Myths in Rural Healthcare: No One's Online in Rural Markets

A major part of my job is developing marketing plans for our clients. It's a comprehensive schedule of tactics including all the ways we plan to reach our targets. And frequently, it includes digital and online components. As hard as it is to believe in 2016, an objection I still hear quite often from marketing managers and CEOs alike is that the people in their community aren't online.

This is a common misperception. They are. With the advent of smartphones and tablets, the Internet is more widely accessible than ever. Plus, more and more counties and smaller communities are getting Wi-Fi grants for their residents. Factors such as cell towers and proximity to cities matter less and less when it comes to online access. Let's look at some numbers:

  • 88.5% of the population in the United States is online.
  • 83% of people in rural communities are online.
  • 76% of Internet users search online for health information.
  • 52% of smartphone users search for health information on their phones.

At the most, 17% of people in rural communities aren't online. Dismissing an opportunity to connect with your audience because they may be part of that minority is unwise to say the least. So don't let old ideas keep you from being successful with new ones. Your patient population is much more connected than you may think. Digital and online marketing is a great way to reach them. Whether it's with an aggressive Google adwords push, fun and engaging Facebook content, informative blog posts, or enticing content offers, there are touch points at every turn for connecting with your audience.

So when you think rural healthcare marketing, think online. The platforms are there. Prospective patients are there. Your healthcare organization should be there too.

If you are ready to start building your brand's digital strategy, but are not sure where to start, download our presentation: "Rural Healthcare Marketing in a Digital World." Learn how to:

  • Control the message through your website content
  • Manage your brand on social media
  • Protect your reputation on review sites

We'll take you step by step to ensure you have a solid foundation-and the support you need-for taking your healthcare marketing online.

If you're ready to start building your brand's digital strategy, but are not sure where to start, download our presentation: Rural Healthcare Marketing in a Digital World.

Learn how to:
•  Control the message through your website content
•  Manage your brand on social media
•  Protect your reputation on review sites

We'll take you step by step to ensure you have a solid foundation--and the support you need--for taking your healthcare marketing online.

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Myths in Rural Healthcare: Rural Hospitals are a Thing of the Past

Critical Access Hospitals Are A Thing Of The Past

It's a changing world out there. Ask any rural hospital administrator. It seems like every day there's another story about a rural hospital being forced to close its doors. So it's easy to understand why the impulse for some is to just sit back and let the inevitable happen.

But it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, it's one of the healthcare industry's biggest myths: that rural hospitals are a dying breed. I take issue with that notion. Rural hospitals are just like any other business in any other industry: they're fighting for their share in a competitive market. And, like any other business in any other industry, some do it with more success than others.

Here's how the smart ones stay successful:

They develop a marketing plan. All this doom and gloom talk could be a crutch, your excuse to stop trying. We don't see it that way. With challenge comes opportunities. Start by marketing like a big city hospital. Evaluate what your strengths and weaknesses are. Take the pulse of the community you serve. What is their opinion of your facility? Do they even know all the services you offer? Then, explore areas of innovation and expansion. Take action, and then promote it. Marketing gets the word out and alerts potential and present patients to the exciting changes going on at your hospital.

Offer more and embrace technology. There's no better example of a rural hospital that I can think of facing the challenge head on than Barrett Hospital and Healthcare in Dillon, Montana. An institution since 1922, they moved into a beautiful state-of-the-art facility that feels like a five-star ski lodge in 2012. They've made great strides in expanding their services and have welcomed technological advances to more efficiently serve their patients. These are substantial investments, but for Barrett, they have paid off.

"Since moving into our new hospital, we've continued to work hard to expand services and improve access to healthcare to all we serve," says Ken Westman, CEO of Barrett Hospital and HealthCare. "And we will continue to look at opportunities to grow our services to meet the needs of the communities we serve."

This attitude helped earn Barrett Hospital and Healthcare accolades as an iVantage Top 100 Critical Access Hospital in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015 and a 2015 National Rural Health Association Top 20 Critical Access Hospital.

