Preventing Rural Hospitals From Closing: Keep Patients Local

Aug. 22, 2017

Troubleshooting for Rural Hospitals with Declining Volumes

We've heard about it recently: Rural hospitals closing due to patients not staying local. Instead, they travel to bigger facilities in nearby cities.

But why? You're just as good if not better as a "big city" hospital, plus you're so close. Why are patients choosing to go to your competitors instead of your rural hospital?

Major reasons patients aren't staying local

Awareness and reputation play significant roles when it comes to patient volumes. Manage these factors, be prepared to see numbers rise, and prevent your rural hospital from closing.

Increase awareness and increase your bottom line by combatting common misconceptions

Misconception #1: A small hospital couldn't possibly offer the same services as a big system, right? And even if they did, would you really trust some small town provider to perform these services?

Awareness can help your audience overcome a lot of these kinds of misconceptions. Never assume your audience knows what services your facility offers. Celebrate your service lines. Feature a different service line in your marketing efforts on a quarterly basis to keep awareness top of mind.

This is where it's important to have solid relationships with referring physicians. Visiting specialists can be the key to more service lines and increased patient volumes. Consider these criteria when deciding which service lines to add:

  • Profitability
  • Downstream revenue
  • Competitive advantage
  • Capacity
  • Community goodwill
  • Builds brand of your organization
  • Supports the strategic plan
  • Patient retention

Misconception #2: We've heard the perception that smaller hospitals have fewer qualified providers than larger facilities.

Recently, we helped a client overcome the iconic problem of provider perception: Potential patients were going to the nearby city to see providers that were, in fact, the exact same people who also worked at their small, hometown hospital. We helped them overcome this with a comprehensive provider awareness campaign. The audience was able to learn about the providers and their backgrounds and rest easier knowing they were "big city" caliber.

How to increase awareness

Increase awareness in traditional and non-traditional ways. This list barely scratches the surface, but it's a start to get you thinking about what tactics might work best for your facility.

  • Be online: 80% of patients start with an online search. Online ads are great as well as SEO/SEM that helps patients find you before they find your competitors.
  • Community outreach: The more visible you are, the better. Sponsor local events and be ever-present at farmers' markets and fun runs.
  • Market specific service lines: Let your audience know that when they have a specific health issue, it can be handled close to home.
  • Market specific providers: Show off your stable of talent with billboards, direct mail, and web ads that help your patients get to know their providers.

Reputation management, a full-time job

Misconception #3: News doesn't travel in rural settings.

The blessing and curse of being located in a rural setting is that word can travel fast and that perceptions are rarely plastic. If your hospital had some bad press ten years ago, chances are the community still knows about it.

PR is important, even to your rural hospital. Be vigilant that the messages coming out of your hospital come from you. If a PR crisis does occur, be sure to control the narrative.

Ironically, sometimes perception can be that a rural organization is too high-end or expensive. For example, we recently helped a rural client with the unlikely problem of looking too good. They have gorgeous new facility; their materials were beautiful. The local population read this as expensive and exclusive. Even though their prices were competitive, the community's perception was that this place was not for them. We were able to alter public perception with a few tactics:

  • A community magazine which helped the hospital feel more approachable
  • Radio spots introducing new price transparency measures
  • A PR campaign that made the hospital a part of the community

Solutions to rehabilitate reputations

Take a close look at what you're doing to represent your brand. If you've suffered some PR blows or have had trouble overcoming perception from decades ago, try implementing some of these tactics:

  • Rebrand: It's a big step to take, but sometimes the best strategy is to start fresh. New name, new logo, new look. These can help pivot perception.
  • Go on the offensive: The same community outreach that helps increase audience awareness also builds favorable perception of your brand.
  • Have an open house: Invite the community to see the hospital in a different light. Offer speakers, health fairs, and other opportunities for your potential patients to become familiar with your facility and providers. You could also produce a virtual tour and place it on your website.

We can't say this often enough: Rural hospital aren't an endangered species. They are not a thing of the past. Awareness and reputation management are your best tools for building patient volume and for preventing rural hospitals closing.

Interested in learning how others have done it?

Learn how this rural hospital changed community perception and kept patients local--resulting in a 16% increase in primary care volumes in just one year.

Download the case study

Website by: Craig Erskine

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