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Study Finds Quality of Care Didn’t Improve After Hospital Merges

Published on Jan 16, 2020 at 2:20 pm in Medical Malpractice.

Hospital room with three beds

In recent years, there has been a significant rise in hospital merger-and-acquisition activity. While hospitals claim the mergers benefit patients, recent evidence suggests otherwise. A January 2020 study from Harvard University researchers, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked for evidence of quality gains at 250 hospitals across the country acquired in deals between 2009 and 2013. The analysis, however, did not find any convincing evidence.

When you enter into a hospital, it’s unlikely you’re thinking about mergers, acquisitions, or executives making deals with other facilities. Instead, you’re focused on having your ailment or condition treated so you can get your life back in order. When hospital mergers get in the way of patient care, suffering patients may be able to take legal action. Let’s take a look at why hospitals merge and what a merger looks like for patients.

Understanding Why Hospitals Merge  

In 2017, the number of planned hospital and health system mergers was at the highest in more than a decade with a total of 115. There are a number of reasons why hospitals merge, but the primary rationale revolves around the financial risk associated with an emerging value-based payment system. There’s also the idea of clinical standardization to reduce cost and improve quality.

Smaller hospitals, especially those with a small but high-cost patient population, look to integrate into a larger system so they are financially viable. These hospitals believe the bigger they get, the more potential for larger payments from health plans.

From a hospital’s perspective, mergers benefit patients and the larger ecosystem of healthcare. Patients, in theory, can experience a more accessible healthcare community and health care professionals can benefit through shareable electronic records, which creates more coordinated patient care and alleviates administrative burden. The acknowledged potential drawbacks include price increases, less affordable care, and more financial responsibility for patients.

Unfortunately, hospital mergers don’t always work out as planned. Based on the study the Harvard researchers conducted, the quality of care does not improve after consolidation. Instead, it either worsens or stays the same.

When Hospital Mergers Impact Patient Care

While proponents of hospital mergers have cited research stating the quality improved in the first year of hospital mergers, the New England Journal of Medicine’s study found otherwise, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The study is one of the first large-scale efforts to look into whether mergers deliver benefits to offset higher prices associated with consolidation. In a sense, patient care becomes more difficult because of the rising cost of health care. Higher prices are a serious concern when hospitals merge. In fact, it’s estimated that prices increase six percent after mergers. This is linked to an expanded geographic footprint.

In regard to the care patients receive from health care providers, the study looked at four measures of performance collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: patient satisfaction, deaths within a month of entering the hospital, return trips to the hospital within a month of leaving, and how often some heart, pneumonia, and surgery patients received recommended care.

The patient satisfaction scores measured whether patients would give hospitals a top rating and a good recommendation. The results, which show scores worsening at acquired hospitals, are based on patient surveys tied to payment by Medicare, if providers communicated well, and how often patients got help when they wanted it. The drop in satisfaction was primarily at hospitals that had lower scores prior to being acquired.

In regard to rates of death and return trips, the rates remained the same before and after mergers occurred. The results for how often heart, pneumonia, and surgery patients received recommended care were inconclusive.

What Happens When Patients Are Harmed?

Hospital mergers can put unneeded stress on physicians, nurses, and other health care providers. When this happens, it’s more likely for someone to make a mistake. If a doctor makes a mistake and it’s discovered negligence was involved, they can be held accountable for their actions through a medical malpractice claim.

Hospitals can also be held accountable for negligence as an entire entity. If a merger leads to a reduction in the quality of care a patient receives and they sustain wrongfully sustain injuries, a personal injury lawyer can improve their chances of recovery by helping them seek compensation for their losses. To learn more about what steps to take after suffering because of a negligent doctor or medical facility, scheduled a case review with Thomas Law Offices today.