Part 2: Debunking Rural Healthcare Myths

Posted on September 19, 2017

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By: Mike Milligan, President

In this blog series, we'll discuss the common myths surrounding rural healthcare - and give you some myth-busting tools. Here is Part 2 of our blog series. You can find Part 1 here.


Myth: Everyone Should Get An Equal-Sized Piece of the Marketing Pie

I've found this "squeaky wheel" myth can be particularly tricky to confront.

Even in rural hospitals, the competition for shelf space can get heated. The hard, cold truth is that service lines bring in different revenues. And while every department wants to be marketed, the focus should be driven by a set list of criteria and not emotion.

Myth Busting Tool: Focus on a Few Things and Do Them Right

How do we decide where to place our emphasis in marketing? It begins with service line prioritization.

Considerations include:

  • Downstream revenue
  • Community goodwill
  • Capacity
  • Competitive advantage
  • Unmet needs
  • Capitalizing on competitor weakness

But as healthcare leaders, our job is to best manage the limited resources of our rural hospital. Decisions should be made based on agreed-upon criteria and alignment with the goals outlined in your strategic plan. And as our clients have often heard me say, "marketing should focus on doing a finite amount of things very well, rather than trying to do a little bit for everyone."

Myth: We Can't Measure ROI From Marketing

You've probably heard of ROI, but you should really know about ROMI - Return on Marketing Investment.

To measure ROMI, you first need to define your organizational goals.  Sometimes these are business objectives such as:

  • Increasing volumes of a specific procedure or service line by a certain percentage
  • Growing patient volumes
  • Strengthening physician referrals
  • Expanding revenue

Or, you could have communication objectives such as:

  • Increasing website visits
  • Maximizing community education event attendances
  • Escalating social media engagement

Myth Busting Tool: Show Me the ROMI!

Now it's time for the fun part - analyzing the fruits of your labor. While I enjoy every part of the process with our clients, from initial planning through execution, my favorite part is when they get to see the ROMI.

To give you an idea of what success might look like, I'll recap the results of recent campaigns at a rural Montana hospital. In this case, the goals were to:

  • Build hospital-employed PCPs and OB services
  • Increase volumes for specialty services
  • Tell the hospital's story

To accomplish these goals, we launched campaigns that focused on both the providers and the services. The challenge was to increase awareness of the primary care providers and increase patient volumes. The campaign showcased how the providers are relatable to everyday Montanans. We highlighted providers' interests, hobbies, and what they love about living in Montana. Additional campaigns highlighted their full suite of OB and primary care services.

The Results:

In a six-month period, primary care visits increased by 16 percent and total deliveries increased by a whopping 80 percent - clearly busting that myth about ROI.

Many more rural healthcare myths exist, but with the right strategy you can change those perceptions. Take advantage of the internal resources you currently have available and capitalize on your strengths as rural healthcare providers.


Want to Learn More?

Join Mike Milligan's presentation, Busting Rural Healthcare Myths, at the Fall NRHA Conference in Kansas City to learn the best avenues for building awareness of the quality staff and services available at your rural hospital. Click here for more details about this event.


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Part 1: Debunking Rural Healthcare Myths

Posted on September 13, 2017

LegatoNRHA540x320[1]

By: Mike Milligan, President

In this blog series, we'll discuss the common myths surrounding rural healthcare - and give you some myth-busting tools.

Find Part 2 here.


Myth: People in the community are aware of our capabilities

For this first myth, the reality is that you can't safely assume that your community is aware of all the services you have available. I wasn't surprised when a recent survey in one rural community revealed that services such as orthopedic surgery, ophthalmology, and urology were largely unknown by the community. The survey also showed that over a four-year period of time, awareness of some services significantly decreased.

Myth Busting Tool: It's not enough to exist

I have found this to be the case in most rural communities. It's not enough to exist. Your potential patients have to know about your hospital and the services you provide. You may think that since you've been at your location for many years, everyone knows about your hospital and what you do. In that case, you may be laboring under a false supposition.

It's important to be active in promoting your hospital and the services you offer. Try:

  • Inbound marketing
  • Building a social media presence
  • Google AdWords campaign
  • Good old-fashioned traditional tactics, such as print ads, outdoor boards, direct mail, and radio

Myth: Those doctors won't do any surgeries here

As I've said in the past, I find this to be one of the most missed opportunities in rural healthcare.  Every situation is different.  Sometimes you have visiting surgeons in key areas such as orthopedics, urology, or ophthalmology.  And as you know, the success of your hospital is predicated on performing procedures at your organization, not the mothership affiliated with the referring physician. I hear all too often, "Well they set up a clinic here, but that's just to see patients.  Then they refer them to (insert larger city 1-2 hours away)."

Myth Busting Tool: Creating clarity around mutual benefits

Like any successful business interaction, there has to be give and take. But, there also has to be an understanding that there is a mutual benefit in having a provider set up an office on your campus.  Collecting rent for their office space doesn't pay the bills for you.  What I have found is that referring providers are much more open to conversations about which procedures can be brought to your hospital than you may think. At the same time, it's important to have a realistic discussion about which procedures make most sense to be done locally, and which should go elsewhere.

For example: maybe the diagnostic work can be done locally, and the total joint replacement gets referred.  Or the endometrial ablation is done locally but the more complex gynecological or urological procedures are done elsewhere.  Or maybe some of the more complex procedures can be done locally.  Of course, part of this conversation is about the equipment, staffing and efficiency of your operations - and frankly, treating your referring physician like a customer.  What does he or she need?  How can your relationship be mutually beneficial?

Remember in the end, you are still promoting your services and not the individual physician's practice. We want to stay clear of any Stark or anti-kickback concerns, but these key physicians are vital to keeping your organization in the black.

Myth: Direct mail and publications are old forms of advertising that don't work

Hopefully by now I've convinced you that rural hospital myths are just that - myths.  And the same is true for rural healthcare marketing myths. You might be surprised to learn that when asked about preferred methods of communication, members of rural communities in Wisconsin overwhelmingly expressed a preference for direct mail. In studies that we've done on behalf of our clients, we've found that publications are often the #1 preferred source of information.

Myth Busting Tool: Overcome Lack of Awareness

It's not impossible to overcome lack of awareness or erroneous perceptions. But it will require a long-term plan. One thing I know for certain is that success will always start with community engagement and involvement. Some things you can do to help bridge the gap between perception and reality include:

  • Community magazines
  • Health fairs
  • A well-thought-out marketing strategy

Learn how you can be a rural healthcare mythbuster

Many more rural healthcare myths exist, but with the right strategy you can change those perceptions. Take advantage of the internal resources you currently have available and reach out for help from experts who are experienced in rural healthcare.


Want to Learn More?

Join Mike Milligan's presentation, Busting Rural Healthcare Myths, at the Fall NRHA Conference in Kansas City to learn the best avenues for building awareness of the quality staff and services available at your rural hospital. Click here for more details about this event.


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