My Grandmother owned a family farm, sixty miles from the city. In her later years, the family assured her quality of healthcare by traveling to the city for every medical need. Driving right past a community hospital only ten or fifteen miles from the farm. It never occurred to her or her children to go to the community hospital. I suspect this story is a common one.
Adult children have great influence over senior care decisions. They often live in the city and naturally think of familiar providers first. Big providers are always technically better than small ones. Big providers have access to a more complete range of clinical expertise or services, should the need arise. The level of intimate knowledge of big provider operations in a city is probably much lower than that of a sole community provider in a small town. There are few secrets in smaller communities!
What might be done to assure the community hospital remains viable?
- Establish regular community outreach, leveraging spokespersons from all areas and levels of the hospital to proactively raise community awareness of the hospital as a vital community asset and resource. Every week someone (besides the CEO!) should carry the hospital message to a civic group.
- Earn local confidence. Everyone knows your business so be careful to conduct operations, metrics, policy and values to high standards.
So much for the easy ones under local control. Now for the higher risk suggestions!
- Partner with the city hospital (s) that are receiving the lion’s share of “your” market. Formalize diagnostic, triage, preparatory care and post procedure care/recovery service relationships between your hospital and them. This can relieve service pressures downtown, while enabling local delivery of care consistent with “big city” practice.
- Align medical staff bylaws, training, processes, clinical language and practice between the two facilities. Work to become one, extended medical staff in the eyes of your community. Leverage electronic medical records, advanced communications, tele-medicine and other technologies to integrate care delivery and patient care services across two physically disparate venues.
- Work with your partner to have them “refer back” services that can be very well served locally. Actively “refer forward”, acting as the local front door to your partner facility. Integrate workflows and processes to assure that patients always are treated swiftly and effectively, with no bumps, delays or do overs in paperwork or care delivery.
Each partner facility wins in this scenario. The city facility reputation as a regional center of excellent, advanced and complex care is reinforced. Demand for city resources is concentrated to focus on complex cases and services, while simpler clinical services are served locally. Community confidence in quality of care at “their” hospital is enhanced as an affiliate of the regional center of excellence, adoption of common clinical practices, integration of medical staff and routine collaboration/mutual support become well recognized through patient experiences. The community hospital, acting as an extension of the city partner facility, can deliver a wide array of pre and post care services to support the patient’s needs conveniently with clinical collaboration and continuity of care.
Such a partnership agreement should clearly define and provide for verification of commitments to clinical standards, teamwork, referral discipline and mutual support. Access, convenience and effectiveness of follow up care improve for everyone. Regional facilities gain the value of geographically dispersed facility support without investing scarce capital dollars and management talent in direct ownership. Communities can be confident that “their” hospital is focused on meeting local needs soundly and appropriately. The community hospital team can take pride in effectively fulfilling a mission of community service, supported by a sound partner as patient needs dictate. Community members can heal with the support of family and friends. A “win/win”.
Investing to enable sustainability or collaboration? Striving to stay open as a community hospital? Seeking to build scale without the downside and capital demands? Engage BrightWork Advisory, LLC to help chart your course.