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Hospital to hospital partnerships

New technology and tighter budgets are bringing hospitals together in partnerships that save money and lives.In a recent article by Kaiser Health News’ Jenny Gold, in collaboration with National Public Radio (NPR), Jack Porter, mayor of Bisbee, Arizona, shares his story of how such a partnership saved him from a potentially dire outcome.

Porter was rushed to the only emergency room in town last July after awaking with numbness in his right side and slurred speech. Doctors at Copper Queen Community Hospital determined he was having a stroke and administered TPA, a clot-busting drug that can minimize the effects of a stroke when given in a tight timeframe.

Typically, rural hospitals like Copper Queen Community, rarely giveTPA because they don’t have stroke specialists on hand to help assess the situation. Instead, they have to transfer patients by helicopter to larger hospitals, such as in Tucson or Phoenix. But Copper Queen Community was able to avoid such a transfer thanks to a partnership with the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale that allows their local physicians to work with specialists remotely, even though the two hospitals are more than 200 miles apart.

Telemedicine, as it’s called, is a rapidly developing application of clinical medicine where medical information is transferred through multimedia between health care organizations or professionals to consult or aid in medical procedures remotely. Using this technology, physicians and specialists literally “video in” to the exam or operating room to help guide onsite staff.

In another partnership, Copper Queen Community Hospital is also cutting costs and improving care by merging purchasing with larger hospitals in order to purchase lower-cost medical equipment. It’s almost like going in on a Costco® membership with your sister, only for x-ray machines instead of giant vats of mayo.

Other hospitals, like the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, Tenn., are developing staff-share agreements with would-be competitors. Through this agreement, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital allows intensive care unit nurses to work in UT’s pediatric intensive care unit—doing so splits the burden of cost between the two organizations while offering patients quality care at both locations.

If your health care organization is considering partnering with other hospitals to share costs and maintain or expand services to patients, here are a few tips for communicating these programs to the community:

  • Develop key messages: Both hospitals should get the marketing and communications teams together to develop consistent messages that answer important questions:
    • Why is this partnership happening?
    • What do we hope this partnership achieves?
    • What is the benefit to the patient?

After the team brainstorms these questions, make sure they stay at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Develop an internal tagline to help staff remember key messages and imprint it on pens, note pads and signs for meeting and break rooms.

  • Decide how to best communicate partnerships to patients: Based on the target audience of the partnership communications, develop a tailored plan that will reach the most patients cost-effectively. A few ideas:
    • A press release to area media announcing the partnership and its benefits to patients and the community.
    • Television and print ads advertising any new physicians, specialists, equipment or service lines that the new partnership enables you to offer patients.
    • Direct mail letters or postcards to current patients announcing the new partnership and what it means for them. Get them excited by offering free tours, consultations or even just a free gift with the letter, like a First Aid Quikit or Med-Tracker.
    • Social media campaigns that encourage patients and community members to submit questions about the new partnership via social networks or video.
  • Measure the impact of your communications: As you market the partnership and communicate its benefits to patients and community members, keep tabs on the response and the engagement. Track website traffic, social media interactions, phone calls and emails. Once you launch the partnership, try focus groups and surveys, too, to gauge ongoing reception of the new deal.

Health care is more collaborative than ever, consider a similar model for your organization today.

Brewer, Bill. “Two Local Hospitals to Share Critical Care Nurses » Knoxville News Sentinel.” Knoxville News Sentinel: Local Knoxville, Tennessee News Delivered Throughout the Day. Web. 04 Aug. 2011.

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