Harnessing the Marketing Power of the Digital World

Healthgrades. Facebook. Angie's List. Twitter. These are only a handful of online sites where prospective patients can learn about your healthcare organization and current patients can share their experiences. The power these sites have on consumer decisions can be intimidating, but also incredibly beneficial to your organization.

So needless to say, it's important to not only be aware of these places, but to also take an active part in the conversations - which can be done through strategic digital marketing efforts.

When approaching marketing in the digital world, there are two areas to think about:

  1. Building
  2. Protecting

"Building" covers the development of online elements you can control, like your website and online advertising. These tools ensure your audiences have access to accurate information about your facility and providers. They also help audiences form their first impression of your organization.

"Protecting" is managing online features you are not in complete control of, such as review sites or comments on social media. We call this online reputation management, and it involves:

  • Monitoring review sites and social media
  • Engaging with your online audiences to address negative and positive discussions
  • Being honest and transparent in communications

But you shouldn't think of "building" and "protecting" as two separate efforts. They go hand-in-hand when it comes to ensuring your organization is well represented online.

If you are interested in learning more about healthcare marketing in a digital world, attend our webinar this Thursday, January 15 at noon (CST). We will take a deeper look at several strategies to build your organization online, including modern web design and SEM, as well as effective ways to protect your online reputation.

Click here to register today!



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Newly Insured Patients...Ready or Not, Here They Come

Health exchanges are here - and so are millions of newly insured patients. That means your CAH has a decision to make. Do you "duck and cover" or come out fighting to gain some much-needed ground from your competition? If you choose to leverage this opportunity, be prepared. These aren't your "typical" patients.

The truth is, many newly insured patients will have plans that pay lower rates to your hospital. But there's a flip side to this downside. These patients' plans are required to cover a broader range of services. Services your CAH can provide to grow revenue from consumers who have never walked through your hospital's doors before.

Here are some ways to optimize this opportunity:

  • Promote prevention, wellness and diagnostics as volumes will shift in this direction. This goes beyond the "norm," like colonoscopies and mammograms, to include diet counseling and other wellness services. Another thought: Could your CAH benefit from extending your marketing strategy to include referring physicians?
  • Define your hospital's role in outreach and develop and promote programs that will educate the newly insured. With limited knowledge of the healthcare system, these new patients are more likely to use ER services. Work with your marketing department to develop programs and materials to educate new patients on the best way to manage their health - and receive care.
  • Address patient access issues. With more complex billing, eligibility and collections processes, it's critical to confirm eligibility and review obligations with the patient upfront. This may include incorporating new tools to verify coverage and screen for Medicaid eligibility and exchange subsidies.
  • Train "financial counselors," "care navigators" or "insurance assisters." Whatever title you choose, you'll need knowledgeable staff to help individuals fill out paperwork and determine eligibility for coverage and subsidies.
  • Don't lose sight of patients with employer-sponsored plans. As you address the needs of the newly insured, don't overlook the fact that employer-sponsored plans are shifting more responsibility to the patient. You'll need to adjust your marketing strategy to address the needs and demands of these consumers as well.

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What's Up with Doc?

How to Talk to Physicians to Build Relationships

You say, "provider;" I say, "physician."  Potato/Po-tah-toe, right?

While it may seem like a matter of semantics, healthcare marketers need to choose their words wisely - especially when talking to physicians. One internist summed it up this way: "Today, doctors are called providers. I didn't go to provider school."

But choosing a complementary common noun is just the beginning. Today, many hospitals - caught up in service model mayhem - overlook one critical fact: Doctors are faced with similar challenges and they're concerned about the future. In fact, six in 10 say that the practice of medicine is in jeopardy.

