Healthgrades. Facebook. Angie's List. Twitter. These are only a
handful of online sites where prospective patients can learn about
your healthcare organization and current patients can share their
experiences. The power these sites have on consumer decisions can
be intimidating, but also incredibly beneficial to your
So needless to say, it's important to not only be aware of these
places, but to also take an active part in the conversations -
which can be done through strategic digital marketing efforts.
When approaching marketing in the digital world, there are two
areas to think about:
"Building" covers the development of online elements you can
control, like your website and online advertising. These tools
ensure your audiences have access to accurate information about
your facility and providers. They also help audiences form their
first impression of your organization.
"Protecting" is managing online features you are not in complete
control of, such as review sites or comments on social media. We
call this online reputation management, and it involves:
- Monitoring review sites and social media
- Engaging with your online audiences to address negative and
- Being honest and transparent in communications
But you shouldn't think of "building" and "protecting" as two
separate efforts. They go hand-in-hand when it comes to ensuring
your organization is well represented online.
If you are interested
in learning more about healthcare marketing in a digital world,
attend our webinar this Thursday, January 15 at noon
(CST). We will take a deeper look at several strategies to
build your organization online, including modern web design and
SEM, as well as effective ways to protect your online
Click here to register
Health exchanges are here - and so are millions of newly insured
patients. That means your CAH has a decision to make. Do you "duck
and cover" or come out fighting to gain some much-needed ground
from your competition? If you choose to leverage this opportunity,
be prepared. These aren't your "typical" patients.
The truth is, many newly insured patients will have plans that
pay lower rates to your hospital. But there's a flip side to this
downside. These patients' plans are required to cover a broader
range of services. Services your CAH can provide to grow revenue
from consumers who have never walked through your hospital's doors
Here are some ways to optimize this opportunity:
- Promote prevention, wellness and diagnostics
as volumes will shift in this direction. This goes beyond the
"norm," like colonoscopies and mammograms, to include diet
counseling and other wellness services. Another thought: Could your
CAH benefit from extending your marketing strategy to include
- Define your hospital's role in
outreach and develop and promote programs that will
educate the newly insured. With limited knowledge of the healthcare
system, these new patients are more likely to use ER services. Work
with your marketing department to develop programs and materials to
educate new patients on the best way to manage their health - and
- Address patient access issues. With more
complex billing, eligibility and collections processes, it's
critical to confirm eligibility and review obligations with the
patient upfront. This may include incorporating new tools to verify
coverage and screen for Medicaid eligibility and exchange
- Train "financial counselors," "care navigators" or
"insurance assisters." Whatever title you choose, you'll
need knowledgeable staff to help individuals fill out paperwork and
determine eligibility for coverage and subsidies.
- Don't lose sight of patients with employer-sponsored
plans. As you address the needs of the newly insured,
don't overlook the fact that employer-sponsored plans are shifting
more responsibility to the patient. You'll need to adjust your
marketing strategy to address the needs and demands of these
consumers as well.
How to Talk to Physicians to Build Relationships
You say, "provider;" I say, "physician."
While it may seem like a matter of semantics, healthcare
marketers need to choose their words wisely - especially when
talking to physicians. One internist summed it up this way: "Today,
doctors are called providers. I didn't go to provider school."
But choosing a complementary common noun is just the beginning.
Today, many hospitals - caught up in service model mayhem -
overlook one critical fact: Doctors are faced with similar
challenges and they're concerned about the future. In fact, six in 10 say that the practice of medicine is
While it may sound disheartening, rural hospitals can turn this
concern into an opportunity to strengthen physician relationships
and increase referrals. But just as the healthcare landscape is
changing, so too, are the mindsets of physicians. That means the
way healthcare marketers talk to them also needs to change. For
- Show empathy (but be careful not to patronize). Assure
physicians that your hospital understands the additional pressures
they face today, and maintain direct dialogue as new payment models
and integrated care methods are developed.
- Profile physicians so you can personalize and specifically
target your message to them.
- Free online tools like SurveyMonkey can help identify
physicians' interests, challenges and concerns.
- Consider investing in research and/or a medical staff
satisfaction survey to help clarify physicians' opinions about a
variety of issues relating to their practice and their relationship
with your hospital.
