The American Hospital Association's merger with the Healthcare Forum should help the AHA build bridges with community leaders and generate new revenues.
And adding the forward-thinking, team-building skills of Kathryn Johnson and her forum staff will pep up the AHA roster and its newly formed Health InfoSource.
While executive leadership training, community health education and political lobbying are worthy AHA endeavors, the association's members must focus on improving quality and patient service within the hospital. In fact, all of the AHA's touchy-feely management seminars, research projects and position papers won't amount to much unless hospitals concentrate on repairing their tattered image.
After two years of painful peeks in the mirror of public opinion, the AHA has discovered a serious erosion in confidence and trust. Instead of regarding hospitals and healthcare systems as supportive patient advocates, research indicates providers are perceived as just another cog in the corporate world of managed care.
Furthermore, the industry's image is blackened each time there's a report of a hospital failing to treat a wounded boy bleeding to death outside its emergency room or a physician demanding cash before giving epidural anesthesia to Medicaid patients in labor. Although the horror stories are isolated and often anecdotal, they draw the kind of attention that shapes public opinion.
So where to start? Sharing information with staff and the community about the hospital's strategy to improve quality is a good way to begin the healing process. But don't expect overnight miracles. A complete image makeover will occur only after sustained evidence of improved clinical outcomes, lower costs, shorter waiting times, simplified billing procedures and other efficiencies that matter most to patients.