Are you speaking your patients’ language?

Addressing Health Literacy: An Always Event

Nearly half of all American adults - 90 million people - have difficulty understanding and using health information, according to the Institute of Medicine. 1

Low health literacy affects people from all walks of life. Even many college graduates don't have the health literacy skills needed to navigate the health system and actively participate in their care. Holding an MBA does not necessarily mean a person understands the medical jargon physicians - or nurses - often use. In fact, well-educated people may be at an even greater disadvantage because embarrassment about not understanding instructions they think they should understand may prevent them from asking questions.

The impact of low health literacy on rural hospitals and health systems:

Low health literacy can contribute to outmigration as confused and helpless patients feel their needs aren't being respected or met. They'll drive a little further, when possible, if the nearest urban teaching hospital's communication style resonates with them. Not addressing low health literacy can also lower your HCAHPS scores and thus, reimbursements.  And here's the kicker: higher rates of hospitalization and avoidable use of emergency services associated with low health literacy wastes billions of dollars. 2

Does your hospital have room for improvement?

Do your patients routinely answer these HCAHPS questions with "Always"? 3

  • During this hospital stay, how often did doctors treat you with courtesy and respect?
  • During this hospital stay, how often did doctors listen carefully to you?
  • During this hospital stay, how often did doctors explain things in a way you could understand?

Make effective communication an "Always" event:

  • Teach providers to lose the medical jargon - Communicating in plain language won't undermine their authority; in fact, clear communication enhances the perception of value of the encounter and helps create trust.
  • Create an environment free of shame and blame - It works both ways: caregivers and patients should feel there are no dumb questions.
  • Use the teach-back method - Educate physicians and staff in this tried-and-true method of testing whether they have communicated in a way patients understand.

Getting started is easier than it sounds!

There are an overwhelming number of resources out there, including solid information curated by the NIH. If you're brave enough and have time to do some heavy reading, look here.

Or, for a quick start, check out these reliable, user-friendly resources:

  • The AHRQ Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit has everything you need to know to assess your current performance on health literacy issues and begin to make significant changes. Download it for free.
  • The "Always use Teach-Back!" training tool kit is a free interactive online learning module for providers developed by the University of Iowa, The Picker Institute, Des Moines University and Health Literacy Iowa. Access it here.

If you are not already aggressively addressing low health literacy in your community, getting started is not as difficult as you may think. And it's the right thing to do for hospitals and patients.

Be the first to comment

Turn Wellness Trends Into Profit for Your CAH

Wherever you stand on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), I think we can all agree that preventive care is in the air.  The ACA and many of its programs, parts and parcels focus on care coordination, prevention and wellness. That has both employers and health insurance providers placing greater emphasis on wellness. And consumers are following suit.

SymphonyIRI (a market research company) found that:

  • ¾ of all consumers are trying to eat healthier today to save money on health care later.
  • 30% of all adults (on average) are concerned about weight loss.
  • 29% are worried about stress management.
  • As people grow older, their health concerns become more focused on problems associated with aging instead of weight and stress. The top two health concerns of seniors, aged 68 and older, are:
    • Cholesterol.
    • Heart-related issues.

OK, so I think we're clear on why your rural hospital needs to take note of these facts and stats. But that leads to an even more important question: How can your CAH leverage these trends?  I'll give you some examples:

  • Develop a campaign around preventative care, such as mammograms or colonoscopies.
    • Don't waste consumers' time by telling them what it takes to be healthy and all the reasons it's important. They already know what and why, and will just tune you out.
    • Focus on making it easy and "nonthreatening" for them to take action, like holding a "Mani and Mammogram" event.
    • Offer a farmer's market on your hospital's grounds to increase physical activity and promote healthy eating.
    • Leverage the ACA by partnering with local businesses offering employee wellness programs.
      • Employers know that wellness programs help reduce absenteeism, employee turnover and insurance premium costs.
      • The ACA supports workplace wellness programs, such as those that provide incentives for attending a weight loss, nutrition or smoking cessation program.
      • Building strong business partnerships can ultimately result in stronger consumer/patient relationships for your CAH.
      • Get involved in the community to promote preventive care. WEPAC Hoops for Hope Weekend is a great example. Ashland Health Center and Comanche County Hospital put on an annual event with 90% of the proceeds going to pay for mammograms, pap smears and colonoscopies for women in those five small towns.

These health and wellness initiatives can lead to more revenue, increased volume and stronger patient relationships for your CAH. That's a fact. I'd be happy to share some proof points with you. Give me a call or shoot me an email if you'd like a professional perspective on what your CAH is doing - or could do - to leverage health and wellness trends in 2014.