While it may sound disheartening, rural hospitals can turn this concern into an opportunity to strengthen physician relationships and increase referrals. But just as the healthcare landscape is changing, so too, are the mindsets of physicians. That means the way healthcare marketers talk to them also needs to change. For example:

  • Show empathy (but be careful not to patronize). Assure physicians that your hospital understands the additional pressures they face today, and maintain direct dialogue as new payment models and integrated care methods are developed.
  • Profile physicians so you can personalize and specifically target your message to them.
    • Free online tools like SurveyMonkey can help identify physicians' interests, challenges and concerns.
    • Consider investing in research and/or a medical staff satisfaction survey to help clarify physicians' opinions about a variety of issues relating to their practice and their relationship with your hospital.
  • Develop key messages around physicians' wants and needs as well as how your hospital is addressing those issues to benefit them and their patients. You may find your messaging may relate to some of these areas that physicians feel strongly about:
    • Developing patient relationships.
    • Protecting and promoting the health of individuals.
    • Interacting with colleagues.
  • Match your values to physicians' values. What's important to your CAH is most likely important to doctors as well.
  • Speak in a language physicians understand. Most physicians are logical thinkers, so getting them to act often comes down to evidence-based conclusions. Stick with the facts; they'll help draw physicians to the conclusion you want them to reach.
  • Establish each doctor's preferred communication method and use it consistently.

The 2013 Deloitte Survey of U.S. Physicians found that nearly two-thirds of physicians believe doctors and hospitals will become more integrated in the next one to three years. That can be a golden opportunity for your rural hospital - if you know how to talk to physicians to build trust and relationships.

Watch for my upcoming blog on how to talk to patients in a new era of healthcare.

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Connecting Your CAH to the Community

The building blocks of a bridge to your community

What are the key elements in making a solid bridge? Support beams to hold it up. A solid surface for crossing. And guard rails for safety. Only together will these items create a connection that is strong and safe.

The same principle applies when your critical access hospital is building its connection with your community. In this case:

  • The support beams are your employees
  • The solid surface is community residents
  • The guard rails are local business leaders

These are the three key audiences you have to build relationships with to ensure a strong and stable connection to your community. And the strength of these relationships will significantly impact the trust, confidence, loyalty and support patients and prospective patients have for your facility.

So how do you begin building? Start with the support beams - your employees.

Employee engagement and satisfaction is how your CAH creates strong support for your bridge to the community. When physicians, nurses, therapists and other employees who directly interact with patients are happy and positive, they will provide better service, which ultimately results in a better overall patient experience.

Here are two ways to help keep your employees informed and included:

  • Employee forums - regular meetings between senior leadership, providers and administrative staff keep everyone up-to-date on important hospital information such as overall performance or changes in policies or operations.
  • Employee involvement in marketing - ask managers or nurses to help you select patient testimonials when marketing specific service departments. Then, feature providers from that department in the advertising (when appropriate) as opposed to using stock images.

Learn how to successfully construct the other elements of your bridge by attending our upcoming webinar, Connecting Your CAH to Your Community, on November 5 at 12 pm. Click here to register today!


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Marketers: Hit Your Hospital's 'Suite' Spot

How to talk to your C-suite executives

Have you ever had a deer-in-the-headlights experience when you've presented an executive summary? You meet with the CEO and other C-suite members. You've got a rock-solid marketing campaign to help meet your hospital's business goals. But when you start presenting - BLANK STARES - all around the room.

What just happened?

You led with your right; not your left - brain that is. We in the marketing profession need to remind ourselves that CEOs and others in the C-suite line are in the problem-solving business. If we want to capture their attention, we need to provide hard-hitting solutions to their healthcare concerns, and we need to know how to speak "C-suite."

First, what are the concerns of hospital CEOs these days? According to the American College of Healthcare Executives, these issues are at the top of CEOs' lists:

  1. Financial challenges
  2. Healthcare reform implementation
  3. Governmental mandates
  4. Patient safety and quality
  5. Care for the uninsured
  6. Patient satisfaction
  7. Physician-hospital relations
  8. Population health management
  9. Technology
  10. Personnel shortages
  11. Creating an accountable care orgnaization

If you can effectively address one or more of these concerns in your marketing plan and executive summary, you can turn that dreaded deer-in-the-headlight stare into "The Buck Stops Here" buy-in from the top.

