Much is said and written about the competition among hospitals. Why can’t we just get along?

The fact is, the public is well served by the competition in terms of both cost and quality of care. But there are many instances when cooperation is the norm, and, unfortunately, that tends to fly under the radar. In fact, there are times when cooperation is both appropriate and necessary. Here in Peoria, there are multiple examples:

Picture, if you would, a continuum that shows cooperation at each end. On the left are those programs and services which require a large capital outlay, and thus, should not be available at all hospitals. Examples include a level-one trauma center, Children’s Hospital, $3 million Trilogy System or $3 million Gamma Knife—both for treating cancer, inpatient mental health unit (at Methodist) or chemical dependency program (at Proctor).

Each of these, as well as several other services, requires significant financial and human resources. And, in each instance, the number of patients served, even when regional considerations are added, are too few to justify multiple or overlapping services.

On the other end of that healthcare continuum is what I call “the community good.” That is the arena of care for the poor as well as working collaboratively for education and research. Examples abound in this area, too.

The Heartland Clinic began with all three of Peoria’s hospitals providing support and rotating helping those in need of services. All emergency departments accept patients who cannot pay but receive necessary services regardless. All hospitals join together to provide screenings, such as the annual “Mammogram-A-Thon.”

We all work with the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria on educational and research issues, and Methodist and OSF recently partnered with the College to establish a cancer research center. The Renaissance Park project had input and support from all three Peoria hospitals.

So, yes, we cooperate and the community benefits.

But, at the same time, we compete. We compete in those areas in which there is a significant number of patients who need our services. This ranges from obstetrics to emergency medicine to general and some specialized surgery, and includes many other routine services and programs.

But, the question is often asked: If you can cooperate at the ends of the healthcare spectrum, why not in the middle? The simplest answer is because we each have a desire to be as comprehensive as possible and the consumer benefits. In addition, it is those high-volume, relatively routine and, yes, usually profitable services that lie in the competitive middle, that allow hospitals to keep up with state-of-the-art technology and necessary building renovations and construction, not to mention the expensive investment we make in the training and education of future physicians, nurses and technicians.

How does the patient benefit? Competition, as any business person knows, makes us sharper. We manage costs better and focus even more strongly on patient satisfaction, patient safety, quality services and improved clinical outcomes.

Costs are better contained because competition forces each hospital in a given geographic area to keep expenses under control and, in turn, charges for services.

Within a given service or program, we try to make our offerings unique and more attractive than those of competitors, and try to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace, both locally and regionally. To do this, we must listen to our patients and provide what they want and need.

We are now more cognizant of our scores on various report cards which are easily available to the public through the Internet. This trend of “transparency” keeps us on our toes and makes sure our results and patient satisfaction scores are as high as they can be. In that sense, we are competing nationally.

So, do we compete? Yes. Do we collaborate? Yes, again. Is the public well-served by this combination? I would say yes.

Let me also note that the competition and cooperation model in Peoria benefits us all in one other important way: the charges for specific tertiary treatments and procedures in Peoria range from 15 to 34 percent lower than for the provision of similar services in Chicago, and have comparable or better clinical outcomes. This shows that we are doing some things right in Peoria—things that have a positive and dramatic financial impact on businesses and individuals in central Illinois.

I would also admit that we are not perfect and that there may be times when cooperation should overrule competition. But we are getting there. When OSF applied to the state for permission to build the Milestone Project, the other Peoria hospitals provided letters of support. When a long-term, acute-care hospital was proposed for Peoria, Methodist took the lead and was publicly supported by OSF.

Compete. Cooperate. It is not either/or. The healthcare community does both, and our community benefits from this unique business model. IBI