How do you make decisions about where you go for your health care?

It is a given that everyone will need health care or the services of a hospital.  What isn’t a given is that everyone will chose your organization. 

I recall what I deem as a successful marketing trip was one I made to a small physician’s office along with some members of my professional team.  I arranged this luncheon meeting with the physician and his staff because I was puzzled why this physician rarely used our clinic.  We were the closest office to what I assumed was his patient population and we had plenty of openings for new patients.  Along with my staff, I brought a great lunch for everyone there. 

After the usual discussions about things we had in common—e.g., weather and my presentation—I could see that the physician had one eye on the door and was preparing to develop his excuse to depart.  Earlier walking through the hallways to get to the meeting room, I had noticed wall hangings of local Native American Indian art.  Taking the conversation in a new direction, I mentioned the physician’s art and that I had worked as an archaeologist as an undergraduate student and told him about some of our sites, findings, and my dealings with the local tribes.  The physician’s eyes lit up and we talked until it was impossible for him to ignore his afternoon patients. 

On the drive back to my office, I wondered what would be the results of this unusual meeting.  As I was preparing to leave the office to my next appointment, the office medical secretary reported that we had two new referrals from the physician we had just visited less than an hour before.  Clearly this marketing trip could be easily measured and was time and money well spent.

A slam dunk for this referral-directed marketing approach!

Gone now are the days that community hospitals could expect their community to go to them for help.  Also gone are patients accepting a referral from the family physician without question or without an Internet search for other options. 

It is now the norm that people will do their own referrals (thank you very much!) for the best care at the best prices and they are willing to drive the extra miles if need be.  This approach of taking more responsibility for one’s health care seems to reflect the desires of both the ever-increasingly-better-informed patient and their health care payer.

This, of course, demands a paradigm shift in the traditional approach of marketing health care to maintain what market share you have now and what you need to do to grow new business.  A successful marketing plan can no longer be strictly focused on physicians and nurse case managers as it once was when professional referrals drove new patients and revenue.  Health care marketing is more challenging now and demands a multi-faceted and all-inclusive approach.  Fortunately there are successful examples out there. 

In an earlier piece I discussed the importance of taking one’s organization’s mission, vision, and values to the streets and articulating them in the form of storytelling.  This is a powerful and meaningful approach that has been proven to stick in the minds of physicians and patients alike.  This is brand management in action and helps differentiate your organization from your competition.  And like an effective mission statement, keep your message to whomever you are seeking to make a connection; also, make it concise and easy to remember.

Regardless to whom you are directing your compact and easy-to-remember message, along with knowing and living the values and mission of your organization, make sure you have your facts straight.  Making stuff up and hoping you don’t get caught is not even an option with everyone having easy Internet access.  Always verify your data and take as long as you need to be satisfied with your resources and your information.

Retailers have long recognized the importance of reaching out to their customers and then holding onto to their business.  This is a new lesson for us who have been focusing on the traditional referral sources of providers and hospital discharge planners; intermediaries or gatekeepers, if you will.  Retailers know they have to connect directly with customers by:

  • Raising awareness of services with print ads in newspapers and magazines, billboards, television commercials, and mailers.
  • Making it easy for customers to connect with information on location, hours, and a telephone number via Internet website and Smart Phone. 
    • I would recommend going one step further and provide a prominent telephone number that connects customers to an individual that has been trained to answer all questions that may come up.  Furthermore, post that person’s name and position to truly begin a relationship.  Wow your customers and differentiate yourself from your competition with the best service even before they step in the door.  Don’t ever go cheap when positioning the right people to take calls and give out information.
    • Providing consistent and timely follow-up to everyone and with every call.

Measuring the success of your marketing efforts is a must! 

If you can’t show a return on your investment, why bother?  Depending on the nature of your marketing campaign here are a few ways you can measure its success by:

  • Increase in referrals for services
  • Increase in website hits
  • Increase in revenue trends
  • Increase in public awareness of your services via polling.

I have always found marketing to be fun, especially when meeting people face-to-face. 

I take time to prepare myself for how I want to present and I get to know my product or service so that I can talk about it with knowledge and pride.  I have, however, learned to read my audience and be ready to find a unique way to find a thread of connection and be ready to run with it.  You never know when you may have to talk about marathon times or the Hopewell along the Grand River.