Hospitals: Communicating failure might not be smart

Of late, hospital associations are doing the full-court press when it comes to touting their negative financial results. This includes the American Hospital Association, which has worked hard to let the public, press and Congress know that more than half its members may be in serious financial trouble.

While I understand the AHA's reasons for taking such a position--for one thing, bragging about healthy hospitals doesn't do much to get higher Medicare reimbursement or Medicaid funding--I think that by this point, the group may be shooting itself in the foot.

Paradoxically, it made more sense for the hospital industry to cry poor when the economy was in average to good shape than it does now that the economy's in danger of a complete core meltdown:

* When the economy is working better, hospitals that struggle stand out. As long as the leaders don't seem incompetent, they garner sympathy and support if their institution is in danger. Now, struggling hospitals must compete against countless other financial horror stories. It's a big PR issue.

* Hospitals certainly don't gain any extra support from bankers by stressing their liabilities. And I'd argue that hospitals lose a great deal by continuing to undermine the market's trust in their ability to pay their bills.

* Smart legislators will respond better to healthcare industry groups that appear to have a plan for their survival and solutions to offer. While I don't regard the stimulus bill 's healthcare provisions as a bailout, complaining constantly about your financial problems sure casts it in that light.

Hospital leaders, if I were you, I'd write my state hospital group and the AHA and encourage them to begin touting the industry's strengths and capacity for adaption. It may not be fair, but nobody like to back a losing horse. - Anne