Take heart. The situation isn't as dire as some of those doomsday folks might have you believe. Take heart, and then take action. Success is out there for those who know where to find it.

Still uncertain about how your rural health facility can compete with larger systems?

Our NRHA webinar--Increase Revenue In Your Sleep--discusses how establishing partnerships and relationships can lead to an increase in:
•  Revenue
•  Patient volumes
•  Number of service lines

Download Webinar


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4 Things to Include in Your Critical Access Hospital’s Social Media Policy

A negative review. A bad comment. An inappropriate post. These are all reasons why many healthcare organizations are reluctant to become too active on social media. Because nobody can control everything that is being said.

However, since social media is such a large part of people's everyday lives - and a tool many use to make buying decisions - your healthcare facility can't afford not to be active. That's why it's important to have a comprehensive social media policy that everyone in your facility is familiar with.

A written policy can protect both your facility and your employees. Here are four important components that your policy should include:

1. An online employee code of conduct and potential disciplinary measures for violations of the code of conduct.


  • Employees can associate themselves with the facility online, but must make it clear that their opinions are personal and do not represent the facility.
  • Employees cannot share sensitive or confidential information, especially in relation to patient care.

2. Employee social media usage guidelines.


  • Only members of the marketing department or designated social media team can post on the facility's social media channels.
  • Personal social media use cannot disrupt workplace productivity or performance level.

3. The approval process for online content.

  • Outline who has final approval of online content that directly represents the facility.
  • List who in the facility is approved to post content on behalf of the facility.

4. A crisis management plan.

  • Clearly identify who in the organization should be notified regarding a negative or inappropriate social media post, who will respond to the post and what potential responses are.

Once your social media policy is created and approved, the next step is ensuring all employees are aware of the new policy. A good way to do this is by including it in the employee handbook and/or employment agreement.

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How Your Critical Access Hospital can Effectively Promote New Services

Features Versus Benefits: What will stick in the minds of patients?

So one of your doctors just started offering a new procedure that uses a new innovative method. Or maybe, your imaging department just purchased a new CT scanner. Now, it's your job to create an ad promoting these new services.

As you approach this task, remember that focusing on the technology or the technique may not be the most effective method. Patients and potential patients aren't familiar with clinical or technical jargon; therefore, they won't understand - or relate to - an ad that focuses on clinical and technical features of a service or piece of equipment. They also won't want to see a picture of a joint implant or new surgical laser. Instead, you need to show patients how the features actually benefit them and their quality of life. (See a benefits-oriented orthopedic campaign here.)

For example:

  • Your doctor's new surgery is a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure. To a patient this means smaller scars, less time at the hospital and more quickly returning to everyday life.
  • Your new CT scanner allows for a quicker and more accurate scan while using less radiation. To a patient this means increased safety and convenience.

Follow a Real Success Story
See how one critical access hospital promoted a new knee replacement technique in a way that resonated with patients - and the significant increase in volumes that followed the campaign.

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Why the Patient Experience Starts with Your Employees

Register now to see a new trend in employee satisfaction.

The patient experience. It's what every healthcare marketer wants to portray and what every healthcare facility wants to improve.

But how do you ensure that the positive experience you sell in an ad is what patients will actually receive when they come to you for care?

It all starts with your employees.

One of the trends we've seen for improving employee satisfaction - and therefore, the patient experience - is through online staff education. Between patient safety, HIPAA compliance, regulatory trainings and continuing education requirements, your staff is probably spending a lot of time on education. With an online learning system, this education becomes more efficient as it can be done anywhere, at any time. Meaning your staff can focus more on patient care.

Attend an upcoming NRHA webinar to learn how one of our clients - Edgerton Hospital and Health Services - selected an online education system that not only lead to significant improvements in their Press Ganey Scores, but also reduced their annual education costs by more than $16,000.

Rural Solutions to Online Education:
Selecting a system that helps your bottom line
December 15 | Noon (CST)
Register today!

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Three Definitions to Help You Understand Content Marketing

From infographics to eBooks and blog posts, these are things healthcare consumers are using more and more to learn about healthcare topics and make healthcare decisions. Why? Because of the rise of content marketing.

