Executives at EHS Health Care were proud to be named winner of the 1994 Commitment to Quality Award. So proud, they decided to launch a small-scale public relations blitz proclaiming the honor to the media and the public.
After all, the Commitment to Quality Award is "healthcare's most prestigious quality honor," the Oak Brook, Ill.-based hospital system said. The Health Care Forum, which sponsors the contest, said the award is to healthcare what the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award is to corporate America. San Francisco-based Health Care Forum is a healthcare education and research group with 752 organizational members and 390 individual members.
"Winning the award is a tribute to the teamwork that's going on throughout EHS," said Richard Risk, EHS' president and chief executive officer, in a May press release.
Yet through all its self-congratulating, EHS executives failed to mention one small detail behind the Commitment to Quality Award: Of the thousands of hospitals and healthcare systems qualified to participate, only 15 entered the contest.
To its credit, EHS won-over a total of 14 other contestants.
If that sounds too challenging, imagine the sense of accomplishment executives at Henry Ford Health System must have felt after being named winner of the first National Quality Health Care Award last year for excellence in improving healthcare delivery while controlling costs.
The Detroit-based healthcare system beat out three other systems to capture the not-so-coveted award presented by the National Committee for Quality Health Care.
And then there are the 1994 Global Awards-the first international awards competition for print, radio and video healthcare marketing campaigns.
Unlike the contests mentioned above, the Globals offer prizes in 76 major categories and bestow "Global Grand Awards" in an additional six categories.
Healthcare marketers can enter as many of the 82 award categories as they want in exchange for a $100 single entry fee, $150 campaign entry fee or a $250 mixed-media entry fee.
But don't start working on your acceptance speeches just yet. The first Global Awards doesn't include a presentation ceremony. However, organizers said they hope to mount an exhibit of the winners, which may travel to various advertising centers throughout the world.
Attention healthcare executives: Chances are you or your institution has won some type of healthcare-related award. And if you haven't, there's a good possibility you eventually will.
Clearly, many healthcare awards serve a legitimate purpose by recognizing excellence in individuals, facilities and organizations. They also provide valuable services, such as aiding fund raising, boosting corporate morale and highlighting exceptional work for others to emulate.
However, healthcare today boasts hundreds of contests that hand out virtually thousands of awards to hospitals, healthcare systems, service providers, CEOs, chief financial officers, chief information officers and physicians.
Simply put, there's an awards contest out there for everyone to win. All you have to do is look.
We did. And what we discovered was slightly embarrassing, for several reasons:
First, every group affiliated with healthcare-from individual hospitals to national trade associations to publications including MODERN HEALTHCARE (See story, p. 28)-sponsors one or several awards contests.
Second, because of the increased number of contests, winning a healthcare-related award has become relatively common. Entry often requires nothing more than an up-front application fee.
Third, and perhaps most relevant, is that the U.S. healthcare system-with its out-of-control costs and 37 million uninsured-may not be deserving of such acclaim, at least at this point in history.
After all, overhauling the current financing and delivery system is the No. 1 priority of the Clinton administration.
Admittedly, the growing number of awards contests isn't the cause of the challenges that plague healthcare. Nor are the contests symbolic of what is wrong with the industry. But the proliferation of healthcare awards suggests that the industry is becoming far too satisfied with its own sense of accomplishment-satisfied to the point where awards champion mediocrity rather than reward the exceptional.
The following is a breakdown of several healthcare awards contests identified by MODERN HEALTHCARE. While there is no one source that collects data on the aggregate number of healthcare awards, some of the industry's largest contests are included here. Are there too many? You be the judge.
Enter and win. Perhaps the group that best illustrates the rapid growth of healthcare-related awards is healthcare marketers.
Not including the 82 awards handed out at this year's Globals, MODERN HEALTHCARE discovered several major awards contests for healthcare marketers. And while every competition has its own criteria, judging and entrance fees, they all have one thing in common: Each program doles out dozens of awards to participants.
For example, the American Hospital Association's Society for Healthcare Marketing and Public Relations' annual Touchstone Awards program handed out 77 prizes from 530 entries this year for excellence in healthcare marketing, the society said.
Categories included print advertising, radio advertising, television advertising, annual reports, audiovisual, community relations and outreach, employee communication projects, and marketing as a total effort.
