE and Roche can pull off what they’re pitching, it might just provide enough value it might convince them. Certainly, creating a more flexible dashboard which integrates data and office workflows is a large step in the right direction. And it’s probably fair to say that nothing like this exists in the market right now (as they claim).

Again, while there’s no guaranteed way to build out useful technology, bringing a pharma giant and a health IT giant might give both sides a leg up. I wonder how many users and patients they have involved in their design process. Let’s see if they can back up their promises.

Hospitals Puts Off Patient Billing For Several Months During EMR Rollout

Posted on January 6, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Here’s something you don’t see every day. A New Hampshire hospital apparently delayed mailing out roughly 10,000 patient bills going back as far as 11 months ago while it rolled out its new EMR.

According to a report in the Foster’s Daily Democrat,  members of Frisbie Memorial Hospital’s medical staff recently went public with concerns about the hospital’s financial state. Then a flood of delayed patient bills followed, some requesting thousands of dollars, the paper reported.

Hospital officials, for their part, said the delay was planned. Hospital president John Marzinzik said Frisbie needed time to implement its new Meditech EMR and didn’t want to send out incorrect bills during the rollout.

In fact, Marzinzik told Foster’s, under the previous system, records generated during doctor visits weren’t compatible with forms for hospital billing.

Rather than relying further on this patchwork of incompatible systems, Marzinzik and his staff decided to wait until the process was “absolutely clean” for patients. The hospital decided to have a staff member validate every balance shown on a statement before sending them out, he says.

Previously, in December of last year, anonymous Frisbie medical staff members sent Foster’s a letter to share concerns about the hospital and its administrators. The criticisms included skepticism about the over-budget implementation of the $13.5 million Meditech system, which they named as one of the reasons they lack confidence in the hospital administration. The staff members said that this cost overrun, as well as other problems, have undermined the hospital’s financial position.

As is always the case in such situations, hospital leaders took the stage to deny these allegations. Frisbie Senior VP Joe Shields told the paper that the hospital is in sound financial condition, and also said that the only reason why the Meditech project went over budget by $1.5 million was that the administrators delayed the implementation by seven weeks to give the staff holiday time off.

Hmmm. I don’t know about you, but to me, some parts of this story look a little bit bogus. For example:

* I appreciate accurate hospital bills as much as anybody, but the staff was going to check them manually anyway, why did it take 10 or 11 months for them to do so?

* The holidays take place at the same time every year.  Did administrators actually forget they were coming to an event that necessitated an almost 10% cost overrun?

Of course, only a small number of people know the answers to these questions, and I’m certainly not one of them. But the whole picture is a little bit odd.

Catholic Healthcare West Drops Church Affiliation

Posted on January 23, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

In a move I wouldn’t be surprised to see imitated, big religious hospital chain Catholic Healthcare West has broken its official ties with the Roman Catholic Church, though it will continue to include both Catholic and non-Catholic facilities in its flock.   The chain, which is changing its name to Dignity Health, currently includes 15 non-Catholic hospitals and 25 Catholic hospitals.

The system’s leaders have concluded that they couldn’t meet their ambitious growth targets if forced to adhere to faith-based care guidelines in all of its facilities.

According to CEO and president Lloyd Dean, who spoke to USA Today, he’s had to step away from potential deals several times when partners questioned their role in a Catholic system. This way, it should be much easier for CHW to work with other systems and acquire medical practices, observers say.

I expect to see other faith-based chains consider similar moves over the next year or two. As we’ve noted in this forum before, having to adhere to religiously-based rules can be a bit of a hassle for secular organizations, especially those that hope to compete in tight markets.  Mergers between the two sides can become a Tylenol headache very quickly.

Consider the struggles the University of Louisville (KY) went through in an effort to merge with Catholic-owned St. Mary’s Healthcare, forcing it propose build a “hospital in a hospital” to provide forbidden services. It makes my eyes water just to think about it. With health reform afoot, mergers a fact of life and new partnership models emerging every day, CHW may have done the only thing it could do.