Myths in Rural Healthcare: Close-to-Home Care

With more than 25 years in the healthcare industry, I've observed and created countless strategies and tactics for rural healthcare marketing campaigns. Some of them worked, others did not. However, several ideas and messages stand out to me as "myths" believed in the industry. Over the next year, I'll be writing a series of blog posts that examine and dissect these common myths and trends we see in rural healthcare marketing and give solutions on how you can avoid them.

Myth 1: The Close-to-Home Strategy

This may be the most common myth critical access hospitals believe when it comes to their marketing strategies. The idea behind the message is that CAHs provide care to those that would otherwise have to make a much longer journey to a bigger city. This is not to say that the convenience of close-to-home care is not an important message to communicate to potential patients. However, using it as the primary messaging simplifies what you have to offer.

Three reasons why "Close-to-Home" is not working for you:

Lacks differentiation. The most obvious problem with the close-to-home strategy is that it's a message used by most critical access hospitals. A message that is meant to differentiate your CAH from larger hospitals quickly lumps you into a category with every other rural facility.

Lacks dimension. Another issue with this strategy is that it's one-dimensional. Location is only one factor into what makes your facility unique. Often when CAHs use "close-to-home" they are trying to communicate so much more than just location. They want to communicate community-focused, family-oriented, personalized care, less wait time, etc.

Lacks personality. What makes your facility unique? Is it your pet therapy dog, Gordon? Or Amanda, the candy stripe who loves to sing? Perhaps it's your senior life center library, donated by George, a bibliophile who's spent his life collecting books from around the world. Tell the story of your facility because that's what makes you different: the patient experience.

What can you do? If you feel stuck in the close-to-home strategy, start at the source. Re-examine your brand. What is your brand promise? Get specific about your strengths and how they affect the patient experience. Think about the unique character and personality of the staff, patients and community in which your hospital exists. The details of your hospital's story will help you see the bigger picture for your brand. And a complex, more meaningful brand promise will lead to strength and consistency across all your campaigns. To learn more on brand development, check out our blog post What's in a Brand?

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Join the DIY Healthcare Movement with These Three Tools

Let's face it, the crafty "do it yourself" mantra is no longer for grandma. Now, young adults under the age of 35 (a.k.a. millennials) dominate the 29 billion dollar crafting industry. In fact, millennials are bringing together technology, creativity and entrepreneurism as they take on more DIY projects. The same goes for healthcare decisions.

According to research conducted last year from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), do it yourself healthcare, including mobile apps and consumer medical devices, is set to be a top healthcare trend in the next few years. And more and more physicians are willing to consider information about their patients coming from DIY devices.

This idea of DIY healthcare isn't entirely new. The invention of the fever thermometer, bathroom scale and even the home pregnancy test could be considered DIY devices. Today, those DIY ideas are in digital form such as blood testing kits, exercise tracking devices and use of apps to track vitals. In fact, consumers can now buy strep throat test kits on Amazon. Parents can make better choices about bringing their kids to an urgent care or emergency room now, avoiding costly, time-consuming healthcare visits.

Furthermore, over half of the American workforce will be considered a millennial by 2020. Research shows that 4 in 10 millennials are interested in co-creating products with companies.  Many brands are taking advantage of this and are now offering customizable options. This demographic, and more importantly, these behaviors simply cannot be ignored.

Hospitals should incorporate DIY tools into efforts to engage patients. Here's three ways:

  1. Share free apps with your patients. Not all hospitals and systems have the resources to develop owned applications. Help your patients simplify the process by giving them tools to help them make smart decisions about their healthcare.
  2. Use personal health devices or wellness tracking apps in community relations projects. If you're going to sponsor a community wellness event, incorporate apps that encourage weight loss, drinking more water or even smoking cessation.
  3. Bring a support group to the web. We're already seeing hospitals and health systems rethinking the traditional community support group. You can use your existing social media accounts to conceptualize the idea tomorrow.

Many experts think millennials will overtake boomers as the nation's biggest consumer buying group. We think that insurers and healthcare providers that survive or thrive in the future are those who adapt sooner than later to the preferences of this fast-paced, technology-driven generation.

