While the conventional and politically popular wisdom is that mergers hurt care access and price and quality competition, at least one physician leader believes that hospital mergers benefit patients.
John D. Birkmeyer, M.D., executive vice president for integrated delivery systems at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health and a professor of surgery at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, says the benefits come from consolidating medical records electronically and coordinating care among institutions. This, he says, eliminates redundant costs, tests and treatments.
He also says in this Harvard Business Review piece that merging facilities can help end “the persistent problem of variation in healthcare practice and outcomes, particularly in surgery.” He notes recent research that shows that thousands of Americans whose surgeries are performed by low-volume surgeons and hospitals die unnecessarily every year.
He recommends that hospitals adopt a “volume pledge,” listing 10 complex procedures “for which scientific evidence shows that surgical volume matters” as off-limits for surgeons who perform fewer than a certain number of such procedures a year. Consolidating hospitals, he argues, makes it far easier to adopt and enforce these guidelines.
How the current merger mania of health insurers might affect his argument is not clear.