Healthcare CIO: Balancing IT needs during health system mergers can't be an afterthought

During mergers and acquisitions, too often the dominant organization isn't sensitive to the needs of the less-dominant player, whose IT leaders become more concerned about protecting their own "shop." The effects can be disastrous, according to Scott MacLean, deputy CIO at Partners HealthCare in Boston.

MacLean has experience in this area, coming from a position as CIO of one of the community hospitals that Partners acquired. In an article for, he says it's vital for both information systems leaders and healthcare executives to be at the table when agreements are made. Smooth transitions come down to good governance. 

"Non-technical leaders tend to think technical integration will be like flipping a switch, when in fact it can be hard," MacLean says. And the human factors in combining two entities can be even more difficult.

The IT leader of the less-dominant organization often feels his or her job or that of staff is in jeopardy, and can then make a case to execs that the bigger organization can't meet the smaller organization's needs--or at least not at a reasonable cost. That, he says, can lead to duplication, security issues, increased cost and frustration on both sides.

To that end, MacLean urges dominant organizations in such instances to secure the role of certain IT leaders from the less-dominant entity, particularly at the infrastructure level, to help ensure a smooth and timely technical integration. It's vital for non-IT execs to hold firm to the IT merger scope and timeline to prevent the less-dominant entity from holding the whole process hostage.  

Mergers and acquisitions within the healthcare sector show no signs of slowing, but deals can go bad for a variety of reasons, according to FierceHealthFinance special report on the issue. [Want more stories like the report in your inbox? Subscribe to FierceHealthFinance]

A "merger of equals" model, rather than the standard M&A model where one organization absorbs the other, is gaining steam. It involves involves mutual goals and strategic imperatives. While participants may not have equal assets or services before the deal, they assume shared, equitable authority in both the process of developing the deal and managing the new system.

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