"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
As your hospital takes steps to attain sustainable
patient-centered excellence, here are some considerations to keep
Know it all: Before you can effectively improve
your HCAPHS scores, you need to "know what you need to know." For
- 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
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
You say "snail mail." I say "escargot." It's all about
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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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
- 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,
- 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
- 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.
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.
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
study provides important details and other impressive
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 …
Posted on September 6, 2013
Manhattan Research recently surveyed more than 5,000 adults who
use the Internet as a health resource. Fifty-four percent of
respondents said they did online research to decide what services
they might need - and who should provide them. Other surveys have
estimated as high as 75 percent of American adults search for
health information via the web.
Despite these stats, many rural hospitals disregard their online
presence. They also mistakenly believe that online reviews play
little or no role in defining their hospital's brand. (If you're in
that camp, just think about what positive - or negative - reviews
have done to the success or failure of a newly released movie.)
The indisputable truth is: If you don't continuously manage your
hospitals' online reputation, someone else will. Chances are, that
"someone" will be a faction of disgruntled patients who take every
opportunity to paint your CAH in a bad light.
And it doesn't matter if you have a litany of great reviews. The
naysayers can - and will - cast doubts in the minds of other
consumers. And those prospective patients may decide to go
elsewhere for care, simply because you didn't care to address your
It doesn't have to be that way. Here are some low-cost
strategies your hospital can implement immediately to help you
address the opportunities and challenges of online reputation
- Monitor what people are saying - and respond, when
- Use social media effectively:
- Start by posting one to two times a week. You can increase the
number of posts as activity and engagement increases.
- Develop a go-to topic list and editorial calendars. This makes
consistent posting easier throughout the week.
- Like and share posts from other healthcare sites, such as the
National Rural Health Association (NRHA) and Society for
Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD).
- Refresh your website, re-evaluating copy and positioning, and
updating/adding keywords, meta-tags and browser titles to
maximize search engine optimization (SEO) potential.
As an invited speaker at the Sept. 10 Arkansas Office of
Rural Health Critical Access Hospital Administrators
Conference, I'll be discussing "Reputation Management and
Marketing Services to Rural Communities."
I hope you're planning to attend the upcoming conference. If you
are, I'd be happy to have a sidebar with you on this important
topic. If you're not able to attend, contact me and I'll send you a
copy of the presentation.
Posted on August 6, 2013
As a healthcare marketer, I've decided I need to take my own
advice and start taking better care of myself.
For starters, there's this bowling ball in my belly I need to
shrink. It's not a tumor or anything, just the result of frequent
stops at McDonald's during trips to see clients.
As part of my health epiphany, I thought it would be wise to
make sure my fast food frenzies haven't built up an excessive
amount of plaque, or calcification, around my heart.
So I visited a local hospital for one of those $50 calcium
scorings. You know, the ones I'm always encouraging our clients to
do as a way of reaching out to potential patients. This kind of
interaction, I argue, is an excellent way to form relationships
with prospective patients and make them patients for life. It's an
opportunity to make a good first impression and deliver on the
Or, in this situation, it's a way to turn a great opportunity
into a lasting impression of confusion, uncertainty and
disorganization. Not exactly the words you want defining your
For its protection from embarrassment, I don't want to name the
organization. But, I do want to share this experience as a way for
us to learn what not to do.
Here's a summary of my experience:
- When I called to make an appointment, the scheduler replied:
"Oh is this that retail heart thing we do? I don't know much about
it, but we can schedule something."
- After the procedure was completed, I asked the technicians
about when to expect my results, and who would provide them to me.
The two employees looked at one another, seemingly confused, and
then one of them said: "Well, they really never tell us much here
about how this works. I'm sure someone will call you. We just do
the test here, but no one really told us anything else."
- To their credit, someone did call me a couple weeks later to
explain the test results. As my score came up as a zero (no
identifiable calcification), the person said "to keep doing what
I'm doing because it seems to be working well." Hmm, maybe I should
supersize my next lunch.