Be the first to comment

Patient Engagement: Improving Health and Decreasing Costs

Patients want to take a more active role in their healthcare, sometimes they just don't know how.  Improved engagement not only benefits the patient, but also can lead to increased satisfaction scores, greater quality and safety and a higher likelihood of patient compliance. Here are a few ways you can begin to improve patient engagement:

  • Create an environment for shared decision making. Involving patients in the decision making process, or making sure their voices are heard will make them feel as though they are an integral part of the hospital (which they are).
  • Develop a powerful patient portal. The world is going digital, and patients want access to their information wherever they are, 24/7. A patient portal can give them this access and improve their overall engagement in their health needs.
  • Create a strong web presence. A website can create the first impression your patients have of your facility and staff. Having useful and relevant information will frame you as a resource.
  • Generate a strong patient feedback program. Most hospitals have places for patients to give feedback. The key is what you do with that information.
  • Traditional advertising. Though some traditional advertising, like newspaper or direct mail, may seem outdated, they actually still have a strong effect on patient engagement. People want to be affiliated with a respected organization; traditional advertising can help show patients that your organization is just that.

Want to learn more? Join the Rural Healthcare Marketer on April 2 to delve deeper into this topic and see how rural hospitals across the country are leveraging their marketing efforts to engage patients and help them be an active partner in their care.

Wednesday, April 2
12 - 1 p.m. (central time)
Presented by the National Rural Health Association Partnership Services

Register now!

Be the first to comment

Social Media and HIPAA: Can the Two Co-exist?

According to a Pew Internet Project (2012 survey) related to health and healthcare, 72% of U.S. Internet users searched online for health information during the past year. Think of what this could mean to your hospital if even a fraction of these consumers looked to your physicians as thought leaders in their fields!

Problem is, one five-letter acronym may keep your docs from taking advantage of social media. You guessed it: HIPAA.

While that could be the end of the story-it shouldn't be. Your CAH and its providers can use social media without breaching patient confidentiality and other HIPAA rules. One way to do this is to connect with patients collectively-rather than individually. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep it general. For example, discuss "healthcare topics in the news." Providers can share their perspectives, addressing potential benefits as well as concerns about specific procedures, medical "break-throughs," medications, etc.
  • If a consumer responds with a specific health-related question, do not answer it using social media. Direct the person offline, using a standard response to call your office and make an appointment, or if it's an emergency, call 911 or go to the emergency department.
  • Include a disclaimer that directs consumers to consult with their physician and that your recommendations are not substitutes for actual medical assistance.

You might want to check out this video, "The Doctor is Online: Physician Use, Responsibility and Opportunity in the Time of Social Media." It includes insights from a pediatric gastroenterologist at Texas Children's Hospital who blogs at 33Charts, along with several experienced physicians who are also active in social media. While it was originally developed for medical students just beginning their residency program, your CAH and docs can benefit from these quick tips and guidelines.

Be sure to Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter to learn more about using social media in healthcare.

Be the first to comment

Hints for Higher HCAHPS Scores

"Hospital Consumer Assessment of Health Providers and Systems" survey (HCAHPS), even the acronym is a mouthful! No wonder hospitals are in a quandary about how to use HCAHPS survey results to improve patient satisfaction scores. But quandary or not, there's little time for debate.

Today, low scores not only threaten your hospital's ability to gain - or even maintain market share - they can result in a lack of reimbursement. Under the current value-based purchasing program, a hospital may even face financial penalties if its scores are too low.

As your hospital takes steps to attain sustainable patient-centered excellence, here are some considerations to keep in mind.

Know it all: Before you can effectively improve your HCAPHS scores, you need to "know what you need to know." For example:

  • What are your hospital's strengths and gaps, based on patients' perception of the care they receive?
  • What units are performing at a high, low or mid-range level?
  • What specific, measurable goals (and stretch goals) do you want to achieve and by what dates?

Communication could be your differentiator: The better you are at clearly communicating - and listening - to your patients, the better your chances of receiving a higher score.

  • The HCAPHS survey includes several questions related to how well doctors, nurses and other staff explained things to a patient and how well they listened to the individual.
  • Today, consumers expect to receive safe, quality care from whatever hospital they choose. No difference there. But … effective communication could help your CAH stand out from your competition.