So what is it exactly? Like many new buzzwords in the marketing industry, content marketing means slightly different things to different people. Here are a few definitions:

"Content marketing is a strategic marketing approached focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience-and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action."

-Content Marketing Institute

"Content marketing is a way of engaging and attracting existing and potential customers through content creation…it's personal, engaging and tells stories."

-Dan Bergeron, Likeable Media

"Content marketing provides consumers with useful information to aid purchase decisions, improve product usage and entertain them while achieving organizational goals without being overtly promotional."

-Heidi Cohen, Riverside Marketing Strategies

Interested in learning more? There's still time to register for our webinar on December 8. This educational webinar, presented through the National Rural Health Association, will further define what content marketing is and demonstrate why it's important for rural healthcare marketers to add it to their overall marketing strategy.

Content Marketing 101: Understanding Marketing's Biggest Buzz Word
December 8 | 12 pm (CST)

Register Now!

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Community Paramedicine: An emerging care model

From 2000 to 2010, emergency department visits increased 20 percent - from 108 million to 129 million - according to a 2013 report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

In 2009, 45 percent of Medicare beneficiaries arriving at hospitals by ambulance were never admitted to the hospital, but they still cost the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services $1.98 billion.

Emergency department (ED) overuse and misuse are major problems that not only lead to higher healthcare costs (and readmission penalties under health care reform), but also longer wait times and lower patient satisfaction.

Some hospitals have tried educating consumers about the importance of primary care and appropriate use of urgent and emergency care. But as long as the ED remains a safety net for people - a place they can go for convenient care, emergency or not - ED misuse will continue.

However, there is an emerging care model that hospitals and health systems can implement to help alleviate overcrowded EDs: community paramedicine.

Community paramedicine, also known as mobile integrated health care-community paramedicine (MIH-CP), uses local emergency medicine technicians and paramedics to provide services outside of their traditional emergency response and transport roles. It shifts emergency medical services from being solely reactive to incorporating proactive measures that ensure the most efficient use of the EDs - all to reduce inappropriate use of local emergency care resources and improve the overall health of communities.

The full article is featured on H&HN Daily. Click to read on and learn about the different models of MIH-CP and additional benefits of implementing a program.

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Rural Solutions from Big Name Healthcare

Last year, we wrote an article about why your rural hospital should consider offering - and marketing - GreenLight™ Laser Therapy (a minimally invasive treatment for enlarged prostate). Not only is this procedure an excellent way to increase outpatient surgery volumes, but the creators of the GreenLight laser - American Medical Systems (now part of Boston Scientific) - also provide facilities with equipment and marketing options specific to the rural health industry. These include the ability to lease equipment, as opposed to buying it, as well as free marketing kits to help rural facilities promote GreenLight Laser capabilities in a cost-effective manner.

In fact, many national healthcare equipment and technology companies are designing solutions geared specifically to rural healthcare. Reversing the mindset that rural hospitals can't afford big name brands; nowadays, rural hospitals can't afford not to work with these companies.

More examples of big name, rural healthcare solutions:

Swank HealthCare
This comprehensive online learning management system offers healthcare employee education solutions at affordable and fixed prices. So rural facilities with smaller operating budgets can rely on budget certainty - no hidden fees, surprise costs or increased rates.

See how one critical access hospital reduced its education costs by over $16,000 with Swank HealthCare.

Philips Healthcare
While this global company offers innovative solutions for some of the nation's biggest healthcare systems, it also provides products and services to meet the needs of smaller rural health facilities. One of these solutions is a customer marketing kit, through which, Philips helps its customers implement traditional and digital marketing efforts to build exam volumes as well as the technological reputation of their facilities.

Learn more about these kits and see how one critical access hospital successfully implemented a multi-faceted promotional campaign by attending:

Promoting Your Brand Value in Growing Your Service Line
A National Rural Health Association Webinar
Presented by Philips Healthcare and Legato Healthcare Marketing
November 12 | Noon (CST)

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Myths in Rural Healthcare: Just a Band-Aid Station

Myth #4: Rural Hospitals are Just Band-Aid Stations

This is a common consumer MISperception. The root cause is usually something as simple as local residents not being aware of all the services available at your facility.