By comparison, the Academy for Health Services Marketing's Academy Awards program offers gold, silver and bronze awards in 11 categories while its Flashes of Brilliance competition awards gold, silver and bronze distinctions in 14 categories.
Categories include community and public relations, internal marketing, marketing communications over $25,000, marketing communications under $25,000, marketing communications over $100,000, marketing innovation, marketing research and total marketing plan.
Last year, the group's Academy Awards program gave prizes to 31 organizations.
Academy officials couldn't be reached for comment. The AHSM recently changed its name to the Alliance for Healthcare Strategy and Marketing.
The Catholic Health Association's annual Spirit Awards, which recognize excellence in communications for its member organizations, this year gave a total of 76 awards: 20 gold, 24 silver and 32 honorable mentions.
There are also the In-Awe Awards sponsored by the Medical Marketing Association. The MMA, a San Francisco-based organization that represents healthcare marketing and public relations concerns, in June doled out 147 awards-47 gold, 47 silver and 53 certificates of merit-in Palm Springs, Calif. Nearly 1,000 entries were considered.
Overall, there were winners in 48 professional and consumer categories, the association said.
"Healthcare is a greatly unsung industry," said Joseph Doyle, president of Baxter, Gurian, Mazzie, a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based healthcare public relations firm that helped organize the 1993 In-Awe Awards. "This type of award exists so that people within the industry receive recognition for the work that they do."
That opinion is popular among sponsors of awards programs. So much so that organizers of the Malcolm Baldrige Award-considered by many to be the top award for quality among businesses-has developed a pilot project award category for healthcare, officials said.
Beginning in 1995, healthcare organizations will be encouraged to fill out applications for the award. However, an actual award won't be presented until 1996, on the condition that enough hospitals are interested, said Mary Bostwick, a healthcare specialist with the awards.
But before that happens, Baldrige organizers first must determine how much they will charge healthcare organizations to enter the contest. The Baldrige Award gives annual prizes in three business categories: manufacturing, service and small business. Application fees range from $4,000 for the management and service companies to $1,200 for small businesses.
However, "the Baldrige criteria are effective in helping organizations assess and improve management," Ms. Bostwick said. "It's the criteria that is most valuable for (contestants)."
The award has been in existence since 1987.
The purpose of awards.Not
surprisingly, sponsors of awards programs don't believe healthcare is besieged with too many contests.
"I'm not bothered by the number of awards in healthcare," said Thomas Dolan, president of the Chicago-based American College of Healthcare Executives. "My sense is that healthcare is a field where a lot of people make great sacrifices to serve others-and awards recognize that fact."
The ACHE sponsors three major healthcare awards: the Gold Medal Award for members who demonstrate distinguished service in management, the Robert S. Hudgens Memorial Award for executives under 40, and the Honorary Fellowship award presented to nonmembers who have demonstrated a commitment to excellence within the field.
The college also sponsors eight additional awards for its members each year, ACHE officials said.
Ron Anderson, M.D., president and CEO of Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas-this year's winner of the Foster G. McGaw Prize for excellence in community service-concurred with Mr. Dolan's perspective.
"An award (such as the McGaw Prize) sometimes does lead to a ripple effect within the healthcare community," Dr. Anderson said. Recognition may spur other hospitals to create similar programs.
Of greater concern to Dr. Anderson is the increase in the number of "best hospital" lists created by consumer and trade publications. These lists don't always base their conclusions on reliable data and may unintentionally mislead consumers into believing that a hospital is more or less qualified for recognition than it actually is. "Those kind of things are nutty and aren't the kind of things we need," he said.
What the industry could use, Mr. Dolan and Dr. Anderson said, is awards contests that showcase accomplishments occurring at state and regional levels, where many of the changes in healthcare delivery are taking place.
Eyes on the prize. The Foster G.
McGaw Prize is perhaps the one award that most healthcare professionals would consider beyond reproach, executives said. But should it be?
The McGaw Prize is a $75,000 annual award presented since 1986 by the Baxter Foundation and the AHA to hospitals that demonstrate excellence in serving their communities. Each finalist receives a $10,000 prize.
The award is given to a U.S. hospital that shows commitment to community service through innovative programs that expand access to healthcare.
Yet even this contest has a reappearing cast of contestants.
For example, Dr. Anderson's Parkland Memorial Hospital, winner of this year's prize, was a runner-up in 1993.