Don't overlook key influencers: From the nurses who provide care to patients every day of their stay to the environmental service workers who clean patients' rooms - frontline employees are integral to the patient experience. Be sure to:

  • Share survey results with frontline staff. This will help them understand the importance of their role and align their behavior with your hospital's patient-centered focus.
  • Give credit where credit is due. Positive reinforcement can go a long way in keeping employees motivated to continue the journey to excellence.

Above all, don't let the nebulous challenge of "improving patient satisfaction" overwhelm you. You can start by zoning in on specific areas and "quick wins." Here's one to get you started:

Some hospitals have found that when doctors sit down to talk with patients vs. standing, it positively affects a patient's satisfaction score. This simple nuance gives the impression that the doctor is less rushed and more focused on the individual patient.

Be the first to comment

Could Snail Mail Be Your CAH's Escargot?

With the advent of digital media, most forms of print communications have lost their luster as effective forms of marketing. Or have they?

In today's mobile world, many hospitals have focused their efforts on Internet and social media marketing. But don't be too quick to take your eyes off the prize when it comes to "slow communication."

A recent J. Walter Thompson (JWT) survey indicates that consumers are beginning to have a greater appreciation for slower, more mindful communications, i.e., physical mail. In fact:

  • 81% of survey respondents agreed that receiving a handwritten card is more meaningful than an e-card, email or text, even if the message is the same.
  • 78% agreed that physical cards/letters make them feel more connected to people than digital notes (emails, SMS, etc.).
  • 84% said they're excited when they receive a letter or card in the mail.

Given these facts, it makes sense to take another look at how physical mail fits into your 2014 marketing strategy. Consider:

  • Handwritten thank-you notes to patients or personalized invitations to special events, presentations or open houses. Personal notes can help you distinguish your CAH from larger, more "faceless" competitors.
  • Adding a QR code to billing statements or envelopes. Recipients who scan them can be prompted to call a dedicated phone number to learn about a new service, view a special video message from a new doc, etc.
  • Sending patients and other consumers things they'll want to hold, touch and keep.

Seven out of 10 JWT survey respondents also said they feel nostalgia for things from the past. Remember when doctors made house calls? Evoke a similar one-on-one connection with your physicians, specialists and other staff through personalized publications and newsletters.

Direct mail has a unique ability to engage, inform and motivate consumers. Get creative. Get personal. Blend social with snail.  For example, Kleenex selected Facebook members who had posted updates about getting sick, acquired their addresses from friends and surprised them with a hand-delivered care package.

OK, so your marketing budget is far from Kleenex-sized - but this gives you an idea of how to think outside of the box.

As many of your healthcare competitors continue to perceive physical mail as a thing of the past, it's your opportunity to fuse digital with physical - and reap the rewards.

You say "snail mail." I say "escargot." It's all about perception.

Be the first to comment

Hospital Execs: See and Be Seen

As competition increases and patient safety becomes even more critical, hospital executives are literally "making the rounds" to make sure patient satisfaction is on the upswing.  If your C-suite team and senior managers aren't doing the same, it could be sending the wrong message to your patients and your staff.

An Executive Rounds Program can help build trust, promote change and establish meaningful relationships between frontline staff and top management.  When your senior leaders are seen on the frontlines, they're visibly demonstrating that patient safety is a top priority - to everyone.

Here are six tips for developing and implementing a program in your hospital:

  1. Get everyone on board: Get commitment from executive leadership as well as the board. Also be sure to inform all staff of the purpose and process of the "executive rounds program" so they feel comfortable sharing information with executives.
  2. Schedule rounds in advance: (e.g., up to six months) so they are completed on a consistent basis. If a scheduled round is cancelled, it can give frontline staff the impression that patient safety is not a priority. Also, try to schedule rounds to avoid high activity times or shift changes.
  3. Provide execs with a template: Develop a template that allows executives to communicate in their own style but provides a format that helps keep each round/session on track.
  4. Document key findings: Create a standard form for documenting issues and feedback during conversations with staff. Also consider developing a database that includes feedback by category, date, time, location and other pertinent information. This can be used to help track events and follow-up steps.
  5. Implement a process for timely feedback: This critical component of the rounds program is often overlooked. Strategies for communicating feedback could include emails to individual staff members; thank-you cards for staff who participated; newsletter articles; monthly departmental reports; town hall meetings; celebrations to highlight successes related to the executive rounds program.
  6. Measure effectiveness: Use evidenced-based tools to help you measure the effectiveness of your executive rounds program, e.g., perceptions of management, safety, willingness to report errors or fear of reporting errors.

Now more than ever, it pays (in the form of patient safety and satisfaction scores) for executives to see - and be seen - making the rounds.

Be the first to comment

Where Does Your Brand Stand?