How to talk to your CEO

Once you get in front of your CEO, CFO and the like, it's time to set creativity and colorful dialogue aside. Cut to the chase with succinct, black-and-white C-suite speak. In other words, don't get bogged down in details. Think "big picture" first. Provide a brief summary - sans marketing lingo or clever campaigns. Stick to what CEOs and other executives need to know by highlighting these four areas:

  • Objective: What are we trying to accomplish? What behavior are we seeking to change? How does this initiative support your rural hospital's strategic plan?
  • Messaging strategy: What is our message? This doesn't mean you need to provide the exact copy. Just clearly explain what your approach will be.
  • Timing: Share when the campaign will be launched. Again, forego the details. Stick to the key dates of when you'll hit your target audience(s).
  • Results and measurement: Let your CEO know how all of this will benefit the hospital and how you'll report on results.

Watch for additional posts in my "How to Talk to …" series for insights on how to more effectively communicate with your rural hospital's other key audiences. If you have any specific questions, I'd be happy to talk with you.

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Five Steps for Survival: How to Prepare for Continued Independence

If you got lost in the woods, ran out of food or got confronted by a bear, do you know how you'd react?

These unexpected challenges of hiking and camping - and the reactions they produce - can be very similar to the obstacles critical access hospitals (CAH) and other small or rural health organizations are facing. But instead of getting lost in the woods, your organization may be struggling with how to balance quality, transparency and affordability. Instead of running out of food, you may be running out of budget dollars. And you probably aren't facing a bear, but one or more larger competitors.

To overcome all these difficulties, all you have to do is follow five steps that I like to call "Survival of the Smartest." These steps help you take a comprehensive deep-dive into both the business and marketing perspectives of independence and success.

Step 1: Size up the situation
Understand what you're up against by determining your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Step 2: Have a positive attitude
Don't let the challenges or misperceptions leave you hopeless. Actively decide that you are willing to take the steps necessary to survive and gather the support of employees and the community.

Step 3: Navigate negotiations
Sometimes being 100 percent independent isn't possible, but be sure to stand your ground when establishing beneficial partnerships for a modified independence.

Step 4: Chart your course
Create a business development and marketing plan that will guide you in increasing awareness, market share and patient volumes.

Step 5: Make yourself visible
Develop a strong brand and position, and then market your strengths in your target service areas.

Interested in learning more? If you are attending the National Rural Health Association (NRHA) CAH Conference on October 1-3 in Kansas City, you can attend the speaking session, "Survival of the Smartest: How to Retain Independence" on October 2 at 2 p.m. Lisa Schnedler, CEO of Upland Hills Health (UHH), and I will present a case study of how UHH used these five steps to create unique partnerships and gain market share to become a financially-independent and award-winning healthcare organization.

If you are not able to attend, send me an email to receive a copy of the presentation.


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CAHs: Telemedicine Promotion=Profit Part 2

My last post discussed some of the "clinical" aspects of telemedicine and the benefits rural hospitals can expect from a well-implemented program. But there is one caveat to those statements of success.

Most consumers won't fully understand the value of telemedicine unless you effectively deliver your message - and continue to reinforce it. Successful telemedicine programs do this well. On the other hand, hospitals that take an "If we build it, they will come" approach realize a minimal return on investment, at best. Others simply fail.

Just like the services your on-site providers offer, telemedicine is a marketable service line. Do it right, and your hospital will not only increase awareness and utilization of your telemedicine program, it will improve your reputation as a leader and provider of innovative, high-quality, comprehensive healthcare.

Here are some - and I emphasize "some" - major marketing to-dos that you'll want to check off your list as you implement your telemedicine program. I'll go into more detail during my upcoming webinar.