In addition, Mount Sinai Hospital in Hartford, Conn., a finalist in 1986, won the award the following year. Mount Zion Medical Center in San Francisco was a finalist for the award in 1989 and came back to win in 1990. Mount Sinai Hospital Medical Center of Chicago, a finalist in 1987 and 1988, won the prize in 1992.
The reoccurring group of contestants appears to constrict the event, considering the total number of community hospitals nationwide.
"Why are the same people applying? They want the prize," said Patricia Morgan, executive director of the Baxter Foundation. "The Foster McGaw award is the most coveted award in the hospital industry. It plants a seal of approval on the hospital's work (toward community service).
"Creating the award in 1986 was a way to give recognition to hospitals that went above and beyond the call to serve its community," Ms. Morgan said.
Scores of hospitals request information on the McGaw Prize each year, she said. However, many of them never complete the entry form, which is considered to be one of the most thorough and complicated of its type.
In many cases, hospitals that complete the form once find it easier to resubmit applications year after year, Ms. Morgan said.
However, that doesn't mean hospitals that win the award aren't deserving, she said. All applicants are judged by a panel consisting of a cross section of healthcare experts, she said.
And just what did each winning hospital do to be worthy of the $75,000 prize?
Quite a lot, as in the case of Chicago's Mount Sinai Hospital Medical Center, winner of the 1992 award.
Key to the hospital's winning the award was its role in establishing a multihospital partnership on the city's West Side to help improve care for Medicaid patients.
"Our survival is directly linked to our fierce dedication to our mission," said Benn Greenspan, Mount Sinai's CEO, in a 1992 press release. "That mission, which reflects our vision of what the community is and can be, commits us to making life better for the poor and disenfranchised of our city. After all, if the community fails, we fail as well."
The hospital's West Side Health Partnership was well received in the community and did achieve its primary goal of improving healthcare services for Medicaid patients. However, Mount Sinai acted as a facilitator in the project rather than an originator. The hospital contributed labor and facilities to the effort, but it didn't fund start-up costs. Instead, the partnership received outside funding from the Illinois Department of Public Aid-taxpayer dollars-to run the project.
The hospital also was heralded by the prize's panel for operating one of the largest and most successful programs for women, infants and children in the state, which helped lower the infant mortality rate at the hospital.
However, the majority of funding for the project also came from the state, with the hospital providing additional professional support.
Mount Sinai donated $500,000 in cash for consulting services and real estate purchases, $500,000 in staffing, and $700,000 in fund raising-all of which occurred during a 10-year period, executives said.
While Mount Sinai should be commended for working toward improving healthcare in an impoverished community, it did so without damaging its own profits. In 1993, the hospital showed a surplus of $3 million on total revenues of $273 million.
Creative contests.While healthcare may be deluged with awards, it has been home to some of the more imaginative contests.
A case in point: Staff Care, an Irving, Texas-based physician staffing service, sponsored the first Country Doctor of the Year award in 1993 as a way to recognize the efforts of rural physicians, said Phillip Miller, its director of communications.
The staffing firm designed the award to honor rural physicians who demonstrate an extraordinary dedication to their patients and communities. The winner receives a Staff Care replacement physician to cover his or her practice for one week so they can go on vacation.
To ensure the contest's legitimacy, Staff Care got the Country Doctor Museum in North Carolina, the only U.S. museum of its kind, to co-sponsor the event.
Executives also decided to waive an entrance fee to encourage hospitals and communities to enter their favorite physician.
The gamble paid off. Staff Care received 350 nominations from hospitals and physicians across the country, an indication that the program was successful.
It also was a good way to add physicians and hospitals participating in the contest to its network. "It seemed to be a good way of combining our two interests," Mr. Miller said.
John Harlan Haynes Jr., M.D., a family-practice physician from Vivian, La., was the winner of the first award. Dr. Haynes had practiced medicine in his community for 27 years and was a pioneer in the development of a primary-care physician teaching program in rural Louisiana.
For Dr. Haynes, winning the award not only highlighted his accomplishments, it also shed light on the need for qualified family practitioners within rural Louisiana and other communities.
"It was the first major award I've ever won," Dr. Haynes said. "But more importantly, the award recognized the people I'm associated with who are trying to promote training of physicians in order for them to practice in rural settings. I hope (Staff Care) continues doing it."