The number of hospital consolidations has increased, but this trend of hospitals merging with others hasn’t necessary translated into better standards of patient care or safety.
According to a new study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, hospital mergers which are often promoted as a way for hospitals to cut costs and stay competitive may accomplish these objectives, but do little to nothing to help keep patients safer. In fact, the researchers found that the reverse was often true, and in many cases, patient care standards actually dipped at these hospitals after the mergers.
The study focused on 250 hospitals that were consolidated or acquired through mergers and acquisitions between 2009 and 2013, and found that acquisition of hospitals by other provider systems was actually associated with a slight worsening of patient experiences. There were also no significant improvements in patient readmission and fatality rates after these mergers.
There has been a wave of consolidations in the healthcare industry as smaller providers have found it more competitive to simply merge with larger provider systems. The study shows that mergers, far from being beneficial for patients, could actually mean diminished patient care.
There could be a number of reasons for the dip in patient care standards at hospitals that have recently been acquired. Mergers reduce competition, and the loss of competition could make hospitals more complacent, and less likely to invest as much in patient safety and care as independent entities. Besides, when a hospital or system that is known for shoddy patient care practices acquires another hospital, those poor practices could actuary be transferred to the acquired facility. A hospital that is focusing all its resources on a merger is also likely to neglect patient care.
Overall, the researchers believe that this wave of consolidation and the reorganization of the healthcare structure in the country to favor larger behemoths are not doing anything to keep patients safer.