With so many patient-facing changes in healthcare these days, it’s no surprise the role of the hospital community relations director is also changing. Once focused primarily on communications, advertising and outreach, today’s community relations directors now drive patient experience, hospital strategy and business development.
Maybe the person who manages community relations at your hospital has a new title, maybe not. Regardless, the purview of the position has expanded. At Dobies Healthcare Group, we see three core responsibilities for hospital marketing officers:
Drive the patient experience. Today’s hospital marketing officers own the patient experience. They take a lead role in creating loyalty and repositioning the patient at the center of the hospital’s delivery system.
Develop overall business strategy. In addition to increasing market share, hospital marketing officers are now responsible for new business and program development to enhance the hospital’s competitive advantage.
Nurture the system of care. Now more than ever, it’s important to be proactive rather than reactive in creating and nurturing an emerging system of care. Working with leadership on service line, physician engagement and system of care issues has become a routine function.
Even from this quick summary, it’s easy to see how the role of hospital community relations has evolved far beyond its more traditional PR/promotional functions. That’s why many hospital leaders turn to healthcare marketing specialists who can help them navigate these complexities and grow into the next generation of healthcare.
Healthcare consumers are more empowered than ever to choose according to their perceptions, and they know it. As health plans get more flexible in letting people pick providers – and online platforms enable word-of-mouth to cover more ground at faster speeds – the competition to be anyone’s provider of choice is fierce.
Which brings me to the importance of patient touch points—those many opportunities for healthcare providers to ‘live their brand’ by enhancing patient experiences. Every interaction counts, whether direct or indirect, clinical or non-clinical.
In a sea of how-to’s and must-do’s surrounding social media and health information technology, it’s important to keep more conventional methods in our strategies as well. With today’s patients empowered to think and act like retail consumers, providers are wise to take pages from consumer-oriented business models to elevate service levels and deliver fully satisfying experiences at the point of care. Think Disney, Zappos and Nordstrom.
Here are three great places to start:
Personalize Care. People love it when they feel camaraderie with their care team, and they respond with loyalty when they believe you know them as individuals. Introduce yourself, call patients by name and look them in the eye. Also, be mindful that your presence in the community is making impressions on people even before they become your patients, so find ways to customize every encounter.
Be Responsive. It goes without saying that patients are happier when healthcare providers eliminate wait times. Go beyond the obvious. Ask patients about their expectations and respond to their personal needs. Unanticipated opportunities to show extraordinary service go a long way toward improving the patient experience.
Keep Patients Informed. Whether it’s about medications or when the doctors are likely to make their rounds, keep patients informed. Explain tests, treatments and procedures; describe the technology you use. Include patients (and if appropriate, their families) in decision-making.
At Dobies Healthcare Group, we encourage healthcare marketers to champion the notion that brand is what you do. It is not a logo or tagline—a brand is something that lives in people’s hearts and minds. It’s defined by expectations developed over time through your communications and more importantly, your actions.
In other words, when you make a brand promise related to patient experience, you need to know you can keep it. You also need to continually strengthen the promise by identifying and translating consumer expectations into touch points that matter most to patients.
In our last post, we talked about word clouds and their practical uses beyond the blog. This week, we’ll continue that discussion in lieu of our recent discoveries at SHSMD Connections 2011, an annual conference hosted by the Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development. The event was a meeting of the minds from all levels of hospital communications, and the word cloud was our way of learning more about what’s on their minds.
SHSMD attendees participated by entering today’s hot topics into our word cloud app. You can view the results here. But what do the results tell us about the directions and challenges hospital marketers face as we head into 2012?
The most commonly used phrase was “physician strategies,” with “social media” coming in close behind. Many hospital strategists are looking for effective ways to engage with physicians and patients. While social media continues to grow as a cost-effective way to expand reach and frequency, strategists are struggling with how to reconcile professional relationships with online social platforms—and even how to get people to “Like” or “Follow” their hospitals in the first place, let alone leverage that affinity. It’s a challenge many of today’s healthcare marketers must untangle, and clearly engagement is the name of the game.
Other issues taking center stage for healthcare marketers include:
Last year we developed a deck of 52 marketing tips and collected more from our peers at SHSMD. A big “thank you” goes to Lisa Crockett, Manager of Strategy and Business Development at Providence Health & Services for this month’s Healthcare Marketing Tip:
“Before starting any marketing effort,think about what patients will experience.”
