CEO Michael Dowling has executed more than 50 agreements during his time at Northwell Health. Writing in Becker's Health Review, Dowling outlines his five tips for creating successful partnerships, affiliations, and joint ventures.
1. Know what you can provide and what you need
"When it comes to selecting a partner, it's important to clarify what it is they have that you want—and vice versa," Dowling writes. As en example, Dowling describes how Northwell's affiliation with cancer research facility Cold Spring Harbor benefits both parties: Northwell "needed to strengthen [its] cancer research, and [Cold Spring] needed a clinical partner that would allow them to connect with patients." Dowling writes, "Even though we're very different organizations, we both benefit from the relationship."
2. Don't focus too much on the short-term.
According to Dowling, organizations seeking a partnership or affiliation shouldn't overemphasize the short-term benefits at the expense of longer-term goals. "Most relationships hit a rough patch in the beginning, but if you give up on the partnership because your troubles are making you doubt the viability of your short-term goals, you're being too impetuous," he writes. "In other words, success takes time. Take steps to solve short-term complications, but hang in there and try to make it work."
3. Keep an open mind about potential partners.
"Keep an open mind when it comes to discussing new relationships with different partners—even those that don't seem to make much sense in the beginning," Dowling writes. "The rapid pace of change in health care and our collective pursuit of innovation oblige us to at least listen to others' ideas and consider new possibilities."
4. Don't get caught in a bad relationship
Dowling writes that while new partners might need to navigate a rough patch from time to time, "it is also important to know when it's better to cut your losses and call it quits." According to Dowling, you should re-evaluate your affiliation if the situation ever "becomes abusive or dysfunctional," or fails to provide a mutual benefit.
5. Assess your cultural compatibility
A successful long-term partnership requires that both entities have compatible cultures, Dowling writes. You should assess whether both organizations share a mutual respect, whether the people tasked with communication and collaboration work well together, and whether your relationship is going smoothly or encountering difficulties. But "keep in mind ... that conflicts are not necessarily a symptom of an impending breakup," Dowling writes. "Sometimes the issue can be resolved by changing the people or the metrics." The most important thing, he explains, is "ongoing and open communication" (Dowling, Becker's Hospital Review, 5/18).
Looking to be a better partner? Get our cheat sheet for hospital partnership and affiliation models
Behind the flurry of M&A in recent years, a deeper trend of hospital integration is underway: the emergence of alternative partnerships that secure many of the same benefits of M&A without the financial and legal commitment: Clinical affiliation, regional collaborative, accountable care organization, and clinically integrated network.
This guide defines these types of partnerships and offers benefits, drawbacks, and examples of organizations in each.