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 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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Why Build a Women's Health Program?

We all know that women make the majority of healthcare decisions.  But the reasons for building a strong women's health program extend far beyond this well-known fact. For starters, The Advisory Board Company (a global research and consulting firm) found that:

  • Women account for about 60% of hospital volumes.
  • Women have significant unmet needs for health services.
  • Nationally, women in the 45+ age group has grown 25% over the past 10 years and is expected to grow another 14% over the next decade.1

And then there's the Affordable Care Act:

  • Under the ACA, women's preventive healthcare, like mammograms, screenings for cervical cancer, prenatal care and other services, generally must be covered by health insurance plans - with no cost sharing.
  • The law also recognizes the unique health needs of women throughout their lifespan.

I hope these facts have caught your attention …

Because they can point to profit for your CAH. The time is ripe for your rural hospital to build a women's health program that address the changing needs of women throughout their lives.

While OB-GYN will remain a core focus, it's time to think beyond the "baby stage."  An aging population - especially in rural communities - translates into additional needs for  breast and heart health services, urogynecology, screenings for osteoporosis, hormone therapy, management of chronic conditions and more.

Building a comprehensive women's health program can increase revenue for your CAH while building a loyal following of female patients, engaging them throughout every stage of their lives. And don't forget: these women have a big influence on the healthcare decisions made by other family members.

Now that we've established "why" your CAH needs to build a strong women's health program, my next post will focus on "how" to do it - regardless of the size of your hospital and its staff.  In the meantime, I'd be happy to field any questions you have about this timely topic.

You can also register to attend our upcoming webinar, "Building a Women's Health Program," to learn the best strategies for program development.

Wednesday, June 4
12 - 1 p.m. CDT
Presented by the National Rural Health Association Partnership Services


1The Advisory Board, Future of Women's Services: State of Women's Services, September 2008.

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Quality Care can Come in Small Packages

In the worlds of rural and critical access hospitals, size is typically an obstacle. But in our eyes, it's never about how big you are; it's about how you position and market yourself. With this idea in mind, along with commitments to quality and strategic marketing plans, our clients have received national recognition for patient and employee satisfaction and quality of care - despite the fact that they are "small."

Recently, we've seen personal evidence of the truth of our motto by receiving eight national awards through the 31st Annual Healthcare Advertising Awards and the 2014 Aster Awards.

The Healthcare Advertising Awards are sponsored by Healthcare Marketing Report and honor healthcare marketing professionals for exceptional quality, creativity and message effectiveness in advertising. This year's competition was one of the largest with over 3,700 entries submitted by some of the nation's largest healthcare systems and marketing/advertising agencies. From this impressive pool, we were incredibly proud to receive:

  • A Silver award for the Telespecialists, LLC logo design
  • A Bronze award for the Black River Memorial Hospital "Up Again" urology campaign
  • A Merit award for the Bone & Joint pain management primary care provider piece
  • Two Merit awards for the Holy Family Memorial "life.Empowered" TV spots
    • Cardiology - "I beat the widowmaker"
    • Orthopedics - "I made it out of the rough"

The Aster Awards are also an annual competition hosted by Creative Images, Inc. It recognizes the nation's healthcare marketing professionals who've demonstrated excellence in advertising. This year we won:

  • A Gold award for the Bone & Joint Walk-In Care campaign
  • A Gold award for the new Legato website
  • A Silver award for the Black River Memorial Hospital "Hoopla" orthopedics campaign

It just goes to show that being smaller doesn't mean you can't be better.

Visit our portfolio to check out the winning pieces.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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