Health Systems Are Working to Live Up to Their Name

Jeff Goldsmith, Modern Healthcare

U.S. hospital chains call themselves “health systems.” But how many really are?

Hospitals have been rapidly consolidating across the country into large not-for-profit and for-profit companies containing dozens of hospitals and hundreds of clinics and other care sites in multiple states. 

But that doesn’t necessarily make them what experts consider an organized system of care.

A true health system uses the best scientific information to spread best practices across all its sites and produce consistently high-quality clinical results and patient experience, said Jeff Goldsmith, a national adviser at Guidehouse. To qualify as a system, the organization must actively manage the cost of care by minimizing waste and eliminating avoidable clinical complications. 

Some call that “systemness.” The acid test, Goldsmith argues, is whether patients and their families recognize the quality and consistency of the company’s product and recommend it to other people.

Critics say the growing provider chains generally have not done much to achieve consistent operational processes, clinical protocols and outcomes, and patient experience across all their facilities.

Most, they argue, are merely holding companies that collect provider assets, then use their size and market dominance to jack up prices. 

More than 27% of the 4,660 acute-care hospitals tracked by Medicare were owned by 20 hospital companies in 2017, while nearly 19% were owned by just 10 companies, according to the Modern Healthcare Metrics database. 

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