  • Conduct a market analysis to ensure your program has a sustainable service model. It will help you define your program and identify and describe your key customers, competitors and potential partners.
  • Create a climate for success. Even though telemedicine services have been available for some time, the concept will be new to many of your patients, clinicians, administrators and others. An effective marketing and promotional program can help ensure your telemedicine program is highly accepted by major stakeholders and the community.
  • Identify specific marketing objectives. Be sure to link them to your overall program goals.
  • Create a messaging platform. Determine how you'll differentiate yourself; create a unique selling proposition.
  • Develop your marketing strategy. Using identified customer groups, value to these groups, concerns and barriers, you can determine the best strategies and mediums to target each audience (e.g., patients/consumers, staff, clinicians).
  • Develop promotional materials. Once you have clearly defined your program, customers and external environment, you can begin to develop the materials and activities to promote, communicate and educate your target audiences.
  • Monitor results. No marketing strategy should be set in stone. Monitor results and be prepared to adjust your efforts.

As I mentioned, I'll be taking a deeper dive into the marketing aspect of a successful telemedicine program during our upcoming webinar, "Building and Marketing a Telemedicine Program," on Tuesday, September 9 from 12 - 1 p.m. (CDT). Donna Jennings, vice president of Valis - a telemedicine consulting and solutions firm - will join me and lead a discussion on the clinical and financial side of telemedicine.

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How Your CAH Can Turn "Telemed" Into "Teleprofit" Part 1

Did you see the recent Wall Street Journal article, " Rural Hospitals Feel Pinch --- Strapped Facilities Squeezed Further by Medicare Changes, Dwindling Subsidies"? If you didn't read it, the headline says it all.

What the article doesn't tell you is how to "pinch back." In other words, "How can your hospital succeed in spite of Medicare changes and decreased subsidies?" One solution is telemedicine.

Now hear me out … I know "telemedicine" has become a healthcare buzzword these days. But there's more to it than video conferencing with a specialist hundreds of miles away. I also know that a lot of rural hospitals are turning "telemed" into "teleprofit." That's not rhetoric. It's a fact.

I've worked closely with Donna Jennings, an expert in the field of telemedicine consulting, and we've learned quite a bit from each other. As vice president of Valis, Donna not only knows her stuff, she's been elbow-deep in setting up successful telemedicine programs across the country.

Based on our discussions, I can tell you unequivocally, that rural hospitals can benefit both clinically and financially from an effective telemedicine program. While I've seen evidence of this with my own clients and business partners, Donna shed some light on a few lesser-known facts that it's important for your hospital to know about.

For example, according to Donna, "Many hospitals don't know that they can bill - and get paid - for telemedicine services if the program is set up appropriately and is very tightly organized."

She also stressed that, "It's important for hospitals to realize that return on investment goes beyond the telemedicine consultation itself. It's also related to things like reduced readmissions and mortality rates and value-based care metrics, which hospitals now get paid on."

Telemedicine can provide a multitude of benefits to your hospital and patients. To help get your arms around them, I've broken the advantages into four distinct categories:

  1. Improved access to inpatient and outpatient care: Telemedicine allows your hospital to offer your patients high-quality and consistent specialty care that's close to home. And that care can be provided without the large investment of hiring full-time, on-site providers.
  2. Improved patient outcomes: Telemedicine gives your patients immediate access to the specialists they need so they receive the right care, right away. This has been shown to improve outcomes for inpatients. You know what that means for your hospital when you're paid on performance. Earlier specialist treatment can also result in lower costs. And telemedicine allows similar benefits to outpatients, improving care without the cost and inconvenience of travel.
  3. Improved hospital performance: Telemedicine can decrease lengths of stay, mortality rates and patient transfers to tertiary facilities as well as encourage appropriate admissions and discharge decisions.  But that's not all. When patients have local access to the specialists they need, readmission rates and outmigration can be minimized, which can be a major coup for your hospital.
  4. Improved patient satisfaction: Telemedicine helps reduce travel time, wait time and related stress and uncertainty for patients needing specialty care. Inpatients also benefit from continued care by their own doctor who knows them best, with assistance from a well-trained telemedicine specialist.  And a well-organized and clinically sound telemedicine program can produce excellent patient and family satisfaction scores.

I also learned about different grants that are available to hospitals.  According to Donna, "Many grants are available to hospitals, especially in the area of rural healthcare. These grants can help hospitals invest in a telemedicine program and, with appropriate monitoring and outcomes support, hospitals can retain the grants so they can continue, and expand, their telemedicine program."

