Part 1: Debunking Rural Healthcare Myths

Posted on September 13, 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.

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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