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As Partners HealthCare rethinks its strategy, it’s considering whether to change its name

Partners HealthCare in Somerville.
Partners HealthCare in Somerville. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/file)

The name Partners HealthCare is emblazoned on buildings and vehicles, medical bills and patient records, e-mail addresses and websites.

But is it the right moniker for the state’s largest health care provider?

As part of a corporate soul-searching process, executives at Boston-based Partners are considering ditching the name the system has used for 25 years and choosing one that they believe would better reflect the company’s greatest assets — its renowned academic medical centers.

One possibility, according to people with knowledge of the discussions, is Mass General Brigham Health.

Rebranding a company as expansive as Partners — a $13 billion organization with several facilities across the state — could be hugely expensive. Depending on the extent of the project, the cost could exceed $100 million, according to people familiar with the estimates.

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The benefit to patients isn’t immediately clear. But Partners officials, responding to questions from the Globe, said it may be time for a change.

“It’s a really important decision,” said Dr. Anne Klibanski, the nonprofit health system’s new chief executive. “How we present ourselves as a system that resonates with our patients, our care teams, our staff, our communities, and the world at large is incredibly important.”

The question is one of several that Partners executives have been discussing over many months as part of an effort to rethink their strategy and consider how to act as a more integrated system.

Partners officials said no decisions have been made; they plan to conduct market research and study the issue carefully before finalizing their new brand. In addition to the parent company name, specific hospital names also may change.

“We’re looking at making sure we have a common brand that appropriately communicates who and what we are,” said Scott Sperling, chairman of the Partners board and co-president of the private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners.

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Partners HealthCare was founded in 1994, when Boston’s most powerful teaching hospitals, Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s, joined forces. Since then, the system has grown to include more than a dozen hospitals and more than 6,000 doctors, and is working to expand in other states.

Partners’ corporate office has long handled back-office business functions such as accounting, finance, and legal, while its big hospitals run their own clinical operations. But in recent years the parent company’s role has become more prominent. In 2015, Partners launched a companywide electronic health record system. The following year, it moved thousands of employees into a new office building in Somerville, the words “Partners HealthCare” looming over passing cars on Interstate 93. The company also has a chain of walk-in clinics called Partners Urgent Care.

Though its founding hospitals are among the most prestigious in the country, Partners has been criticized for using its market power to charge high prices for services. It has been the center of antitrust investigations and faced opposition for trying to expand through acquisitions.

Some Partners officials believe the company name has been tainted by the negative headlines. They want the corporate identity to reflect the hospital brands that are well known — and better liked. But others question whether a rebranding would be worth the costs and if it would make any difference to patients.

The name Partners initially was chosen to symbolize two teaching hospitals joining together, said Jack Connors, the health system’s former longtime chairman. But it wasn’t meant to replace the hospitals’ individual brands.

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“I don’t think the name Partners is particularly sacred,” said Connors, who cofounded the advertising agency Hill Holliday. “I don’t think there’s any real equity in the name.”

Helene Solomon, chief executive of the Boston public relations firm Solomon McCown, put it this way: “Did David Ortiz go to a Partners institution in Boston? No, he went to Mass. General Hospital.”

“It’s a great idea to look at the brand after a period of time — after the market has changed, after the organization has evolved,” she said. “It really starts with this self-examination of the brand: Where, aspirationally, does the organization want to be?”

The brands within the Partners system can be tricky to navigate. Patients who see a doctor at the Partners-owned Newton-Wellesley Hospital, for example, could get fund-raising solicitations from Brigham and Women’s Hospital. And to view their medical records online, they log into the Partners Patient Gateway.

Adding to the confusion, Partners hospitals are affiliated with Harvard Medical School, which has its own distinct brand.

“The name ‘Partners’ means something to people in the business community and government leaders, but it is not defining to patients,” said Ellen Lutch Bender, a Newton-based hospital consultant. “Rebranding is not a simple undertaking, but branding is very important to an organization — it frames corporate identity, it tells a story.”

Partners competes nationally with other prestigious hospital systems such as the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins Medicine, whose corporate identities incorporate the names of their hospitals. But those systems evolved differently from Partners, which represents not one but two major medical centers.

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Hospital systems often establish new names after a merger. When Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Lahey Health merged this year, the combined organization was dubbed Beth Israel Lahey Health.

Also in vogue are names that imply health and wellness, such as the Northwell Health system in New York, or Wellforce, the parent company of Tufts Medical Center and other Massachusetts hospitals.

“I don’t think those names matter to ordinary human beings who get health care in our state,” said Alan Sager, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health. “The underlying fights about decentralized versus centralized power are internal matters for Partners. I don’t think they should plague the public with their own organizational anxieties.”


Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.