- Develop key messages around physicians' wants and needs as well
as how your hospital is addressing those issues to benefit them and
their patients. You may find your messaging may relate to some of
these areas that physicians feel strongly about:
- Developing patient relationships.
- Protecting and promoting the health of individuals.
- Interacting with colleagues.
- Match your values to physicians' values. What's important to
your CAH is most likely important to doctors as well.
- Speak in a language physicians understand. Most physicians are
logical thinkers, so getting them to act often comes down to
evidence-based conclusions. Stick with the facts; they'll help draw
physicians to the conclusion you want them to reach.
- Establish each doctor's preferred communication method and use
The 2013 Deloitte Survey of U.S. Physicians found
that nearly two-thirds of physicians believe doctors and hospitals
will become more integrated in the next one to three years. That
can be a golden opportunity for your rural hospital - if you know
how to talk to physicians to build trust and relationships.
Watch for my upcoming blog on how to talk to patients in a new
era of healthcare.
The building blocks of a bridge to your community
What are the key elements in making a solid bridge? Support
beams to hold it up. A solid surface for crossing. And guard rails
for safety. Only together will these items create a connection that
is strong and safe.
The same principle applies when your critical access hospital is
building its connection with your community. In this case:
- The support beams are your employees
- The solid surface is community residents
- The guard rails are local business leaders
These are the three key audiences you have to build
relationships with to ensure a strong and stable connection to your
community. And the strength of these relationships will
significantly impact the trust, confidence, loyalty and support
patients and prospective patients have for your facility.
So how do you begin building? Start with the support beams -
Employee engagement and satisfaction is how your CAH creates
strong support for your bridge to the community. When physicians,
nurses, therapists and other employees who directly interact with
patients are happy and positive, they will provide better service,
which ultimately results in a better overall patient
Here are two ways to help keep your employees informed and
- Employee forums - regular meetings between
senior leadership, providers and administrative staff keep everyone
up-to-date on important hospital information such as overall
performance or changes in policies or operations.
- Employee involvement in marketing - ask
managers or nurses to help you select patient testimonials when
marketing specific service departments. Then, feature providers
from that department in the advertising (when appropriate) as
opposed to using stock images.
Learn how to successfully construct the other
elements of your bridge by attending our upcoming webinar,
Connecting Your CAH to Your Community, on November 5 at 12
pm. Click here to register
How to talk to your C-suite executives
Have you ever had a deer-in-the-headlights experience when
you've presented an executive summary? You meet with the CEO and
other C-suite members. You've got a rock-solid marketing campaign
to help meet your hospital's business goals. But when you start
presenting - BLANK STARES - all around the room.
What just happened?
You led with your right; not your left - brain that is. We in
the marketing profession need to remind ourselves that CEOs and
others in the C-suite line are in the problem-solving business. If
we want to capture their attention, we need to provide hard-hitting
solutions to their healthcare concerns, and we need to know how to
First, what are the concerns of hospital CEOs these
days? According to the American College of Healthcare Executives,
these issues are at the top of CEOs' lists:
- Financial challenges
- Healthcare reform implementation
- Governmental mandates
- Patient safety and quality
- Care for the uninsured
- Patient satisfaction
- Physician-hospital relations
- Population health management
- Personnel shortages
- Creating an accountable care orgnaization
If you can effectively address one or more of these concerns in
your marketing plan and executive summary, you can turn that
dreaded deer-in-the-headlight stare into "The Buck Stops Here"
buy-in from the top.
How to talk to your CEO
Once you get in front of your CEO, CFO and the like, it's time
to set creativity and colorful dialogue aside. Cut to the chase
with succinct, black-and-white C-suite speak. In other words, don't
get bogged down in details. Think "big picture" first. Provide a
brief summary - sans marketing lingo or clever campaigns. Stick to
what CEOs and other executives need to know by highlighting these
- Objective: What are we trying to accomplish?
What behavior are we seeking to change? How does this initiative
support your rural hospital's strategic plan?
- Messaging strategy: What is our message? This
doesn't mean you need to provide the exact copy. Just clearly
explain what your approach will be.
