Four Best Practices to Communicate a Health Care Merger

Jan 16, 2020 Brendan Monahan

It seems like not a week goes by without some sort of headline news detailing the latest hospital or health system merger, like these or these. Health care mergers aren’t new, but they are taking place at a rapid pace. The National Institute for Healthcare Management (NIHCM) Foundation reports that between 2006-2012, 476 health care provider mergers took place. Between 2013-2018, that number jumped to 619.

While some studies support these types of health care consolidations work, others say they don't. The debate rages on in the media. It was a hot topic discussed at the annual conference of the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development by organizations like MUSC, who offered insight into the latest developments associated with this issue. 

As professional health care communicators, how should these announcements be approached? Carefully. Here are four best practices to follow:

Tip #1. Be intentional. Simply state what you hope will happen and what you are striving to do. Not going to do. There is a big difference here and we believe it is possible to remain positive and show value without being unrealistic or instilling fear among your stakeholders. For example: rather than making promises of reduced costs and increased patient access, communicate to your stakeholders that the goal of this collaboration is to make the city -- or community -- healthier by increasing its capacity to provide high-quality care to all of its patients. 

Tip #2. Be honest. If there are other reasons behind a merger, besides the old adage of “reduced costs, increased patient access” that make this transaction attractive, state them. For example, you can communicate that “we believe this transaction will:

  • provide us with more beds to better serve our patient population.”
  • allow us to help keep a critical access hospital open in a rural area where the nearest medical services would otherwise be too far away for reliable care.”
  • allow our patients access to a highly skilled specialty that we currently do not offer close to their home, such as neurology.”
  • provide our organization the opportunity to participate in or expand our capacity to perform academic research.”

Tip #3. Be prepared. Before any announcement is made, ensure that you have a comprehensive plan for how will you communicate any news (positive or negative) to employees before they hear any developments through the rumor mill or on the local news. Mergers always create anxiety among the workforce and appropriate, but consistent communication with employees will help to earn their loyalty and support. Similarly, create crisis communications plans that can be easily activated if the transaction falls through or if any developments are met with significant resistance internally or externally. 

Tip #4. Keep messaging consistent. Whatever information is relayed to regulatory bodies and the board of trustees should be consistent with anything that is communicated internally to employees and externally to the media/general public. If something is communicated internally, it should be assumed that it will leak to the public in one way or another, making consistent use of facts a critical part of all communication. That applies to the executives who are driving this transaction. While they are likely going to be positive, upbeat, and confident that the change will bring positive benefits to the organization and the community it serves, they will likely need to be reminded to keep projections, predictions and timeline for completion reasonable so that the organization is able to achieve long-term success regardless of the outcomes of the merger. In many cases, the use of national studies or market data can be a helpful resource in shaping the narrative.

If your organization is able to show that, because of the merger, health care has been made more affordable, accessible, efficient, safe, or anything else positive over time, you will be able to tell that amazing success story down the road. Be patient and wait for the right moment to make such important statements as it will provide you with credibility and likely generate impressive media coverage. 

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Topics: Healthcare, brand authenticity, PR trends, PR industry
Brendan Monahan

Brendan leads the health care practice at Inkhouse, serving as the strategic team lead for clients including health IT developers, hospital systems, insurers, medical device manufacturers, and innovative life science organizations.

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