Marketing and Healthcare Reform: Proactive Beats Reactive Every Time

Posted on March 1, 2012

mikem3_biggerBy: Mike Milligan, President Legato Marketing & Communications

Although many questions remain about healthcare reform legislation, one thing is certain: Healthcare reform-in some shape or form-is here to stay. And it's going to affect every hospital, in every community, and their relationships with patients, physicians and payers.

That gives marketing professionals two choices: a) Wait for all of the legislative i's to be dotted and t's to be crossed-and react to the changes, or b) Take the lead in turning healthcare's competitive and economic challenges into opportunities-starting now.

I'll go out on a limb and assume you chose 'b.' Smart decision. This is an opportune time to examine what you can do to help prepare your organization for the transition. Start by looking at critical areas like these:

Brand development: One of the desired outcomes of healthcare reform is increased access to care. What role will your brand play in attracting new markets? How will you make yourself more accessible to all consumers? This may be the time to invest in research or conduct an audit to help you determine how well you're delivering on your brand promise. You can then take steps to strengthen your brand and differentiate your organization from the competition.

Organizational structure: Virtually every level of your organization will be affected by reform. How will you communicate the changes to your employees? Put a system in place now to ensure all employees receive timely information and updates.

Patient communication: Reform looks at tying a hospital's compensation to quality and satisfaction scores. That means building trusted patient relationships will be more important than ever. How are you communicating with your patients? Just as important, how easy is it for patients to communicate with you?

Now is the time to evaluate your database to find out how well you know your patients. Do you track their visits and the services they use? This type of information can help you target your marketing efforts and strengthen patient relationships.

Service line strategy: Healthcare reform focuses on significant changes in the way many healthcare organizations currently are structured and paid for their services. When was the last time you assessed performance and capabilities to determine each service line's strengths and weaknesses? Market those strengths effectively and you become the expert in that field. Translation: Patients choose your hospital or clinic over the competition.

Social channels: While concerns about HIPAA regulations are legitimate, hospitals and clinics can't afford to ignore social media. As the topic of healthcare reform continues to heat up, consumers are going to have questions. A lot of questions. Take steps now to position your organization as the 'go to' source for reliable and timely information.

Hospital/Physician alignment: Changing reimbursement models and other factors will create new challenges in this arena. Are your PCP relationships as strong as they should be? Do physicians want to practice or refer to your hospital? Start strengthening those relationships now and your marketing efforts will pay off-regardless of where healthcare reform leads us.

These are just some of the areas that deserve your marketing attention sooner rather than later. Even though many questions remain, it's clear that healthcare as we know it is undergoing a huge shift. That poses a question that only you can answer: Will your healthcare organization be proactive or reactive?

As a 20-year veteran in healthcare marketing, I can tell you one thing for certain: Proactive beats reactive-every time.

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Does Radio Still Have a Role in Healthcare Marketing?

Posted on March 5, 2012

mikem3_biggerBy: Mike Milligan, President Legato Marketing & Communications

With the advent of iPods and the Internet, who listens to radio anymore?

I do. I'm willing to wager, you do, too. Whether it's at work, at home, in the car or inadvertently hearing an ad in-between errands, radio is still a part of our lives.  And that's why it should still be considered when you're developing your marketing strategy.

If radio has fallen off your radar screen in your rush to get 'social,' take another look. It can be an effective option-in certain situations.

Radio may be a good option if you have multiple offices or facilities. You can get more bang for your buck because your advertising cost is spread over a number of locations.

Rates for airtime in secondary markets are generally more attractive than those for larger markets, which is a plus for rural healthcare organizations. This can allow you to increase frequency of your ads and buy 60-second spots vs. 30s. Even though shorter spots may cost less, 60-second spots are more effective for healthcare organizations and private practices.

When it comes to producing your radio ad, a station may offer its production services for 'free.' While it may be tempting to go this route, heed the adage, "You get what you pay for."  (At least in most cases.)

Keep in mind that effective radio spots need to cut through the clutter. That means your message has to be creatively compelling to get listeners to take action. But even the best creative won't get consumers to pick up the phone, check out your website or walk through your doors if you haven't bought the right stations and timeslots. That's where your marketing firm comes in.

