A funny moment the other day.
The CEOs of the larger Harvard hospitals founds ourselves in several meetings over the course of consecutive days, working together on areas of common concern -- clinical research, supporting greater diversity on our staff and faculty, and stimulating enhancements between engineering and medical care. These were great sessions, with a clear commonality of interest and purpose, characterized by healthy give-and-take in friendly and helpful discussions, and good progress. After the last of these sessions, one of my colleagues turned to the rest and said, "Okay, enough collaboration for today. Let's go back to competing."
He was joking, of course, and we had a good laugh; but, as I have noted before, this is in fact the nature of the relationship. It has its advantages and disadvantages.
I think the major disadvantage is that the competition in the clinical arena is so intense that we end up duplicating services that could be consolidated or otherwise rationalized. (In saying this, by the way, I also mean to reference the duplication that also occurs when we include the non-Harvard hospitals in Boston.) I have talked about this before, focusing on the area of solid organ transplants. If there are fewer than say, 400, adult liver, kidney, and pancreas transplants in all of Eastern Massachusetts per year, does it make sense to spread them out among six or seven hospitals located within 15 miles of one another?
Each hospital has to make major investments in staff and equipment to carry out a proper transplant program, and the current organization makes economies of scale impossible. It also means that each program is unlikely to be highly profitable -- or perhaps profitable at all -- because it lacks sufficient volume to spread the fixed costs across a large enough patient base.
And yet we persist in this fashion, responsive to the demands and wishes of our physicians and because we have a mindset that we cannot be a "real" hospital unless we offer this service to the public.
As I have said in recent forums and elsewhere, we need to be protected from ourselves in this regard, either by the insurance companies or the state government. Thus far, though, they have been too timid to act. The public ends up paying the price for this inefficiency.