The healthcare consolidation merry-go-round continues to spin, with suppliers, purchasing groups and hospitals all taking rides.
This year, listen for the purchasing calliope to play a tune more to the liking of bulked-up health systems inclined to buy on their own. More and more of these systems will wind up dancing with vendors of their own choosing after dropping out of the purchasing groups that previously handled most of their buying chores.
Shopping solo is a natural outgrowth of the acquisition of hospitals, clinics and physician groups, a growing number of healthcare executives believe. Greater size and volume, they reason, brings greater purchasing power. By directly controlling their own buying relationships, they expect to reap tailor-made portfolios of products that lend themselves to quicker and fuller acceptance by clinicians.
The jury is still out on whether the independents can match the pricing and service advantages large groups have in buying pharmaceuticals. But when it comes to medical and surgical supplies, many of the independents say they have no trouble finding the products they want from the vendors they prefer at prices they're willing to pay.
Of course, not everyone is ready to chuck the convenience and ready-made value that the major purchasing groups offer. Buying through the groups still offers speed, security and simplicity. Yet some of the systems that have left or will leave group purchasing are among the trailblazers that more- cautious systems might follow.
Vendors left out of the mega-contracts of some of the largest buying groups stand ready to aid independent-minded hospitals seeking their own deals. These vendors will continue to dangle bargain pricing to tempt hospitals and health systems to stray from the groups.
To keep their customers loyal, many groups will step up efforts to provide new services and variations on old purchasing tricks.