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Eight Ways to Reuse Existing Content

Your website is the main hub for your patients. Although you may not see it now, it's also your health system's content marketing hotspot. That's why your website requires weekly updates of content to keep the engine running. If you don't have the staff to dedicate a copywriter to website content management, repurposing the content you already have could be a healthcare marketer's dream.

Repurposing content is when you take a piece of content and change it so it serves a different purpose. But repurposing content is not the same as revamping content. When you repurpose content, you're doing one of two things: changing the format of the content, or changing the target audience for the content.

Here are 8 amazing ways to help you build a bigger content base through repurposing:

Share presentations. If you don't have a SlideShare account, get one today. Did a heart specialist give a presentation recently on diet and heart health? Reformat that same presentation and make it live on SlideShare. Then blast it out on your social media sites. Your docs will love it. So will Google. Another cool feature: SlideShare has solid analytics for free. You can also turn physician presentations into blog posts. Or visa versa. It works both ways.

Turn complex health articles into infographics. I'm sure your noticing by now that your online audience has less time to read. Turn your how-to guides, checklists or other complex articles into a visual using an infographic. If you don't have a graphic designer on staff, try Canva.

Reformat videos into articles/blogs. Your patients bring different preferences for consuming content, so repurposing into a different format allows you to cater to the diverse needs of your followers. For example, if you produced a video with discharge instructions for new moms, you can turn that same content into a short how-to article (or infographic) explaining the same topic. By using different mediums, you can reach different audiences with the same information.

Use LinkedIn Publisher. The LinkedIn Publisher tool is a wonderful tool to repurpose content. For example, post new content to your blog and/or website, then share it on your social sites in a few days after. Link the original content to LinkedIn Publisher for those connections that may not regularly visit. Once it's published, LinkedIn notifies connections about your new post, which is great for both reaching new readers.

Start micro-blogging. By micro-blog, we specifically mean Tumblr or even Twitter. It's easy to post the headline of the article and let it fly on its own. Just be sure it has a powerful headline.

Reuse your existing web images/photos. Such as pinning images to Pinterest, then post that link to Twitter and on Facebook.

Transform a series of blog posts into an e-book. If you have several blog posts that fit together well into a series, that could be an e-book ready to launch. It's also a great way to establish your doctors and/or hospital as a local industry leader.

Refresh old articles. Look back over your previously published content and see if you have any posts that can be easily re-angled to serve a different audience. You can do this with articles you send to the local papers. With just a slightly different spin, you can make your content more applicable to a different audience and double up on posts with minimal recreation effort. And just because you've written about a certain topic before, doesn't mean you should never write about it again.

By repurposing your content, you can give your readers more resources while simultaneously getting the most out of the content you've already created.

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Think Like a Healthcare CEO and Elevate the Role of Marketing

This is painful for me to say because I've been on both sides of the healthcare marketing table. But I've also learned that before you can overcome a challenge, you have to know what you're up against.

A recent Fournaise Marketing Group survey of high-level decision-makers revealed that 80 percent of CEOs don't really trust marketers. Why? Because most of these CEOs (78%) "think marketers lose sight of what their real job is: to generate more customer demand for their services in a business-quantifiable and business-measurable way."

Ouch, that stings - at least on the surface. But let's peel back the layers of the onion. First, I'm sure we're all in agreement that many health systems' CEOs have a firm understanding and appreciation of what marketing does for their organization. But "many" isn't "all." Even if a CEO is fully on board with the functions of Marketing, there's often a disconnect between the two.

So what's the answer?

Marketers needs to start thinking - and speaking - like a CEO. Think about it … C-suite staff is analytical; summary-oriented; focused on profitability, patient volume, quality scores, ROI. If Marketing wants to gain buy-in, backing and trust from executives, it's going to take both sides of the brain.

That doesn't mean creativity no longer has value. It's as important as ever. It simply means that Marketing also needs to understand the vision, goals and concerns of C-suite executives - and speak directly to them. Here's how.

Do your homework before you meet with C-suite staff:

  • Read the strategic plan and current operating plan.
  • Understand your organization's goals and be prepared to explain how your marketing plan or campaign is aligned with those goals.
  • Understand and address at least one major concern of C-suite executives.

