Hospital Mergers and Acquisitions May Harm Patient Health, At Least in Short-Term

After the rapid pace of consolidation in the healthcare industry over the past decade, many patient advocates are beginning to study the effects of these mergers and acquisitions on the quality of patient care. While many of the business executives in charge of these restructurings tout improved patient health as a benefit, it appears the opposite may be true – at least in the short-term – for many patients. The study, which was reported by STAT, found that new patient populations, unfamiliar infrastructure, and new settings for physicians caused the bulk of problems related to possible declines in patient health after a hospital merger.

Since 2014, there have been more than 100 hospital or healthcare mergers each year. Last year alone, there were 115 mergers and this trend is likely to continue. For that reason, it is important to learn about its effects on patient care. After thoroughly reviewing several randomly chosen mergers and acquisitions, STAT found a disturbing pattern of patient neglect. In two examples, a surgeon and an anesthesiologist ended up in the wrong part of the hospital after being summoned for a time-sensitive procedure. In another example, an ER doctor was given only thirty minutes of training before being put to work in an Emergency Room. According to STAT, “[The Doctor] had not been brief on how to obtain backup help in the case of an unexpected emergency.” Therefore, when multiple ambulances arrived with several critical patients, the hospital was overwhelmed and ineffective in treating the majority of patients. In all of these circumstances, the hospital had reorganized itself and not properly trained the medical staff at the hospital.

In other examples, the computer systems between the two hospitals were not fully integrated – with one patient accidentally receiving his medication twice due to the error. According to the report, an “unfamiliar infrastructure” is typically one of the most common threats to patient safety whenever a merger or acquisition occurs between hospitals or medical systems. In most circumstances, one hospital will keep their standardized supplies, processes, equipment, and protocols. The medical personnel at the other hospital are often provided little training or opportunity to get “up-to-speed.” Predictably, this can create a “trial-and-error” approach to learning – where potentially unsafe practices on the patient are often the possible “error.”

To avoid endangering patient safety through the merger and acquisition process at hospitals, patient advocates provide several guidelines. First, hospitals should increase the amount of training involved for all medical personnel. This could reduce instances where doctors are unclear about where to go or what to do in certain situations. Second, hospitals and medical centers should focus on polishing their information technology system more before implementing it across their system. With the current approach, the “bugs” in software are too often worked out on the patients themselves. While sometimes the consequences, are innocuous,  such as listing an incorrect height for a patient, other times the consequences may be more severe, such as accidentally providing a patient with twice the recommended dose of their medication.

the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC represents victims of medical malpractice in the New York area.  Please contact us to discuss your potential case.

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