Hospital marketing has taken an unexpected turn: Because of a policy that ties 30% of hospitals’ Medicare reimbursements to patient satisfaction scores, some hospitals are using hotel-like amenities to attract and pamper patients. But these luxuries don’t assuage concerns about high healthcare costs. In this guest post, Dave Sarro, president and founder of a customized promotional products and services provider, shows hospitals the new-age marketing approaches they should be using to increase access to care while building a positive, health-first brand.
If your hospital’s marketing program misses the mark in any of the following ways, then it’s time to reconsider how you present yourself to patients:
- Non-Care Orientation. Hospitals that focus on luxuries misunderstand why patients choose hospitals. According to Gallup, patients choose hospitals on the basis of the facilities’ specific treatment expertise and medical-error histories. What’s more, research on 31 U.S. hospitals conducted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found no link between patient satisfaction and surgical care quality scores. While patient satisfaction should be a priority, it can’t replace measures of quality.
- Overuse of Outbound Tactics. While many hospitals still use television ads and direct mail tactics to snare patients, the marketing world has moved solidly away from outbound techniques. Instead, HubSpot found 92.3% of companies using inbound tactics such as blogs, search engine optimization, and social media see increased site traffic, and 92.7% of companies report inbound marketing increases lead generation.
- Short-Term Focus. Healthcare marketing requires patience. The great majority of individuals don’t need care immediately, so hospital marketing must understand the long-term nature of the work. Someone might view an advertisement or marketing materials for your hospital but not need health service for months or even years. Patience and persistent community outreach are must-haves for hospital marketers trying to win new patients.
New Rules for Hospital Marketing
Hospital marketing can be a boon for hospitals and patients, but gone are the days when direct mail magazines speak to consumers – postcards and newsletters go straight into recycling cans. Today, people first go online for health information. Many Google their symptoms, while others look to sites such as WebMD or social media for information.
Here’s how to bring your marketing program into the 21st century – and how to maximally benefit both the hospital and the community.
- Prioritize Social Media. Hospitals have been notoriously slow to adopt social media, but those channels are remarkably effective (and free) ways to reach prospective patients. Across industries, marketers spend just 15% of their budgets on social media, but 79% of marketers view social media as the most effective digital channel.
Hospital marketers should look to the Mayo Clinic when crafting a socially savvy strategy. Its Center for Social Media was the first of its kind, and the world-renowned medical organization has a YouTube channel that presents physician interviews, how-to videos and stories about everyday people receiving care. Patients get eyewitness reports of the Mayo Clinic experience, from check-in to follow-up care. It’s a better way to educate patients about their health while positioning the Mayo Clinic as a world leader in care.
- Increase Content Marketing. With 80% of Internet users searching online for answers to their health questions, it’s in all parties’ best interests for hospitals to increase their content production.
Cleveland Clinic has been an early adopter of content marketing. The healthcare provider’s Health Hub is an online center for health tips and news, physician blogs and expert Q&As. The hospital’s doctors and nurses have provided exclusive content, and consumers have come flocking. Since its launch in May 2012, the site has posted traffic numbers exceeding 100,000 visitors per month.
- Invest in Community Health. In August, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services allocated $169 million for community health programs associated with the Affordable Care Act. By embracing this paradigm for hospital marketing, hospitals can both help community members and improve mindshare.
Allina Health, an early adopter of community health programs, awarded grants to initiatives that improve environmental and social conditions, such as community gardens, improved transportation, and nutrition education for students. Kaiser Permanente, for its part, found schools are the natural place to reach community members and “should be seen as an extension of the delivery system.”
Look to form partnerships with community stakeholders such as elementary schools and elder care centers. Found your outreach program on health concerns important to the community, such as improving access to care, increasing preventive services, managing chronic conditions and offering behavioral health programs.
- Come Bearing Gifts. One marketing adage that hasn’t been replaced online is “leave something behind.” Don’t overlook the branding opportunity in healthy lifestyle tools. For a few hundred dollars, a hospital can personalize hundreds of products to spread the message.
Long after the hospital outreach team has left the premises, patients keep and use low-cost healthcare products such as stress balls, pill boxes, pedometers, first-aid kits and hand sanitizers. These tools provide a constant reminder to stay fit and take your medicine – messages that promote community health and enhance healing.
For all hospitals’ advanced care technologies, marketing has lagged behind. Evaluate how your hospital might be falling short, and then follow these new rules for hospital marketing. Your community – and your bottom line – will thank you.