Things like GRPs (Gross Rating Points) and DMAs (Dominant Market Area) are BAU (Business As Usual-I'm trying out my texting shorthand here) for marketing firms' media buyers. So leverage their expertise to negotiate rates and develop a placement strategy to hit your target demographic. You just might find that radio still has a place in healthcare marketing. Our clients can attest to that.

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Leverage your Intranet And Net The Benefits

Posted on March 7, 2012

mikem3_biggerBy: Mike Milligan, President Legato Marketing & Communications

How many of you view your hospital's intranet as a communications tool?

No surprise there.

OK. Let's take it one step further … How many of you use your intranet as a powerful marketing tool? If you do, are you squeezing every ounce of marketing opportunity out of it? You should, you know. Here's why.

Your intranet is a top-down/bottom-up, horizontal/two-way, multi-faceted marketing vehicle. It can be powerful. Economical. And it can put you on the fast track to increasing employee satisfaction, improving efficiencies and building brand - if you leverage all of its strengths. I'll give you a few examples to state my case.

Employee satisfaction: Your intranet allows management to get timely information to employees. But don't make it a one-way street. Internal employee blogs, feedback forms and user-specific dashboards give you the opportunity to hear what's on employees' minds so you can respond. Open communication plays a big role in employee satisfaction. And your timely response to staff's suggestions, concerns and questions ups the 'satisfaction' ante.

Improved service: Employees throughout the organization (and in multiple locations) can use the intranet to exchange information and best practices with one another. That can improve customer service by helping employees fulfill your organization's brand promise.

Brand ambassadors: Your intranet can provide employees with updates they need and information they want, as well as other 'perks.' Examples:

  • Employee benefit information about insurance options, open enrollment - even free flu shots, health screenings and more.
  • Fitness and nutrition tips that promote a healthy lifestyle. (Healthier employees translate into a healthier organization all the way around.)
  • Local events, family activities and volunteer opportunities that connect employees to the communities you serve.

In other words, don't just talk about life/work balance, promote it. Encourage it. Show your employees you care about them both professionally and personally, and your staff is more likely to speak positively about your organization and make referrals to family and friends.

The intranet is a powerful tool that is often taken for granted. Don't overlook the obvious or underestimate its marketing potential. Log in now and see what opportunities are staring you straight in the eye. And one more word of advice: Before you jump in too deep, be sure you have an intranet governance model in place. You'll want to have enough flexibility to allow individual departments to use the tool but not at the expense of your brand.

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Are You Marketing Your Strongest Asset?

Posted on March 13, 2012

mikem3_biggerBy: Mike Milligan, President Legato Marketing & Communications

What is your hospital's strongest asset?

While a few may beg to differ, most would say their physicians top the list. If you agree, you should be marketing your docs to the nth degree. Are you?

Keep in mind that it's just as important to market a physician's 'human' side as it is to highlight the high points of a doctor's experience. That means putting consumers in touch with your physicians and vice versa. We all know that docs don't have the time (not to mention the desire) to get out and press the flesh, so what's a marketing professional to do?  Think 'personally' - 'virtually.'

Leverage your website to:

  • Build trust in your physicians by promoting their professional experience and their passion for their careers. How? One idea is to stream videos of doctors in action to emphasize their capabilities and their love of their profession.
  • Let consumers get to know your docs as 'people' - not just professionals. Feature a doctor of the week by including a personalized human interest story. For example, if a doc enjoys kayaking, capture his or her love of the outdoors with a photo essay.  Introduce a doctor's spouse and children, a family pet, a favorite recipe … Give consumers a glimpse into the 'softer side' of your physicians and you'll create a greater level of comfort and confidence in your docs.
  • Schedule live web chats that allow consumers to ask doctors questions - and get responses - in real-time. The ability to have two-way conversations like these can shoot your consumer trust and loyalty scores through the roof.
  • Give patients the ability to email appointment requests. The more convenient the appointment process is, the more likely consumers are to use your clinic.

Today, patient trust and loyalty is critical to the success of every hospital. But in rural communities, the stakes may be even higher. Here, 'Neighbors caring for neighbors' isn't just a cliché, it's a way of life. It's also an expectation - of your clinic, your hospital - and your doctors.

If you're not marketing your biggest asset, the time has come. Do it well, and step up your market share, increase volume and build ever-important patient loyalty.

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