Know how to talk to your CEO

Once you get in front of your senior execs, it's time to set creativity and its related jargon aside. Stick to what CEOs and other leaders need to know. Highlighting four key areas:

  1. Objective: What are we trying to accomplish? What behavior are we seeking to change? How does this initiative support your hospital's strategic plan?
  2. Messaging strategy: What is our message? This doesn't mean you provide the exact text. Instead, clearly explain how you will approach the topic.
  3. Timing: Share when the campaign will be launched. Again, forgo the details. Stick to the key dates when you'll hit your target audience(s).
  4. Results and measurement: Your CEO wants to know how all of this will benefit the hospital and how you'll report on results. This area is often glazed over or ignored by Marketing. But I can tell you from experience, it's the most important to C-suite staffers. So it warrants a deeper dive here.

Think "ROMI"

If C-suite focuses on "ROI" - return on investment, marketers need to focus on "ROMI" - return on marketing investment. This is where metrics come in. You can break them into three general categories:

  • Output: What did your marketing function or campaign produce (e.g., number of events that were held; number of brochures produced? And how well did you do (e.g., were you on budget; on time)? Pretty basic measurements - but knowing this information can help identify inefficiencies that you can address in the future.
  • Marketing outtakes: These metrics focus on results of a marketing campaign or specific marketing activity. For example, if you held three events in three months, how many people participated in them? Or, how many people visited your new web page or downloaded a video you posted?
  • Strategic outcomes: These metrics relate to the strategic direction of your organization. These could include patient volume, awareness, increase in revenue, patient satisfaction scores, ROI … all of the things your CEO cares about.

It's important for Marketing to provide all three metrics, but C-suite executives will focus on strategic outcomes. So plan ahead. You'll need to know what you want to measure and have tracking systems in place to capture the data.

The following case study walks you through the process Legato Healthcare Marketing took with Holy Family Memorial, a rural health network in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

Holy Family Memorial Case Study

C-Suite Concerns

Due to some biased interpretation and unsubstantiated methodology of a quality scoring system by an insurer, Holy Family Memorial (HFM), a health network in Manitowoc Wisconsin, was concerned that it might be unfairly perceived by some area employers as having lower quality or higher costs. However, national data actually recognizes the organization as leading the nation for high quality, innovation and creating an effective industry-leading utilization model of care. The health network wanted to demonstrate the true facts in an understandable and persuasive way while simultaneously demonstrating the organization's broad range of clinical capabilities through service line promotion.

Timing and Messaging

To capitalize on its strengths and to communicate its clear strengths in quality and costs, HFM needed a powerful marketing program based on a sound business strategy. HFM senior leaders substantially and boldly delivered on this strategy with an organizational transformation to become a healthcare provider of the future-one that works to keep costs down, quality up and people out of the hospital. To do this, HFM leadership completed a thorough analysis of its strategies and structure and determined strengths, weaknesses and capabilities.

From this, HFM's Right Care Model was born: Right Care. Right Setting. Right Outcomes.®

  • Right care is using the most effective evidence based approach possible.
  • Right setting is offering the most cost-effective, safest, highest quality and greatest value.
  • Right outcomes is achieving the greatest long-term benefit to the patient and society.

With solid support points, it was time to start promoting HFM's quality and new way of delivering care. While HFM's five-star and top-ten ratings could help pique consumers' interest, they hold little value to consumers when promoted with only the name of a rating organization as support. Consumers want to see how those numbers and ratings will affect them.

HFM created "life. Empowered." to be the umbrella statement for the quality campaign. Under "life. Empowered.," four service lines were promoted, with the first phase being cardiology. To help consumers really experience and see HFM's quality, HFM and Legato used a testimonial approach, focusing on real patients' experiences. Quality awards and numbers were used as support points only.


Objectives specific to the cardiology phase were to:

  1. Increase the number of new patients at the Heart and Vascular Clinic.
  2. Improve patient volume for catheterization lab procedures.
  3. Gain market share over its largest competitor

Results and Measurement

Several measures were used to evaluate the effectiveness of the cardiology phase of HFM's "life. Empowered." campaign.


