The InterHealth Healthcare Congress and Exposition in New York last month billed itself as "a platform for today's executives to exchange strategic information about integrated solutions in an integrated environment."
While three days of seminars were held toward that end, a leading healthcare financial guru questioned all the bother.
"Vertical integration sounds wonderful, but in reality it's difficult. Hospitals should be hospitals, medical groups should be medical groups and health plans should be health plans," said Kenneth Abramowitz, healthcare analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein Co., a New York-based securities research firm. "It's dysfunctional to put them together."
Instead, Abramowitz suggested healthcare executives should pare back rather than consolidate. "Focus on your best properties, and close marginal hospitals, offices and anything else," he said.
Abramowitz's remarks came as he chaired a session entitled, "Anticipating and Overcoming Post-Merger Acquisition and Partnership Complexities."
Fewer options. If the market sell-off is any guide, prepare for a new shuffle in the for-profit executive suite.
The dive in stock prices has rendered the options of many healthcare executives worthless. In some cases those options were the golden handcuffs holding executives in place, according to Christian & Timbers, an executive search firm.
When top executives had stock options worth millions, says Stephen Mader, Christian & Timbers' managing director, "it was difficult to move them." Making up the money the executives would lose by forsaking stock options was next to impossible for the company looking to recruit, he says.
But that has changed. "With the current dip, a lot of this paper wealth has been severely readjusted. This could be just the opening some companies need to get a top executive," Mader says.
Eye-opener. Tired of hearing the typical fare at healthcare law seminars?
If you can judge sessions by title, the 1998 Annual Medical Staff Issues Seminar Nov. 6 in Inglewood, Calif., could offer some colorful commentary.
Sessions at the conference, presented by healthcare attorney Suzanne van Hall of Evergreen, Colo., include "OK, He Sexually Molested the Patient; Now What?" and a variation, "OK, He Defrauded Medi-Cal; Now What?"
Another gem is "Do You Have the Next Dr. Swango?" According to van Hall's comments in the brochure, Michael Swango, M.D., was a physician who was convicted of poisoning his co-workers, yet still found work at hospitals around the country. Nurses and hospital personnel suspected something was awry, but never questioned Swango. "All too often, people are willing to pass the bad apple," van Hall says.
Swango is being held in a New York detention center on charges of falsifying documents.
Gaining respect. Alternative medicine is given far more lip service than service delivery by providers. But there are signs things are changing-slowly.
According to a study published in the Sept. 2 Journal of the American Medical Association, 64% of the country's 125 medical schools are offering courses in alternative medicine.
Topics range from acupuncture to massage therapy to homeopathy, which attempts to treat diseases by using tiny amounts of medicine that produce symptoms of the diseases in healthy people.
Nearly one-third of the topics were part of required classes, the JAMA study reported. Some of the most prestigious teaching institutions, such as Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University medical schools, are getting into the act, JAMA said.
Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health has dipped its toe into the nontraditional waters by funding about a dozen alternative medicine study centers across the country.
At about $400,000 each, however, the grants pale in comparison to those made by pharmaceutical companies and the NIH for investigating traditional medicine, scientists say. "We refer to this as a homeopathic level of funding," quipped David Eisenberg, M.D., director of the center for alternative research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, during an address on nontraditional medicine at the New Hampshire Hospital Association's recent annual meeting.
Read between the lice. Nothing is too small to escape the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, not even head lice.
Three makers of over-the-counter head-lice treatments will have to tone down their advertising, now that the FTC has rapped them on the knuckles for making lofty claims about their products' effectiveness.
The companies, Del Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer and Care Technologies, must make it clear to consumers that more than one application of their shampoos is needed to get rid of the pesky creatures.
Lost savings. Sometimes, it doesn't pay to root for the home team.
That's what University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore might be thinking as a result of a fund-raising campaign it did with the Baltimore Orioles and MBNA America Bank.
Under the "Saves for Shock Trauma" program, MBNA contributes $1,000 to the medical center's shock trauma center for every save recorded by the Orioles' pitching staff. (For you nonbaseball types, a pitcher records a save whenever he replaces a starting pitcher while his team is ahead and holds the lead so the team wins.)
As of Sept. 18, the Orioles pitching staff had 33 saves, netting the hospital $33,000. Although $33,000 is nothing to sneeze at, the Orioles finished the season last month tied for sixth-worst in saves of the 30 major league teams.
Had the hospital had linked up with the major league-leading San Diego Padres, however, the hospital could have nearly doubled its take, with $59,000. And if they had dealt just with San Diego pitcher Trevor Hoffman, the hospital would have made $53,000.