Monday, November 04, 2013

What's in a name? Not much, sometimes.

Over the years various sectors of the economy have gone through structural change, often from a regulated, price controlled environment to a more deregulated environment.  This has happened with electric utilities, natural gas companies, water and wastewater companies, telecommunications, and, now, hospitals.  The first step is to merge and/or acquire and/or be acquired.  Scale is viewed as way to achieve economies of scale and scope and to gain market power.  (As we now know, scale also brings its own set of problems, and such mergers often fail under their own weight.  So very few ever achieve the business economies that were envisioned at the outset.)

The second step is to change the corporate name to something perceived as more jazzy or powerful or something.  This is where branding companies make their money!  The telephone companies were really "good" at that. New York Telephone Company and New England Telephone and Telegraph Company merged and became NYNEX; then merged with Bell Atlantic (itself a combination of the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania, New Jersey Bell Telephone Company, the Diamond State Telephone Company, and the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company (including C&P of Maryland and C&P of Virginia) to become Verizon. Meanwhile, Illinois Bell Telephone, Indiana Bell Telephone, Michigan Bell Telephone, Ohio Bell Telephone, and Wisconsin Bell merged to create Ameritech. Ameritech later combined with Southwestern Bell, Pacific Bell, and Southern New England Telephone to become SBC Communications.

In my mind, it is unfortunate that each such renaming removes the company from its previous connection to a region or a community.  Wait till you see what some hospitals have done.

Ellie Rizzo over at Becker's Hospital Review recently posted a story about nine hospitals and health systems that recently changed their names or brands.  Most are understandable, but some may actually reduce consumer recognition.  I think this one sounds more like a restaurant or pasta company than a hospital:

Kennewick (Wash.) General Hospital is changing its name to Trios Health to better reflect its commitment to the Tri-Cities — the Washington cities of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland — and its growing range of services.

In July, Sabrina Rodack at Beckers reported on 23 name changes. Included in the group is this one that to me sounds like a body-building club:

University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center acquired several assets of Lakeside Health System and will transfer all of the entities to its Strong Memorial Hospital's license. The health system will be renamed URMC Strong West.

And, back in January, Sabrina had reported this odd hagiographic shift.  Was this a directive from the Vatican?

Saint John's Health System in Anderson, Ind., changed its name to St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital. 

Here's another, reported by itself: 

Last year proved to be a year of many changes for Vidant Medical Center. First and foremost, we announced our name change from Pitt County Memorial Hospital (PCMH) to Vidant Medical Center.

Two commentors to a local news channel couldn't resist:

Is this a joke? LOL. What idiot came up with that name? Sounds like denture cream! Seriously, somebody didn't research in a dictionary the word vidant, which means to gut or empty out not "life." Hahaha.

This shows the intelligence of those who picked this name! Of course, the vidant French meaning of "to empty or gut" is an apt one when it comes to gutting the history behind this hospital.  

Another said:

Man, this is all just too confusing for me. I wish they would focus on providing good health care instead of doing fluffy work like coming up with a new name.

If you really want to dig in further, check out this site from Pennsylvania, listing several years' worth of all facility closings, mergers and/or significant name changes. My favorite is that Montrose General Hospital became Endless Mountains Health Systems. With an internet address of, you have to wonder what they meant to portray to the public.


Anonymous said...

Very amusing, but sad! This is what happens when PR bozos and spokespersons take over in rebranding efforts. I suppose it might be useful when wanting to put a less than stellar history in the past, but what if it is simply the steward of a gutting and sell out to the next fool?

Clifford Norman said...

Agreed, stop with the marketing, post all your prices from the charge master and the quality of your key outcomes so patients can make some value decisions. Singapore posts prices for all hospitals. Makes it real easy to make choices.

Paul V said...

Paul, When Bell Atlantic and NYNEX merged, the combined company kept the Bell Atlantic name, since the service region was entirely on the Atlantic coast. Verizon was born of the merger between Bell Atlantic and GTE. GTE's territory included parts of the west coast, midwest, and southeast, so the name change itself didn't remove the previous connection to the region -- the combination of a regional and national company did that.

Anonymous said...

I remember our hospital medical executive committee's perplexed and somewhat annoyed reaction when our CEO reported to us that they had hired a consultant to help them change the name of our small hospital system and design a new logo, as if this was information of grave import.
Do your job, guys and gals, and do something about medical errors in your hospital instead.

nonlocal MD