  • was set up (with Google Analytics so traffic, sources and video views could be tracked). HFM and Legato reviewed these analytics monthly to see how different media placements affected traffic and views.
  • Elevator wraps were installed on two of the hospital's main elevators.
  • HFM developed a chart to compare its Heart and Vascular Clinic patient visits, catheterization lab procedure volumes and overall market share during the time of the campaign in 2013 to the same period in 2012.
  • HFM conducted an image study in the first half of 2013 to see how overall perceptions had changed since 2011.

Marketing Outtakes

After evaluating all of these measures, HFM and Legato saw some staggering results.

  • Paid consumer advertising was placed over a five-month period. Radio impressions: 742,000. TV impressions: 1,538,799. Print impressions: 130,434. Online impressions 341,523. Billboard impressions: 2,591,629.
  • More than 600 people visited
  • The cardiologist biography page, which was linked to, also received more than 300 new views.
  • The five cardiac patient testimonial videos located on the site received 850 views.

Strategic Outcomes

  • For the five months the cardiology campaign ran, HFM saw 185 new Heart and Vascular Clinic (HVC) patients. Three out of the five months, the HVC saw more patients compared to the same five months.
  • More than an $80,000 increase in HVC new patient clinic visit revenue.
  • A $1,664,000 increase in catheterization lab revenues compared to the same five months in the previous year.
  • HFM's image study, completed in July 2013, revealed a 30 percent increase in the number of 2013 respondents who consider HFM the "hospital they think of for cardiac care." HFM's main competitor saw a significant decrease in this area.

Are You Talking C-Suite Speak?

In today's highly competitive healthcare environment, it isn't enough for Marketing to make great ads or present great creative. Now there's a new conversation taking place in the board room. And it starts with, "How is Marketing contributing to revenue opportunities?" You can lead that discussion wherever you'd like it to go - if you're armed with the right data and metrics. Not just any metrics. The kind that hit the "suite spot."

This article was recently published in Strategic Health Care Marketing's June 11th Weekly Ezine.

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Four Ways to Streamline Your Social Media Strategy

Today, social media can literally be a full-time position in a marketing department.

Unfortunately, in the rural healthcare industry, most marketing "teams" are one, two, maybe three people who are in charge of ALL marketing efforts. However, patients still expect your organization to be on social media - and may even consider not being there as a negative thing.

That's why we've compiled four of our favorite tips for streamlining your social media strategy. So you can save time and still have a strong presence.

1. Create one- to two-month editorial calendars

This takes some up-front time in terms of researching and writing posts, but it reduces the amount of time you'll spend on social media each day. By writing out posts and finding links, all you'll have to do is cut and paste.

These calendars will act as your flexible social media plan. They ensure you have consistent content to share, but they also can be rearranged when more current, newsworthy topics pop up. And since the calendars only cover one or two months, you don't have to worry about this general content being out-of-date.

2. Use Facebook's "schedule" feature

Facebook has a feature that allows you to schedule a post, as opposed to publishing it immediately. And you can schedule as many posts ahead of time as you like. Again, this involves more time up front, but it will eliminate daily social media posting for the duration of your schedule posts.

This feature also allows you to pre-schedule boosted posts.

FB Schedule Image

3. Develop recurring themes

It's hard - and time consuming - to come up with original content for every day of the week, every week of the year. That's why "themes" like recipe Fridays or provider profile Wednesdays come in handy. Weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly features will speed up the process of developing social media content, while still providing relevant and useful information to your audiences.

4. Share content

To build off of tip #3, sharing content from organizations like the American Heart Association, National Rural Health Association or other national, state or local health and wellness organizations is another way to save time. This is especially helpful on days when you need a post, but maybe don't have a lot of time to develop original content. Just be sure to add a line or two of text that makes it relevant to your organization and your audiences.

Do you have any timesaving social media management tips? Share them in the comment section below!

I'll be discussing these and other marketing tips as a keynote speaker at the Association of Wisconsin Surgery Centers (WISCA) 2015 Annual Forum on June 9.

