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.
Recently, I heard some compelling stories about a client’s brand. My colleagues and I were conducting consumer in-depth interviews (IDIs) to better understand how people make personal healthcare decisions, as well as their perceptions of our client’s brand.
As I listened, I was impressed by the passion and honesty each participant shared—a benefit that’s relatively unique to IDIs. Focus groups, on the other hand, tend to be dominated by a handful of participants, which can skew results. By eliminating the drawbacks of “group think,” IDIs enabled us to garner consumer input that was not affected by the views of other participants.
Other advantages of IDIs include:
They allow us to investigate not only perceptions, but also individual thought processes. Because consumer feedback is solicited and given in a one-on-one dialogue, IDIs help shed light on differences that exist within each target segment.
By design, IDIs give the interviewee significantly more “floor” time, meaning the consumer will speak for approximately 80 percent of the interview. By contrast, focus groups require more speaking and facilitating by the moderator, which leaves less time overall for consumer responses.
IDIs can be adapted to other settings as well, including online and phone interviews.
We value IDIs for all these reasons and more. By taking group bias and external influence out of the equation, we can gather insightful information for our client that may not have surfaced as clearly in a focus group or survey. Probing the hearts and minds of healthcare consumers as individuals enabled us to draw several informed conclusions and build them into our client’s strategic plan. We are confident tomorrow’s consumers will like what they see from this client in the coming years because it will be, by and large, exactly what they said they want and need.
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.
Later this week, I will moderate an interactive panel for Kansas City Healthcare Communicators Society.The topic: How to Deploy Social Media to Improve Patient Engagement. With expert input spanning a wide range of social networking tools and best practices from our healthcare marketing panelists, the session promises to provide an eye-opening look at what it takes to continuously engage patients online.
Here are highlights from colleagues in the healthcare social media field:
Two-fifths of adult internet users in the U.S. have read someone else’s online commentary about health. Many thanks to Susannah Fox and her colleagues at Pew Internet & American Life Project, who published a report earlier this year revealing that 80% of internet users search online for health information, and a growing number rely on the internet to connect peer-to-peer. Among the findings:
Symptoms and treatments dominate health searches (66% and 56% respectively).
44% of internet users look online for information about doctors or other health professionals.
25% of adult web users look online for people with a chronic illness.
24% have consulted online rankings of doctors and hospitals.
20% look online for people with similar health issues.
More than 1,200 U.S. hospitals are now actively using social media sites. And that number is climbing every day. Thanks to Ed Bennett, web operations manager at the University of Maryland Medical Center (and also an advisory board member for Mayo Clinic social media), we have better insight into the scope of social media use among hospitals. Here’s the latest breakdown of the number of hospital accounts/pages per social networking site:
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.
Entries were judged on four criteria: (1) objectives and strategy, (2) measurement/return on investment, (3) goal alignment, and (4) creativity, message and quality. As an award winner Dobies Healthcare Group was recognized at the HealthLeaders Media Marketing Experience event in Chicago, and the winning campaign was featured in HealthLeaders Media’s 2009 annual publication Hospital Campaigns That Work.
Last week, I called my doctor’s office to reschedule a check-up and was placed on hold for 9 minutes before speaking to the appointment desk. NINE MINUTES. While waiting for assistance, I contemplated hanging up and trying again, but my stubbornness outweighed my annoyance. (Apparently, I’m more patient than most: According to a study by one physician practice, 65% of patients placed on hold would hang up within two minutes. Furthermore, 90% would hang up after four minutes.)
Listening to 540-some-odd seconds of soft rock hits from the ‘80s further solidified my opinion that all medical offices should at least be able to manage nonmedical issues via the Web in some form or fashion. While my doctor’s office has used electronic medical records for years, it is behind the times when it comes to patient communication. More and more, doctors are using Facebook and email to interact with patients. Personally, I try to keep my Facebook friend roster strictly social: No parents, bosses (sorry, Carol!) or clients allowed – and now, no medical professionals either. But while I won’t be ‘friending’ my doctor on Facebook any time soon, I would love to be able to communicate online with the practice about administrative issues such as billing and appointments. I’m convinced that online access would lead to greater office efficiency and an improved patient experience.
So the next time I’m in the market for a new doctor, you can bet I’ll be adding “Web-friendly” to my list of criteria.
“A new survey suggests that CEOs are rethinking the importance of improving the patient experience and other studies show that consumerism in healthcare—long talked about—might really be coming after all.” To that, I say, it’s about time!
A week ago, knowing full well that I was two years over due for my annual mammogram (shame on me), I made the “smash-o-gram” appointment. To my surprise, my appointment was 2 days later. Not a week. Not a month. Not 6 months. Only 2 days. Wow! For the past 10 years, I’ve been a fan of Imaging for Women, a privately operated practice independently owned by Mark J. Malley, MD, DABR, a board-certified radiologist. The imaging center offers phenomenal service.
Here’s what I mean by that:
From door to door, my appointment took 28 minutes. I received my results at minute 25 (versus waiting a week for a postcard to arrive in the mail). Now consider this: Let’s say Dr. Malley has a concern about the images. You are ushered back into the mammography suite for another look. If anomalies still appear, your next stop is the ultrasound room just down the hall. And yes, you guessed it – results of the ultrasound are immediately reported. No sleepless nights waiting for results. In fact, BEFORE you ever leave Imaging for Women, Dr. Malley will personally counsel you about your choice of specialist and facilitate the referral should you need a consult for breast surgery.
Now, that’s a great patient experience – isn’t that the way healthcare should be?