Healthcare News & Insights

Considering a merger? Pay attention to 3 potential safety risks

As the healthcare industry changes, there’s always the possibility your facility will merge with another. Maintaining a hospital or health system is expensive, and pooling resources can help counteract some of the costs. However, those mergers may cause more than just administrative headaches – they might actually impact patient care. 

Because consolidations often bring about changes in patient populations and facility infrastructure, safety risks may increase.

New research in the Journal of the American Medical Association discusses the three types of significant patient safety concerns that may occur during mergers or system expansions.

Safety impacts

Those three risks are:

  1. After system expansion, the general volume of patients seen at hospitals may increase. In addition, more patients with demographics or conditions that are new to a specific facility may be seen, which can cause problems if your staff members aren’t prepared. For example, a merger could bring in more Spanish-speaking patients, and if there aren’t many providers or nurses who speak Spanish, your hospital might have a crisis on its hands. Consider adjusting staffing and department capacities to account for areas that may see more patients.
  2. When a merger occurs, there could be significant changes in supplies, equipment, protocols and information systems. Users who aren’t familiar with the new methods are more likely to make errors and possibly affect patient safety. Make sure everyone is trained on the new procedures and systems, and emphasize the importance of double- and triple-checking order forms for tests or medication requests until workers adjust to the new normal.
  3. Providers, especially specialists, are often asked to travel to new practices or hospitals after an expansion. Because they’re unfamiliar with the new settings, problems can occur. So remind them to always ask if they’re not sure of the proper clinical protocols, and when possible, allow them to spend time on-site beforehand to get familiar with new facilities.

No matter the benefits of expansion, patient care and safety must be prioritized both during and after the transition.

Preparation for the future

Prepare hospital employees for any possible changes, especially when they relate to direct interactions with patients. You can host training sessions on a variety of issues that may arise, including dealing with diversity.

If you’re not doing so already, meet with executives from the facilities or systems you’ll be merging with and discuss your respective values when it comes to hiring, managing and patient care. This’ll clear the air and ensure there’s no confusion about your commitments to safety and managing risk.

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