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5 Ways to Boost Your Hospital's Image Using Personality

All rural hospitals across the nation are trying to do the same thing: combat decreased reimbursements and rising healthcare costs while recruiting and retaining high-quality physicians, specialists and staff. Although marketing can't entirely fix the issue, it can certainly help increase your hospital's relevance and perception versus what the nearby metro hospital is doing. In our previous post, we talked about branding and how creating a personality for that brand is a great way to start. After all, rural health organizations must represent themselves in a more retail manner. But how does that tie into your image?

Here are five ways to re-tool your hospital's image:

1. Keep focus on developing loyalty. Loyalty is based on successful interactions. Create engagement with your patients, stakeholders and community. Reward them with positive experiences. Help them live a healthy life, and they'll trust you when they're sick.

2. Be an open book. Open up your brand to participation, and let your community contribute their own stories. Let them share their stories with others through you. Social media is a great platform for this strategy.

3. Turn a crisis into a way to boost employee and community morale. In addition to positing generic health observances, events and hospital achievements, hospitals can use social networks to facilitate and mitigate crisis management - such as disease reporting, communicating a power outage at a facility or responding to a negative patient experience. Posting on Facebook in times of crisis can boost a hospital's public image because when done right, it's a great way to gain a following and trust at the same time.

4. Offer health education and prevention for free. Example: sending tips and resources in a newsletter, email, radio show, podcast series or video. If you aren't regularly staying in touch with your patients, you're going to lose them.

5. Don't overpromise. With a fine line between puffery and false advertising, hospitals should carefully review advertisements to make sure they won't cause patients or their families to expect more than what the hospital can offer. Choose statements such as "our doctors score highest in satisfaction surveys" instead of "we have the best doctors."

Social media is a key tool in implementing these five tips. However, being active and engaging on social media may seem like a time-consuming task. We'll talk about how to streamline your social media strategy in our upcoming post.

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What’s in a Brand?

Why brand development is important in rural healthcare

Brand. It's a small word with a big - and even multiple - meanings. To some a brand is the visual representation of your organization - your name, logo and tagline. To others, it's your company's personality. And still to others, a brand encompasses both of these ideas.

I'm in that third group. To me, a brand is a multitude of elements that together, do three things:

  1. Develop a personality for your organization
  2. Represent your organization visually and verbally
  3. Create an emotional connection with your audiences

While branding may seem like a marketing expense you can't afford, in reality, it's something you can't afford not to do. You can learn more about brand development by registering for our upcoming webinar on May 12, but here are a few reasons why even the smallest rural hospital needs to focus on its brand.

Since today's healthcare consumers choose hospitals and clinics more like they choose a store to shop in or a restaurant to eat at, rural health organizations NEED to represent themselves in a more retail manner.

You need to have a clear identity in consumers' minds. This includes your name, logo, colors, advertising, etc. If you look like the competition, you may get mistaken for the competition. While this could be a positive or negative comparison, it doesn't create patient loyalty.

You need to have a distinct voice and use messaging that clearly demonstrates your strengths and why a patient should choose you. A consistent voice also allows for consumers to trust what you have to say no matter what channel it comes from.

And you need to make a strong promise to your patients about not just the type of services they'll receive, but how they will receive it and in what environment.

Proper brand development can help accomplish all of this.

Join me for a National Rural Health Association webinar on May 12 to learn more about brand development for rural healthcare. I'll discuss how to determine where your brand currently is, how to strengthen it and even how to start from scratch to create a brand that resonates with your audience and differentiates you from your competition.

Register today!


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8 Ways CAHs Can Start Addressing Population Health Today

Why are some people healthy and others are not? How does a person's ZIP code really affect their health? According to a new report, as the healthcare industry accelerates its transition from a fee-for-service model to a value-based one, population health initiatives will be larger than ever in 2015.

Hospitals are in the business of caring for the sick and the ACO shift to focusing on health and wellness is a cultural adjustment that we just aren't used to. After all, if the health of the population improves, won't that keep people out of the hospital? There are a variety of reasons why it is necessary for critical access hospitals (CAH) to implement population health strategies. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also builds patient trust and loyalty and increases market share. In our post about turning competition into opportunities, we explored the M&A wave, explaining how mergers and acquisitions can be beneficial for CAHs to strengthen their value proposition.