Hospitals and other healthcare providers that differentiate themselves by building a brand identity around a patient-centered approach to care are poised to thrive in this era of healthcare consumerism. But the brand promise must meet healthcare consumers’ increasingly high expectations.
“It’s easy to be comfortable with how we’ve delivered healthcare in the past, but change is necessary if we want loyal patients,” said Crockett. “It’s important to continue to advance patient experience beyond acute care to patient’s lives post-discharge to ultimately improve outcomes and lower costs.” According to numerous studies, patient-centered care can lower operating costs and ultimately save hospitals time and money.
Other Benefits of Improved Patient Experience:
Shorter patient stays
Lower cost per case
Reduced staff costs
Low cost improvements can make the same impact as expensive ones
Higher employee retention rates
Decreased malpractice claims
Opponents of patient-centric care argue it won’t provide enough financial return to justify the cost associated with staff training and patient volume disruptions that can occur while programs and facilities are updated. Supporters of improved patient experience maintain that the benefits outweigh the costs; in addition, they say it is a moral obligation to provide a better experience. “It’s the right thing to do,” said Crockett. “If we’re not here to help people, then we’re in the wrong business.”
Patients have increasingly high expectations for the way care is delivered. Hospitals need to meet this demand by embedding the concepts of improved patient experience into the fabric of the hospital’s core values and culture. According to Crockett, most hospitals are already intent on improving patient satisfaction and they can make gains in improved patient experience by monitoring and quickly responding suggestions and complaints. “Thank you notes and complaint letters tell you a lot about gaps in service. Once you involve everyone on the healthcare team in the changes that are made, you’ll start to see the benefits of patient-centric care.”
What ways has your hospital or practice implemented patient-centered care? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @DobiesGroup.
After I purchased my first smartphone more than a year ago, it wasn’t long before it became an invaluable part of my daily life. So when I ran across an article asking how healthcare workers ever lived without their iPhones, iPads and other portable, “smart” technologies, I was far from surprised. But while I mostly use my smart phone for news updates, Google searches and social media, many healthcare providers are using mobile devices to improve their practice.
Among physicians currently using mobile devices in their practice, 56 percent said the devices expedite decision making.
Nearly 40 percent said the use of mobile devices decreases time spent on administration.
Forty percent of physicians said they could reduce the number of office visits by 11 to 30 percent by using mobile health technologies like remote monitoring, email or text messaging with patients.
The study also found patients are eager for mobile healthcare as well:
Thirty-one percent of consumers are willing to incorporate an application into their existing mobile phones to be able track and monitor their personal health information.
Forty percent of consumers are willing to pay for a device and a monthly subscription fee for a mobile phone application that would send text and e-mail reminders to take their medications, refill prescriptions, or to access their medical records and track their health.
As a healthcare marketer, I welcome this trend as it provides yet another vehicle to help physicians reach patients where they live, work and play. As a patient, it seems it’s only a matter of time before I’m using my smartphone to manage my health in addition to my social life.
We suffer from a sniffle that lasts a bit longer than usual and we’re off to a search engine to self-diagnose our mystery illness. Depending on the search results (and our levels of persistence and paranoia), either we are comforted that we’ve simply contracted the common cold…or we’re convinced that we’ve developed a CSF leak and the fluid that surrounds our brain is escaping through our nose!
Those of us who believe the second diagnosis are likely falling victim to cyberchondria:
“… the unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptomatology, based on the review of search results and literature on the Web.”
And as health content on the Web continues to grow, we risk becoming cyberchondriacs with every Google or Bing search query.
To help curb cases of cyberchondria, some believe it is the responsibility of the search engines to provide results the public can trust. While I agree the search engines play a role, I believe the solution begins with healthcare marketers and Web writers. We have the responsibility to work with physicians, nurses and other medical professionals to produce complete, accurate and understandable information for the search engines to deliver to the online community. Studies show this kind of quality information is not always available for certain conditions, which leads medical experts to warn against relying too much on the Internet for education.
Ultimately, however, it falls to healthcare consumers to do their part. While it is important to be vigilant advocates for our health and make an effort to educate ourselves, we must be prudent in our research, both online and off, and remember to balance our findings with the first-hand opinions of medical professionals.