So how does a rural hospital overcome this myth and change people's mindsets? Here are three ways:

1. Develop a capabilities campaign

A capabilities campaign is like a brand campaign mixed with a service line campaign. It's general enough to be used over an extended period of time to increase awareness, but it also provides details on the variety of services your facility offers patients.

The way we like to do a capabilities campaign is to first brainstorm an overarching theme. This theme should communicate your competitive advantage, unique selling proposition or why a patient should choose you. From there, we usually create several versions of print ads, radio spots, billboards, videos, social media posts or whatever other tactics your facility wants to use. Throughout these pieces, you can change the messaging to promote different services and increase awareness of all your capabilities.

See an example of a testimonial-style capabilities campaign here.

2. Host a health fair or education series

Since this misperception stems from lack of awareness, education is a key element in overcoming it.

Why a health fair? It's a one-stop learning shop where community members can get a quick snapshot of all the services you offer. But don't forget the light refreshments and door prizes to draw people in.

Why an education series? This option allows multiple touch points with audiences. You can start promoting the education series with messaging on all the events, and then, you can send reminders. An education series is also a great way to engage with targeted, but varied audiences, as each event will engage people with different health needs.

3. Get your employees involved

Whether you call it brand ambassadors or employee ambassadors, it's crucial to have your employees engaged with the community and spreading the word about your services.

One way to do this is through a speaker's bureau. Different departments throughout the facility can create educational presentations that can be shared at chamber events, schools, businesses or with local clubs and organizations. These presentations shouldn't just be about a service, but instead should take an educational angle to prove your facility is a thought leader and looking out for the wellness of the community.

Examples: Your dietitian does a demonstration on eating a heart healthy diet. Your physical therapists can provide trainings or injury prevention classes for running clubs or school athletic groups.

Another way employees can help counter this myth is by being involved in the community on a personal level. The volunteer groups or other organizations they participate in present opportunities for employees to talk with community residents about your facility's services.

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Myths in Rural Healthcare: We Can't Build Profitable Service Lines

Myth #3: Critical access hospitals don't have the resources to build profitable service lines

With a smaller facility, fewer doctors and a lower operating budget, it may seem impossible to build profitable service lines like orthopedics or urology. But the truth is that you can - and we've seen firsthand many of our clients do it.

Here are three steps to get you on the path to successful and profitable service lines:

1. Work with visiting specialists as opposed to hiring full-time physicians.

If you don't have the budget to hire a full-time orthopedic specialist or urologist - or worry that volume will be too low to keep a full-time physician - contract with visiting specialists. These physicians can help you start, and grow, your service line without large overhead costs.

2. Make sure consumers know you offer the service line.

Whether it's a brand new service or an existing, but slow-growing service, you can't build profit with low awareness. Incorporate advertising campaigns into your marketing budget, and target your efforts toward very specific audiences who will benefit most from the services. For example: joint replacement campaigns should target people 55 and older; prostate health should target men 50 and older. By using a more targeted approach, your message will get in front of the right people and reduce your marketing costs-ultimately, increasing your potential return on investment.

Another way to increase awareness without spending a lot of money is utilizing your social media channels. It's free to post on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. However, investing just $50 dollars in boosting a Facebook post can drastically increase your impressions.

Need more awareness? Feature new services or physicians in your newsletters, on your website and around your campus.

3. Bring people into your facility to see your advanced capabilities and meet the specialty physicians.

Plan an open house, educational event or health fair that draws people into your facility. If potential patients see your capabilities, meet your providers and feel comfortable with your hospital or clinic, they will be more likely to think of you when/if they need care. Educational events and health fairs will also position your facility as a place that cares about the overall health and wellness of the community. Plus, these types of events will position your facility and physicians as thought leaders in the area.

Want to see some real results?  Click here to see how one critical access hospital  doubled its total knee replacement procedure volumes. 

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