- A new study of mergers and acquisitions of rural hospitals found that facilities have lower patient mortality rates post-merger.
- The study, published Monday in JAMA Network Open and conducted by researchers with IBM Watson Health and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, examined 435 hospitals altogether, including more than 260 that were in a control group for comparison.
- The researchers concluded that merged hospitals had a lower patient mortality rate that continued for years after the merger was completed, and that such deals could play a significant role in improving the quality of rural healthcare services.
Mergers and acquisitions of hospitals have come under considerable criticism in recent years, and has even led to the Biden administration recently issuing an executive order demanding additional scrutiny of such deals. But they appear to have been a literal lifesaver at rural hospitals, according to the study.
The researchers compared mortality rates at 172 hospitals that had been involved in a merger between 2009 and 2016, using data from the American Hospital Association and Irving Levin Associates, which closely tracks merger activity in the healthcare sector. That was compared to payer data for more than 1.2 million patient discharges and mortality data from AHRQ that covered six different medical conditions.
Altogether, mortality rates dropped nearly 1.8% at hospitals that had completed a merger. For some conditions, such as acute myocardial infarctions, mortality rates dropped by more than four percentage points, or by nearly 50% overall.
The lower rate continued on for at least four years after the merger was executed, researchers found.
"The findings of this study regarding the positive outcomes associated with mergers in rural hospital quality challenge a common argument in prior research that hospital consolidation is likely to result in greater market power and higher prices but poorer quality," the study's authors concluded, adding that mergers appear to have different impacts on rural hospitals versus their urban counterparts.
The authors of the study suggested a followup examination of rural hospital mergers to determine if mortality rates are cut by acquisitions by large hospital systems, or if it is primarily attributable to dealmaking among regional or local facilities.