- A few days later, I received the
attached follow up report (in an envelope with a return address
from the physicians who read the report, not from the hospital I
visited). The good news is my score came back as encouraging. The
bad news: I don't know if I believe it. Besides the fact I know
there are historically many false positives with this type of
screening, the lack of confidence I received during the whole
process gave me some serious doubts. Did the machine work?
Did the "real" results get recorded? Why does my report say that
Dr. Joe Smith at XYZ Clinic read this?
Then my marketing and branding radar kicked in. Why is there no
logo? Why do I have a black and white photocopy? Is
that a heart on the upper right hand corner, or a Mr. Potato
The point in all of this is to think through the brand from
start to finish. What experience will the patient have?
What impression will be made at every point in the
Posted on August 15, 2013
Question: How old would you be if you didn't know how old you
For many people, the answer is 5, 10, even 20 years younger than
they really are. In fact, a recent study revealed that 64 percent
of adults consider themselves "youthful." Seventy-two percent are
self-identified as "energetic."
Interesting. But how does this "fountain of youth" mentality
affect your rural hospital? For starters, it reveals an important
fact about one of the most predominant markets in rural
communities: Baby Boomers.
Today, women over 55 spend more time online gaming than males
age 15 to 24. That just goes to show you this all-important
demographic is nowhere near ready to trade in its Rock 'n' Roll for
Simply put: With longer life expectancies, Boomers are refusing
to grow old. That means your marketing efforts better be "new-age
appropriate" if you want to connect with them.
For example, if you're going to promote hip replacement surgery,
scrap the shot of the silver-haired grandfather playing catch with
his grandson. Instead, opt for a shot of a guy (with a touch
of grey) whose hitting the lake - on a paddle board - or playing a
game of 3-on-3 … You get the drift.
This is a new age. A new attitude. A new opportunity for your
CAH to build relationships with this important market segment.
Relationships that can lead to increased revenue by letting Boomers
know you understand "who" they are and what's important to
Get their attention. Connect with their lifestyles. Call 'em
"energetic." Call 'em "youthful." Call 'em anything but
"Grandma" or "Grandpa!"
Posted on August 20, 2013
October is fast approaching, but this year, Halloween isn't the
only date that's stirring up excitement - and fear of the
Oct. 1, 2013, will change the way millions of consumers purchase
health insurance. The results could leave your CAH quaking - or
quickly pulling ahead in the quality queue - if you're
Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, every
state must build a Health Insurance Exchange (HIX) on its own,
partner with one or more other states, or have the federal
government build and run the insurance exchange for them. And the
exchanges are scheduled to be up and running Oct. 1.
What's a HIX?
Simply put, consumers will be able to compare rates and buy
insurance from private healthcare providers who are competing for
their business within a HIX. Many believe exchanges will improve
the healthcare system in a number of ways, such as:
- Increasing choice and convenience: Multiple
health insurance plans will be included in each exchange, making it
easy to compare price and quality.
- Simplification through standardization: Each
state's exchange must offer four standardized insurance plans:
Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Plans offered by different
insurance companies within the exchange must include identical
levels of benefits for each of the four tiers of coverage.
- Economies of scale: It's estimated that
hundreds of thousands - even millions - of Americans will use a
state's exchange to purchase insurance over the phone or
Exciting stuff, wouldn't you agree? So what are rural hospitals
(and their big-city competitors) afraid of? Many unknowns still
For example, some healthcare leaders question whether patients
who buy insurance through a HIX will fully understand what is - or
is not - covered by their plan. That could result in bad debt for
hospitals, especially in the case of consumers who are moved off of
There's no crystal ball to determine if the HIX will be a nix or
a fix for CAHs and other healthcare organizations. But there's one
definitive point I'd like to share.
I've worked with CAH leaders and marketing professionals to
prepare for the changes that will propel all of us into a new era
of healthcare. These hospitals aren't waiting for change to direct
their fate; they are taking steps now to effectively manage quality
and cost of care. Plus, they're making changes to direct their
And I can tell you from personal experience - it's working!
What is your organization doing right now to help prepare for
these big changes? What information do you think you need to
communicate to your patients?
Want, or need, to learn more about health
insurance exchanges? Submit your questions by leaving a comment
below or contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org or