I like to keep up on the latest studies and trends in rural healthcare, even those that are state-specific. My philosophy is, the more you know - the more you know.

That said, I was reviewing a study by  BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Institute that compared the use of rural vs. non-rural healthcare facilities. The results showed that more than 43 percent of consumers surveyed do not use the rural hospital closest to them. They prefer to get care from larger, non-rural hospitals - even when the same services are available locally.

Even though the study was limited to data from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's commercial membership, rural hospitals across the country are experiencing similar challenges. This bodes the question, "How will your CAH compete in the years ahead?" More specifically, how will you:

  • Differentiate your CAH from bigger hospitals when it comes to quality of care and treatment options?
  • Promote your patient satisfaction scores and other strengths to consumers?
  • Promote service lines that are as good as - or better than - larger hospitals in your area?

The common denominator for all of the above is: Brand. So before you start developing your 2014 marketing plan, take a good hard look at brand. It may be time to refresh it if:

  • It's no longer relevant or outdated - logo, colors, tagline, etc.
  • There are inconsistencies in how you brand yourself (e.g., different logo used on print materials than on your website).
  • Your brand messaging no longer reflects who you are or the expanded services you offer.
  • You're preparing for growth, a merger, partnerships or other "game-changers."
  • You're not reaching your target audience. For example, have demographics changed in the communities you serve? Have you added service lines that target a broader or different audience?

Only after careful review can you determine if it makes sense to refresh - or stand with your brand.

Be the first to comment

Here's the Green Light to Market GreenLight

There's good news for men with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). For those of us who are not trained medical professionals - that's an enlarged prostate, which can lead to frequent urination or urination retention.

Recent data presented at the American Urological Association (AUA) Annual Meeting indicate that treatment for BPH with GreenLight™ laser therapy, instead of transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP), "results in significantly shorter hospitalization, catheterization, and recovery times for patients, while maintaining equivalent safety and efficacy."

That's great news for the millions of men suffering from BPH. But what does it mean for your rural hospital? OPPORTUNITY - but you have to give your marketing team the green light to be creative with this one.

Let's face it, BPH can be embarrassing - even scary - for most men to talk about. So whatever you do, make them feel comfortable. Develop a marketing campaign that puts prospective patients at ease so they take the next step.

You might start with direct mail that targets men age 50+. Keep in mind, we men have a very short attention span, so your message needs to cut to the chase. Then, give 'em the chance to get answers - now (we can be impatient, too).


Direct them to an online risk assessment they can complete right in the privacy of their own man cave. (That's in addition to encouraging them to talk with their doctor.)  Sweeten the deal by giving them a chance to win some great "guy thing" if they complete the assessment by a certain date. In other words, get 'em while they're hot (aka, "logged on and tuned in"). Here's examples to get your creative juices flowing:

Don't wait to jump on this opportunity. And when I say "opportunity," I'm talking about an estimated 10 million men who suffer from BPH. Many of them are over the age of 60.

With an aging rural population, I'd say your rural hospital has the green light to start marketing this service line … now.

Be the first to comment

Is Your Rural Hospital Overlooking a Key Quality Component?

Posted on September 4, 2013

"Making the grade" in a pay-for-performance environment is important for hospitals of all sizes. But gaining the trust of prospective patients goes beyond report cards.

In the eyes of consumers, grades, stats and facts aren't the only indicators of quality.  There's a "human element" that is easily overlooked as hospitals train their sights on performance scores. That spells opportunity for your rural hospital.

Add a human element to your internal quality model -and your marketing efforts - and it can become a powerful, persuasive and pivotal tool in positioning your hospital for revenue growth and success. See for yourself.

Check out this  case study (pages 1 - 3) featured in the September/October 2013 issue of Spectrum (produced by the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development®). It shows how Holy Family Memorial (HFM), in Manitowoc, WI, (population 33,000) developed a Right Care Model®, along with a comprehensive marketing campaign, to bring quality to life.

HFM's "experience our quality through others" strategy and its overall organizational transformation led to some unparalleled results. I'll give you an example.

Cardiology was the first consumer service line HFM promoted. Five months after the campaign launched in February 2013, HFM had 185 new Heart and Vascular Clinic (HVC) patients. The case study provides important details and other impressive results.

In an era of informed consumerism, hospitals' quality scores will continue to be compared and scrutinized by prospective patients. That means your rural hospital needs to continue to focus on making the grade. But what your hospital does beyond that may be the final factor in a consumer's decision to use you - or lose you - when it's time to seek care.

The ball's in your court …

Be the first to comment