Reasons for merging and collaborating in healthcare: Marriage or living apart together?

Wouter van der Schors*, Anne-Fleur Roos, Ron Kemp, Marco Varkevisser

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
11 Downloads (Pure)


Across OECD countries, integration between healthcare organisations has become an indispensable part of contemporary healthcare provision. In recent years, inter-organisational collaboration has increasingly been encouraged in health and competition policy at the expense of mergers. Yet, understanding of whether healthcare organisations make an active choice between merging and collaborating is lacking. Hence, this study systematically examines (i) healthcare executives' motives for integration, (ii) their potential trade-offs between collaborating or merging, and (iii) the barriers to collaborating perceived by them.

Early 2019, an online questionnaire was conducted among a nationwide panel of 714 healthcare executives in the Netherlands. Because of their strategic position within healthcare organisations as end-responsible managers, healthcare executives are especially suited to provide broad and in-depth knowledge on the internal and external processes and decisions. Three hundred thirty-seven Dutch healthcare executives completed the questionnaire (response rate 47%). This study sample was representative of the largest healthcare sectors in the Netherlands. In total, 137 mergers and 235 inter-organisational collaborations were reported. Both closed questions and open-ended questions were systematically analysed.

Improving or broadening healthcare provision is the foremost motive for mergers as well as inter-organisational collaborations. When considering both types, reducing governance complexity is one of the decisive reasons to opt for a merger, whereas aversion towards a full merger and lack of support base within the own organisation convinced healthcare executives to choose for a collaboration. When comparing specific healthcare sectors, the overlap in pursued motives and sub-motives indicates that inter-organisational collaborations and mergers are used for comparable objectives. Only a small minority of the responding executives switched between both types of integration. Institutional barriers, such as laws, regulations and financing regimes, appear to be the most restricting for healthcare executives to engage in inter-organisational collaborations.

Our integral approach and systematic comparison across sectors could serve policymakers, regulators and healthcare providers in aligning organisational objectives and societal objectives in decision-making on collaborations and mergers. Future research is recommended to study multiple collaboration and merger cases qualitatively for a detailed examination of decision-making by healthcare executives, and develop an integral assessment framework for balancing collaborations and mergers based on their effects in the medium to long term.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1721-1742
Number of pages22
JournalThe International Journal of Health Planning and Management
Issue number6
Early online date6 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. The International Journal of Health Planning and Management published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


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