It’s no secret that the health care landscape in America is changing. A 2013 report from the American Hospital Association and the Center for Healthcare Economics and Policy reveals 551 hospitals were part of a merger or acquisition from 2007-2012. While mergers and acquisitions may afford practitioners added resources to adapt to changes produced by the Affordable Care Act and superior reimbursement systems, these rapid and significant changes can be scary for patients.
While it is easy to get wrapped up in the mechanics of a merger or acquisition, practitioners need to allocate resources to developing a strategic patient communications plan that puts clarity and consistency at the forefront.
Key message points are the single most important thing practitioners need to define before they break the news of a merger or acquisition to patients. Here’s why:
Let’s say, for example, that a four-doctor primary care practice is merging with a two-doctor family practice. That’s six doctors, six sets of patients, two long-running business and communication models and the list goes on. Without a framework for communicating the news of a merger or acquisition and agreed-upon core messages, one could easily end up with six variations on the same announcement. While some communication nuances are more important than others, the last thing you want is for patients to be unclear about what is happening and how they will be impacted.
Once the key messages have been defined, it’s time to loop in the entire team and make sure everyone has a clear understanding of their role in sharing these messages. Since secretaries, physician’s assistants, nurses and practice managers are on the front lines of patient communication day-in and day-out, it is critically important that they are well-versed in how to communicate about your merger or acquisition. Here are some easy ways to help them effectively communicate the news to patients and ensure they are prepared to answer any questions that arise:
• Host a lunch-and-learn where staff can ask questions about the merger or acquisition;
• Develop a ‘cheat sheet’ of anticipated questions and appropriate responses that staff can reference; and
• Conduct individual meetings with staff members to discuss their role in communicating the merger or acquisition.
Regardless of how carefully conceived the communications strategy for your merger or acquisition is, practitioners should anticipate that patients will have questions and concerns. While some patients may call the practice directly or voice concern during a future visit, others may opt to share their opinions and concerns via social media. A merger or acquisition is a busy time for all involved but monitoring one’s social media channels cannot be overlooked during this time of change. With a 2012 report by the Health Research Institute at PricewaterhouseCoopers U.S. reporting 41 percent of respondents indicated social media would affect their choice of a specific doctor, hospital or medical facility, monitoring online conversations and responding appropriately to the good and the bad is critically important for reputation management. With that in mind, do not ignore unflattering comments in the hope that nobody will see them. Further, be sure to differentiate between the comments that can be addressed with an online response and those that are best handled over the phone or in-person.
Regardless of the communication channel, it is important to operate under a ‘no surprises’ model. Be transparent with patients about everything from the two weeks your office will be closed for remodeling to the extra 15 minutes they will need to allow before their next appointment to be input into the new patient records system.
Mergers and acquisitions can be exciting opportunities to enhance a practice’s offerings and expertise. By developing a thorough, multichannel plan for sharing the news, practitioners can ensure clients are well informed and comfortable remaining a patient of the newly formed practice.
Danielle Cyr is the senior director of integrated marketing for Co-Communications, a full-service marketing and public relations agency with offices in New York and Connecticut. She can be reached at Danielle@cocommunications.com or via Twitter @DanielleCyr.