When the Federal Trade Commission asks hospitals for additional information about a proposed merger, it is never welcome news. At best, a "second request" for information means the deal isn't sailing past the federal government's antitrust net without a major information-gathering effort. At worst, it is the prelude to litigation that could prevent a merger.
Most hospitals keep a low profile during the dreaded review period. But not CGF Health System, a regional system proposed last year by three Buffalo, N.Y., hospitals: Buffalo (N.Y.) General Health System, Children's Hospital of Buffalo and Millard Fillmore Health System. CGF's spin doctors released a statement twisting the FTC's probe into positive news: "Health Care Merger Continues Forward: Filing With Federal Government Moves to Next Phase."
CGF announced the investigation to the media because of the deal's size and importance to the community, says John E. Friedlander, the system's president and chief executive officer. "I would have been shocked and amazed if the FTC hadn't reviewed this," he adds.
The strategy seems to have worked. Neither the Buffalo News nor Business First, a local business journal, gave the story much ink. "Both papers have been strongly supportive of the merger," Friedlander says.
New constituency. When newly public Premier Research Worldwide told stock analysts to expect disappointing earnings this quarter, President and Chief Executive Officer Joel Morganroth, M.D., showed he has a lot to learn about doing the Wall Street shuffle (May 12, p. 26).
During a damage-control conference call with analysts and reporters, Morganroth said the clinical research company, owned in part by the Premier hospital alliance, was spending more despite selling less because we "don't want to tarnish our reputation" with customers.
Analyst Greg Goldberg at Prudential Investments, Newark, N.J., shot back: "Now that you're a public company, you have to maintain your reputation with us."
Moving violation. A true story, related by Donald M. Berwick, M.D., to a St. Louis conference of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, of which he is president:
Berwick was visiting a hospital two weeks before a scheduled survey by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. As he walked down the hospital's corridors, the facility's chief executive officer exclaimed, "Gee, there's a lot of clutter in these halls. We could get written up for this by the Joint Commission."
"Yes, I know," Berwick said. "What are you going to do?"
"We've got it solved," the CEO replied. "We've hired a moving company. We're going to load all this junk in a couple of trucks and drive around the city for two days while the Joint Commission is here." And the CEO wasn't kidding.
Quotable. "We need scientific studies to show that love heals. That's the only way you can prove it to our profession. It took a few million dollars to prove that smoking is harmful. It will take a few million dollars to prove that love heals."
-Deepak Chopra, author of the best-seller Ageless Body, Timeless Mind and a new book, The Path to Love.
Annual reports go high, low tech.It's annual report season, which means Outliers has thumbed through a number of the drier-than-dust variety. So it was a welcome treat to find a CD-ROM edition tucked in the back of Hackensack (N.J) University Medical Center's printed version, and a decidedly low-tech alternative from Blue Shield of California.
The CD records some of Hackensack's most colorful events, such as New Jersey Nets players belting out a hammed-up rendition of "Jingle Bells" at a holiday party for kids. The CD also features a clip of radio disc jockey Don Imus drumming up contributions for the medical center's C.J. Foundation for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Tommorows Children's Fund.
Less interesting are the portions that rely on a combination of cheesy graphics and canned music.
As far as Hackensack spokesman Dennis McGorry knows, it may be the first hospital annual report on CD-ROM. The medical center has distributed 10,000 CDs. The CD cost $27,000 to produce, and each copy cost $2.25.
Meanwhile, at first glance, San Francisco-based Blue Shield of California's annual report seems like an uncorrected proof, something the printer hasn't finished with. Flipping through the uncut pages, with line drawings of "six simple machines all known to the ancient Greeks"-like the lever and the pulley-it seems like a 17th-century manuscript.
Upon closer examination, it's an elegantly low-tech, two-color document whose form follows a theme of simplicity. According to Blue Shield, the seventh simple machine is the prepaid health plan or HMO. Compared with more glitzy versions of the annual report, this one cost less to produce, a company spokeswoman said. And a good thing too: Counting a one-time charge of $13 million to settle charges that employees falsified a Medicare audit, not-for-profit Blue Shield's net income fell 53% to $18.7 million in 1996 as it launched the state's first open-access plan-drawing 91,000 new HMO enrollees since last September-as well as California's first medical savings account, a Medicare risk HMO and other innovations the company counts on to improve its performance.