- Timing: Share when the campaign will be
launched. Again, forego the details. Stick to the key dates of when
you'll hit your target audience(s).
- Results and measurement: Let your CEO know how
all of this will benefit the hospital and how you'll report on
Watch for additional posts in my "How to Talk to …" series for
insights on how to more effectively communicate with your rural
hospital's other key audiences. If you have any specific questions,
I'd be happy to talk with you.
If you got lost in the woods, ran out of food or got
confronted by a bear, do you know how you'd react?
These unexpected challenges of hiking and camping - and the
reactions they produce - can be very similar to the obstacles
critical access hospitals (CAH) and other small or rural health
organizations are facing. But instead of getting lost in the woods,
your organization may be struggling with how to balance quality,
transparency and affordability. Instead of running out of food, you
may be running out of budget dollars. And you probably aren't
facing a bear, but one or more larger competitors.
To overcome all these difficulties, all you have to do is follow
five steps that I like to call "Survival of the Smartest." These
steps help you take a comprehensive deep-dive into both the
business and marketing perspectives of independence and
Step 1: Size up the situation
Understand what you're up against by determining your strengths,
weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Step 2: Have a positive attitude
Don't let the challenges or misperceptions leave you hopeless.
Actively decide that you are willing to take the steps necessary to
survive and gather the support of employees and the community.
Step 3: Navigate negotiations
Sometimes being 100 percent independent isn't possible, but be
sure to stand your ground when establishing beneficial partnerships
for a modified independence.
Step 4: Chart your course
Create a business development and marketing plan that will guide
you in increasing awareness, market share and patient volumes.
Step 5: Make yourself visible
Develop a strong brand and position, and then market your
strengths in your target service areas.
Interested in learning more? If you are attending the National Rural
Health Association (NRHA) CAH Conference on October 1-3 in
Kansas City, you can attend the speaking session, "Survival of the
Smartest: How to Retain Independence" on October 2 at 2 p.m. Lisa
Schnedler, CEO of Upland Hills Health (UHH), and I will present a
case study of how UHH used these five steps to create unique
partnerships and gain market share to become a
financially-independent and award-winning healthcare
If you are not able to attend, send me an
email to receive a copy of the presentation.
last post discussed some of the "clinical" aspects of
telemedicine and the benefits rural hospitals can expect from a
well-implemented program. But there is one caveat to those
statements of success.
Most consumers won't fully understand the value of telemedicine
unless you effectively deliver your message - and continue to
reinforce it. Successful telemedicine programs do this well. On the
other hand, hospitals that take an "If we build it, they will come"
approach realize a minimal return on investment, at best. Others
Just like the services your on-site providers offer,
telemedicine is a marketable service line. Do it right, and your
hospital will not only increase awareness and utilization of your
telemedicine program, it will improve your reputation as a leader
and provider of innovative, high-quality, comprehensive
Here are some - and I emphasize "some" - major marketing to-dos
that you'll want to check off your list as you implement your
telemedicine program. I'll go into more detail during my upcoming webinar.
- Conduct a market analysis to ensure your
program has a sustainable service model. It will help you define
your program and identify and describe your key customers,
competitors and potential partners.
- Create a climate for success. Even though
telemedicine services have been available for some time, the
concept will be new to many of your patients, clinicians,
administrators and others. An effective marketing and promotional
program can help ensure your telemedicine program is highly
accepted by major stakeholders and the community.
- Identify specific marketing objectives. Be
sure to link them to your overall program goals.
- Create a messaging platform. Determine how
you'll differentiate yourself; create a unique selling
- Develop your marketing strategy. Using
identified customer groups, value to these groups, concerns and
barriers, you can determine the best strategies and mediums to
target each audience (e.g., patients/consumers, staff,
- Develop promotional materials. Once you have
clearly defined your program, customers and external environment,
you can begin to develop the materials and activities to promote,
communicate and educate your target audiences.
