My Calcium Score from Dr. Joe Smith at XYZ Clinic

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 brand promise.

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 brand.

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 Head?

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 process?

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Don’t Call Me “Grandma”

Posted on August 15, 2013

Question: How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?

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 rocking chairs.

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 them.

Get their attention. Connect with their lifestyles. Call 'em "energetic." Call 'em "youthful." Call 'em anything but "Grandma" or "Grandpa!"

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Health Insurance Exchanges: Ready or Not – Here They Come!

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 unknown.

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 prepared.

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 online.

Exciting stuff, wouldn't you agree? So what are rural hospitals (and their big-city competitors) afraid of? Many unknowns still exist.

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 government-subsidized programs.

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 future success.

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 or 920-544-8102.

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Could a New OIG Report Close Your CAH?

Posted on August 22, 2013

Last week, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a new report that, if fully implemented, could close several hundred rural hospitals across the country.

According to the report, most critical access hospitals (CAH) would not meet the "location requirements" to re-enroll in Medicare. In fact, the report asks Congress to allow Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to strip CAH status from any facility that came into the program under state "necessary provider" designations.

The report is viewed by many as a broad-brush attempt to trim budgets. In doing so, hundreds of rural hospitals could be crippled - or closed - by the loss of additional Medicare funding. In some states, as many as 70% of CAHs could lose their CAH status. And that's just the beginning.

So what can your rural hospital, its employees and members of the community do?

Contact your senators and representative

This isn't just about the health and well-being of rural hospitals in America. It's about the health and well-being of rural Americans - thousands of patients served by CAHs like yours - every day.

Where do you stand on the issue? Let your voice, as well as those on your staff and members of your community, be heard. The National Rural Health Association (NRHA) has drafted a number of talking points to help you convey the importance of critical access hospitals to your elected officials.

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