By Zack Budryk
Consolidation and alliances are mega-trends within the healthcare industry, and rural providers are no exception.
In southwestern Arizona, for example, three rural providers joined forces with Tucson Medical Center to form the Southern Hospital Alliance. This partnership gives the participants an advantage in negotiating supply and service prices, as well as access to better medical training and information technology, not just from Tucson but from one another. For example, Copper Queen Community Hospital, probably the healthiest financially of the rural participants, is also the most advanced user of telemedicine among participants, which means alliance members have access to specialists at major Arizona providers such as St. Luke's Medical Center in Phoenix.
Rural and independent providers in Georgia have taken a similar tack; Stratus Healthcare, formed in 2013, has since grown from 23 facilities to 29, many of them smaller rural providers. Stratus members meet once a month to compare notes on information technology and community health management. If rural hospital leaders have the option, they should try to ensure deals allow them to remain independent, since joining a larger system means giving up community-specific focus, according to Tim Putnam, president and CEO of Indiana critical access hospital Margaret Mary Health.