But, a partnership, merger or acquisition isn't always better. CAHs are heavily linked to the communities they serve and many are well positioned to thrive in the changing marketplace by developing effective population health strategies.

Here are 8 smart marketing activities CAHs can do today to get started:

  1. Start paying closer attention to recruitment/retention and employee satisfaction.
  2. Have marketing staff get involved in community workgroups, committees and task forces that address population health needs.
  3. Work with HR to develop and/or implement employee wellness programs to encourage healthy behaviors.
  4. Engage staff in conversations.
  5. Include population health on the agenda at meetings.
  6. Focus marketing efforts to the uninsured.
  7. Reach out to the community and engage in conversations with a wide variety of community partners and leaders.
  8. Keep boosting and increasing your community presence/engagement through your marketing efforts. Get the CFO involved and discuss charity care, bad debts and community benefit reporting.

Stay tuned to the next few posts where I'll explore other challenges facing critical access leaders such as physician engagement/recruitment and pay-per-performance models.

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Organic reach: Is it dead?

No. Not even close. Many opinion bloggers and industry writers may think so. To us here at Legato, we see opportunity for you.

In case you missed it, Facebook dropped big news in January, announcing to its users that they will see fewer promotional posts in their news feeds.  To brand pages (or hospital and health system pages), this means your posts should expect organic reach to fall significantly over time.

Specifically, Facebook is making it harder for posts that push products, services, application installs and promotions. Essentially, what Facebook is trying to say is that you need to reach your audience by buying an ad. That message shouldn't come as a surprise; in fact, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

If you think your Facebook pages are now worthless-think again. Facebook is only trying to surface content that people care about. So while the number of people you reach may have dropped, the quality of those people has probably increased.

Here are 3 reasons to keep your Facebook brand pages:

1. Amazing content is king.
First, and foremost, you have to create content that keeps fans coming back. Think about your audience and what they will find value in. Create content that entertains, informs or otherwise engages your audience. This is a critical piece in boosting engagement and visibility on Facebook.

2. Facebook ad boosts aren't expensive.
In fact, for as little as $1 per day, you will get in front of thousands of people who wouldn't have seen you otherwise. If you are doing that and your competitors aren't, you're winning. With more than 1.19 billion monthly active users and an advanced set of targeting options, you can place your best posts in front of a very targeted audience. When done correctly, advertising can greatly improve visibility and engagement.

Advertising on Facebook will be necessary to boost visibility on posts, attract more fans and increase engagement. We can no longer think of Facebook as a free advertising platform. Those days are over.

3. Fan engagement is increasing.
Despite the drop in organic reach, many pages are seeing an increase in engagement on their pages and page posts. This is because Facebook's algorithm is getting smarter. The small percentage of fans who do see a page's posts are the fans who are most likely to engage with the post. Although Facebook pages are reaching a smaller audience, they are reaching a more engaged audience and building a core group of engaged users.

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Market Research: The Missing Link in Your Marketing

Perception of quality. Awareness of services. Likelihood to use.

Imagine if you knew this important information about your healthcare facility's target audiences. It could help shape marketing objectives and strategies, determine what services need to be marketed more - or less - and give you a baseline understanding of your audiences' behaviors.

That's the power of market research.

Now I know it's a common concern amongst healthcare marketers - especially if you work at a critical access hospital or rural facility - that research is too expensive or that it won't reveal any new information. But if done correctly, market research can truly create a solid foundation for strong, strategic marketing.

There are two basic ways market research can benefit your marketing efforts:

  1. It enables you to make marketing decisions based on objective information
  2. It sets baseline measures that you can use to evaluate the effectiveness of marketing efforts

And in addition to perception, awareness and likelihood to use, there are many other insights you can gather from market research, including:

  • Demographics of users and non-users of your services
  • Reasons why non-users choose competitors
  • The best media channels to use to reach your audiences

Still not convinced of the power of market research? Use the link below to register for our upcoming National Rural Health Association webinar to learn more about different research methods and see a case study of how one critical access hospital has successfully used market research to set and meet its marketing objectives.

Register today for "Research in Rural Health: Building a Foundation for Strategic Marketing."
March 26 | Noon (CDT)

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