The CFA Perspective

Cardiovascular Affiliation with a Name Brand…Valuable Strategy for My Program?

Posted by Richard Clark - CFA St. Louis office

5/9/16 6:14 AM

Earlier this year, St. Luke’s Hospital, Chesterfield, Missouri announced a cardiovascular clinical affiliation with Cleveland Clinic’s Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute.  This partnering is prominently displayed on the St. Luke’s website, https://www.stlukes-stl.com.

Blog-_Affiliation_image.jpgAs a St. Louis resident whose family has been cared for at St. Luke’s, I have first-hand experience with the quality of the 493-bed hospital and its staff and physicians.  While my family and I have no direct experience with cardiovascular services, I can only assume that they are of equal quality.  After all, this is a hospital that has been ranked one of “America’s 50 Best Hospitals” by Healthgrades® each year from 2007-2015.

In today’s Population Health marketplace, what would possess a hospital with such a reputation to expend the time and money to affiliate with a “brand name,” like the Clinic?  I can only speculate, but I suspect that a “perfect storm” of factors contributed to the decision:

  • While highly ranked in general, and specifically for heart care, regionally St. Luke’s is in the shadow of BJC HealthCare, whose Barnes-Jewish Hospital and its affiliation with Washington University is consistently ranked within or near the Top 10 nationally for heart care.
  • St. Luke’s is not part of a large, multihospital system, with its inherent advantages
  • According to reports, Cleveland Clinic is expanding its affiliation approach nationally and is looking for highly regarded partners in many markets

Potential advantages to St. Luke’s can be multifold, including:

  • Marketing the Clinic brand name to compete regionally
  • Participation in the Clinic’s Center of Excellence contracting approach
  • Access to group purchasing
  • Clinical collaboration, including protocols, best practices, second opinions and the like

Should your hospital look into such an affiliation for strategic development of your cardiovascular service line?  The most obvious advantage is enhancing the marketability of your program (just look at the St. Luke’s website).  More importantly, particularly if you are an “independent” hospital, partnering with a highly regarded regional or national provider can provide you with advantages in the population health marketplace:

  • Episodes of Care.  A stronger presence/reputation can make it easier for you and your cardiovascular specialists to collaborate with PCPs and other providers in managing episodes of care.  This will be a key to success in the future healthcare marketplace.
  • Contracting.  The clinical affiliation may give your hospital access to regional or national contracts/networks that can expand your capabilities in the population health arena.
  • Clinical Quality.  Clinical collaboration with a highly regarded partner can help you improve patient heart care quality/outcomes, another key factor in the future of healthcare.
  • Costs.  Cost efficiencies may be available that your organization cannot otherwise access.

A rough cost-benefit analysis is a good starting point for evaluating the potential for affiliation.  Initial questions to be answered include:

  1. Will my administration be supportive?
  2. Who are potential affiliate organizations for my program?
  3. What are the pros and cons of each?
  4. What is our future without such an affiliation?
  5. What strategies can we employ to thrive in the population health marketplace?

Answering these questions first can tell you whether or not to proceed with comprehensive strategic and feasibility assessments of your options and opportunities.

Additionally, we recommend a review of the section on Affiliations in Chapter 8, Market Positioning, Differentiation, and Branding from the book The Complete Guide to Strategic Marketing for the Cardiovascular Service Line,, published by HealthLeaders Media, 2011.

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