- Monitor results. No marketing strategy should
be set in stone. Monitor results and be prepared to adjust your
As I mentioned, I'll be taking a deeper dive into the marketing
aspect of a successful telemedicine program during our upcoming
webinar, "Building and Marketing a Telemedicine Program,"
on Tuesday, September 9 from 12 - 1 p.m. (CDT). Donna Jennings,
vice president of Valis - a telemedicine consulting and solutions
firm - will join me and lead a discussion on the clinical and
financial side of telemedicine.
Did you see the recent Wall Street Journal article, "
Rural Hospitals Feel Pinch --- Strapped Facilities
Squeezed Further by Medicare Changes, Dwindling Subsidies"? If
you didn't read it, the headline says it all.
What the article doesn't tell you is how to "pinch
back." In other words, "How can your hospital succeed in spite of
Medicare changes and decreased subsidies?" One solution is
Now hear me out … I know "telemedicine" has become a healthcare
buzzword these days. But there's more to it than video conferencing
with a specialist hundreds of miles away. I also know that a lot of
rural hospitals are turning "telemed" into "teleprofit." That's not
rhetoric. It's a fact.
I've worked closely with Donna Jennings, an expert in the field
of telemedicine consulting, and we've learned quite a bit from each
other. As vice president of Valis, Donna not only knows her stuff, she's
been elbow-deep in setting up successful telemedicine programs
across the country.
Based on our discussions, I can tell you unequivocally, that
rural hospitals can benefit both clinically and financially from an
effective telemedicine program. While I've seen evidence of this
with my own clients and business partners, Donna shed some light on
a few lesser-known facts that it's important for your hospital to
For example, according to Donna, "Many hospitals don't know
that they can bill - and get paid - for telemedicine services
if the program is set up appropriately and is very tightly
She also stressed that, "It's important for hospitals to
realize that return on investment goes beyond the telemedicine
consultation itself. It's also related to things like reduced
readmissions and mortality rates and value-based care metrics,
which hospitals now get paid on."
Telemedicine can provide a multitude of benefits to your
hospital and patients. To help get your arms around them, I've
broken the advantages into four distinct categories:
- Improved access to inpatient and outpatient
care: Telemedicine allows your hospital to offer your
patients high-quality and consistent specialty care that's close to
home. And that care can be provided without the large investment of
hiring full-time, on-site providers.
- Improved patient outcomes: Telemedicine gives
your patients immediate access to the specialists they need so they
receive the right care, right away. This has been shown to improve
outcomes for inpatients. You know what that means for your hospital
when you're paid on performance. Earlier specialist treatment can
also result in lower costs. And telemedicine allows similar
benefits to outpatients, improving care without the cost and
inconvenience of travel.
- Improved hospital performance: Telemedicine
can decrease lengths of stay, mortality rates and patient transfers
to tertiary facilities as well as encourage appropriate admissions
and discharge decisions. But that's not all. When patients
have local access to the specialists they need, readmission rates
and outmigration can be minimized, which can be a major coup for
- Improved patient satisfaction: Telemedicine
helps reduce travel time, wait time and related stress and
uncertainty for patients needing specialty care. Inpatients also
benefit from continued care by their own doctor who knows them
best, with assistance from a well-trained telemedicine
specialist. And a well-organized and clinically sound
telemedicine program can produce excellent patient and family
I also learned about different grants that are available to
hospitals. According to Donna, "Many grants are available
to hospitals, especially in the area of rural healthcare. These
grants can help hospitals invest in a telemedicine program and,
with appropriate monitoring and outcomes support, hospitals can
retain the grants so they can continue, and expand, their
This is just the tip of the telemed iceberg when it comes to
leveraging the benefits and opportunities available to your
You can find out more during our upcoming webinar, "Building and Marketing a Telemedicine
Program," on Tuesday, September 9 from 12 - 1 p.m. (CDT). Donna
will take a deep dive into the clinical and financial side of
telemedicine, and I'll share a marketing perspective both in the
webinar and in my upcoming blog.
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
Your CAH can leverage this opportunity, or opportunities like
this, to immediately increase surgical volume by:
- Developing a targeted marketing campaign for consumers
- Implementing a strong PCP program to build relationships with
physicians to help your CAH build surgical volume for the long
- Managing the surgical process effectively, as described in this
- 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
email@example.com. I have some ideas and case
studies I'd be happy to share with you.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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.