This is just the tip of the telemed iceberg when it comes to leveraging the benefits and opportunities available to your CAH.

You can find out more during our upcoming webinar, "Building and Marketing a Telemedicine Program," on Tuesday, September 9 from 12 - 1 p.m. (CDT). Donna will take a deep dive into the clinical and financial side of telemedicine, and I'll share a marketing perspective both in the webinar and in my upcoming blog.

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How Your CAH Can Build Surgical Volume

Rural hospitals across the country are looking for ways to increase surgery volume. But in their search for an elusive cure-all, many overlook opportunities right in their own backyard. Consider the following example:

Most rural hospitals serve an older demographic. With an aging population come age-related healthcare needs, like knee replacements. And the total number of knee replacement surgeries has soared 161.5% among Medicare participants over the past 20 years.

Let me put that into context for your CAH:

  • Today, about 4 million people - or 1 in 20 consumers over the age of 50 - have had knee replacement surgery.
  • That number is expected to grow to an estimated yearly demand of 3.48 million procedures by 2030.

Your CAH can leverage this opportunity, or opportunities like this, to immediately increase surgical volume by:

  • Developing a targeted marketing campaign for consumers 50+.
  • Implementing a strong PCP program to build relationships with physicians to help your CAH build surgical volume for the long term.
  • Managing the surgical process effectively, as described in this white paper.
  • Developing relationships with neighboring hospitals to share surgical teams and services. This recent article in The Rural Monitor highlights how robotic technology is expanding surgical capabilities of CAHs in Michigan, Minnesota and Washington.

What if your CAH doesn't have an orthopedic surgeon?

The principles are the same. There are many opportunities to develop relationships with specialists, whether they're independent or part of a system.

If you have questions about how your CAH can keep your surgery suites busy, give me a call at 920-544-8102 or send me an email at mikem@golegato.com. I have some ideas and case studies I'd be happy to share with you.

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How to Build a Women’s Health Program

In my last blog, I shared why it's important for your CAH to build a women's health program. The facts spoke for themselves. So let's move on to the how.

  • Analyze before you strategize: Conduct a demographic and needs analysis to identify gaps, overlaps, challenges and opportunities.
  • Drill down. Your CAH can stand out in women's minds by personalizing services - and marketing messages. For example, is your primary audience women age 55+ who enjoy gardening and knitting or is it physically active, service-minded middle-aged women? That leads me to my next point …
  • Know what women want. Studies show that women want to be treated like women - not just "consumers." This female-centric focus encompasses everything from providing a feminine décor and tranquil environment to communicating with women on a personal level and making it convenient for them to engage with your hospital and staff.
  • Build a core area of excellence. Develop at least one core service to build as a competitive advantage, (e.g. breast health). As you establish your CAH as an expert in this area, it can help build the perception that your hospital is a leader in other areas of women's health.
  • Mine your mix. "Women's health" goes beyond OB-GYN. It's evolving into a multi-discipline mix of service lines. Increase revenue by taking a cross-departmental approach to carve out niches from orthopedics, cardiovascular and other high-margin services your target audience needs.
  • Don't underestimate provider relationships. According to a 2011 Kaiser Women's Health Survey, most women (83%) report that they have a provider they see on a regular basis. These women maintain a consistent relationship with the healthcare system, which fosters the use of preventive and other women's health services.
  • Think virtually. This goes beyond using telehealth services. Many CAHs are building virtual women's health programs with the help of their marketing department or an external marketing firm.
  • Partner for progress and profit. Work with the community and local organizations to provide women's services beyond the scope of your hospital. This is an effective way to build loyalty among healthcare's number one decision-makers who can drive business to other areas of your organization.

I've worked with many CAH clients to help them build profitable women's health programs. If you'd like to learn more about these specific strategies and see case studies, don't forget to register for my June 4 webinar, "How to Build a Women's Health Program in Rural Healthcare." If you have questions prior to that, shoot me an email or give me a call.

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