Earlier this year, I showed how online engagement after the earthquake in Haiti helped prove that people are using social media to connect with others in meaningful ways. Today, I bring you yet another example, this time in relation to healthcare.
A new study reports that 40% of online consumers are turning to social media for health information. And they’re not just talking about medical conditions, diagnoses, treatments and news. The study found the primary reason for using social media was emotional:
“…many healthcare social media users want reassurance, support, and a sense of intimacy from people who are going through a similar experience.”
But according to a recent New York Times article and Pew Research report, this won’t come as a surprise to the many Americans affected by chronic illnesses. Over the last few years, social networking has become a lifeline for many who are living with a chronic disease or life-changing condition. By blogging, chatting and engaging with others on social networking sites like PatientsLikeMe, Diabetic Connect and CureTogether, they are able to share advice, war stories and empathy with others in similar situations. Best of all, this can all happen from the comfort of home, a great advantage for those whose illness has left them homebound.
As social media continues to grow, look for more hospitals and physician practices to better connect with patients (and ultimately improve the patient experience) by complementing their informational web content with virtual support groups and online forums.
Transparency in quality reporting goes both ways. Good ratings – and bad – are posted every day for all kinds of products and services. When it comes to healthcare, I absolutely believe in transparency and public reporting of quality and patient safety measures. In fact, right now we’re in the process of creating a brand new “Quality Matters” microsite for one of our clients.
Recently, MSNBC reported that some physicians were having patients sign “gag order” waivers to prevent their ranting on review websites. Unbelievable. Would you trust a physician who required you to sign such a document? Allowing patients to review doctors on websites is not only is in the best interest of consumers and public health, but it is also a matter of freedom of speech. In fairness, however, I believe doctors should be exempt from federal privacy laws that prevent them from publicly responding to patients.
As healthcare marketers, we may not be able to change federal law, but we can help manage the reputation of our physician clients on these Web sites. Here’s how:
Use a username that clearly identifies you as a representative from the practice, such as OfficeMgr_SmithMedical, with proper contact information in the user profile.
Acknowledge comments with replies that let reviewers know you are listening (without, of course, acknowledging patient name or identification).
Direct patients to contact a specific person at the practice to voice concerns and resolve issues.
Encourage reviewers to continue the conversation with your practice.
Any healthcare marketer worth her salt knows that women are the primary healthcare decision makers in America (although, with the current economy, some suspect the tide might be turning). So when I saw an article on how to market to women on Facebook, I couldn’t help but be interested. Because women make up more than 56% of the overall Facebook population, it’s a great place for your hospital or physician practice to connect with its core audience. But how do you keep these decision makers engaged?
A couple of my favorite tips from Mashable:
Quality Counts: Annoy your female fans with spammy updates and be prepared to face the wrath of the “hide” button. Remember, they can remove your marketing messages from their news feeds with the simple click of a mouse. And, of course, out of sight = out of mind.
Provide Utility: Give your fans something to look forward to on a daily or weekly basis by regularly posting helpful tips or practical ideas that can improve their health or lifestyle.
Give Fans a Voice: Make your fans feel involved by creating a two-way conversation and asking their opinion. Bonus: you have an instant focus group at your fingertips.
Keep Your Fans in the Loop: Update your fans about current goings-on, good and even bad. With the rise of transparency in healthcare, Facebook can be a great venue to help address negative news before it gets out of hand.
How does your organization use Facebook to engage its female audience? Please post your ideas in a comment below!
The story: When Drew Olanoff was diagnosed with cancer last summer, he created the Twitter hashtag #blamedrewscancer and vowed that for every tweet blaming something on his cancer, he would raise one dollar for the Lance Armstrong Foundation LIVESTRONG. Using this hashtag, Tweeters gave Drew’s cancer credit for closed coffee shops, working on holidays and global warming…and in the process, raised more than $15,000.
But Drew didn’t stop there. With Twitter’s permission, he put his Twitter name, or “handle,”(@Drew) up for auction and caught the eye of Drew Carey (@DrewFromTV). The Price Is Right host has since promised to donate one dollar for every person who follows him or @Livestrong, up to $1 million. Pretty cool, huh?
Do you know of other organizations that are successfully using Twitter or other forms of social media to raise money and awareness? Please leave your examples in a comment below. And the next time you feel like complaining on Twitter, don’t forget to #blamedrewscancer.