Health Care Consolidation: Communicating with Affected Communities

Remember, Health Care is Personal and Emotional

Our health care landscape is rapidly changing. Consolidation has become a matter of “when,” not “if” –and the lines between health care providers, insurance companies and retailers continue to blur. Most consumers do not differentiate between a provider and a payer. The actions of one health care organization affect the reputations of all local health care organizations. That means it’s more important than ever, not just for single health care organizations, but for the entire industry, to carefully communicate change.

It is important to remember that for consumers, health care is emotional, personal and complicated. Health care organizations are part of the fabric of their communities, and health care is, literally, a necessity. While internally closing a service line or a clinic location is framed as a business decision, patients do not see it that way. In most communities, hospitals and clinics can be some of the largest employers. In rural areas, residents realize that the availability of quality health care is imperative to the sustainability of their community.   

Most people do not have the depth of knowledge about health care delivery as those who work in the industry. So, they have no reason to expect change unless organizations lay the groundwork. As you take on that work within your organizations, here is our best advice for communicating complex change:

Bring the community along

The worst news is the bad news that no one saw coming. If you haven’t been open about your organization’s challenges and demonstrated your due diligence to find solutions, a consolidation announcement becomes an invitation for stakeholders to weigh in on how the change should happen. Demonstrate early that your organization has a need so that if an unpopular change occurs, the stakeholders in your community understand why.  

Build advocates

It’s important for local organization leaders to build strong relationships with local influencers like business leaders, community advocates and elected officials. Telling these stakeholders about your organization’s challenges gives them the full context of your decisions. They may not be fervent supporters of your organization’s point of view, but providing them with additional context will help them and the people they influence better understand why your organization needs to make its decision. On the other hand, if they’re blindsided, they’ll become your harshest critics.

Rip off the band-aid

Announce the whole change at once. This is advice we give clients in all industries. News cycles churn quickly these days – but making incremental, phased announcements mean inserting your organization into multiple news cycles.

Give complete and thorough information. Patients should never be left wondering whether or not they will be able to see their doctor.

Meet criticism with empathy

It’s likely that a decision to make changes in health care delivery will be met with criticism. Remember that health care is emotional and personal. Patients and staff may believe that changes deeply affect their livelihoods – and there’s often very little you can say that will change that perception. But accepting and acknowledging the gravity of your decision and responding accordingly demonstrates the integrity of your organization.

Health care organizations work hard every day to put patients first. In times of change, that same commitment is paramount – successfully communicating change means communicating with patients and their families, and responding with empathy.

If you have a communications challenge and are looking for help, expertise and rethinking, contact Darin Broton at dbroton@tunheim.com or 952.851.7286

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