Patient Experience Marketing

Healthcare Branding: An Experience by More than the Patient

Your hospital’s brand is  defined by the patient’s experience as well as others. And it’s being determined all day, every day.

Branding has finally hit the radar for hospitals and healthcare organizations.  The industry’s marketing efforts are maturing to the point that marketers and senior management are beginning to realize how important their brand is.  And rightfully so.  The battle for the consumers’ minds and future market share will be determined by our brand perception.

But for many marketers, branding is about logos and typefaces, corporate identity standards and taglines.  Good branding encompasses these things but it’s so much more.  It ‘s really more about the consumer’s experience. What does your brand communicate each day to those who come in contact with it?

And it’s not just the patient’s experience that determines the brand.  It’s also the patient’s family and friends and what their experiences are like.  And employees and how they experience the brand.  And suppliers and vendors.  The community at large.  It’s the totality of all the touch points.  By everyone.

We are seeing many hospitals updating logos and altering the visual look of their communications.  We see them changing positioning lines.  And giving facelifts to their facilities.   All of which is good.  Very good in fact.  But if that is all that’s changing, it’s only cosmetic and only skin deep.

These changes help position a brand but the most important thing is the experience it delivers.  What is the experience like?   It has to do with parking, cleanliness, friendliness courtesy, wait times, competence, customer service, caring, attitudes and everything else that affects a person’s experience.

It’s great that hospital marketers and senior management are turning their attention to their brand.  But hopefully it’s more than just aesthetics.  Hopefully the emphasis is on the total experience delivered by the hospital.  That’s what will really determine your brand in the minds and hearts of consumers.


Healthcare Marketing: Is Social Media Really Social?

Social media is no substitute for real interaction and relationship.

So there are now almost 600 million people who have joined Facebook.  That’s just about everybody isn’t it?  It’s the way we connect, network, create and maintain relationships.  And brands are trying to get into the social media mix and create meaningful relationships with consumers.  Healthcare marketers are slowly entering the fray and experimenting with ways to interact with their constituencies and their community.  Everyone is telling us this is the way marketing is done these days.  I have drunk the Kool-Aid and have strongly suggested the same thing.  And I’m not backing down from that belief.

But sometimes in our rush to adopt and to gain a competitive advantage, our thinking becomes a little skewed.   Social media is an aid.  It’s a vehicle.  It’s a tool.  But it is not a real relationship. Especially when we are dealing with service brands.

Pete Blackshaw in an Ad Age article referred to social media as “a relationship vitamin and sweetener and not a destination.  It should deepen brands, not defuse or soften them”.  He goes on to argue “volume doesn’t always translate into intimacy, speed doesn’t guarantee meaningful connections, retweets don’t necessarily confer respect and friending doesn’t always signal friendliness”.

The point is, social media is no substitute for real, meaningful relationships.  The kind that happens between people, personally.  Sure, social media can affirm and support those real relationships but it cannot take the place of what happens human to human in real life and real connections.  Brands are defined and brands become social with human things like customer service, caring, helping, smiling, being there and maybe just a soft physical touch. These kinds of things can ultimately only be delivered in personal ways. Human ways.  And not from places on the internet.  Sure social sites can support and confirm such activity, but not take its place.

We can be “social” all day long on the internet but unless we are truly social as we interact personally, human-to-human, it’s not real or sustainable.  Listening, authenticity, transparency and responsiveness have to begin in person. Although we use these words often when discussing social media, we are fooling ourselves if we think these uniquely human things can really happen on social networking sites.  Brands are made (and broken) at points of real human contact and only sweetened by social media.

We talk a lot about relationship building and conversational marketing.  That’s well and good.  But they begin with real personal contact.  Blackshaw references the fact that we are so “social” these days we all walk with our heads down and eyes fixed on our smart phones as we try to create and maintain relationships.  Wouldn’t it be more social to lift our eyes and see people instead of screens?  To use a smile or a word to communicate?  A handshake or a touch to connect?

Let’s don’t get confused and think we can make a service brand real by capitalizing on every social media site available.  The effort instead should go into people caring for and about people.  Personally.


Hospital Marketing: Customer Satisfaction Scores Decline in Healthcare and Energy

Hospital customer satisfaction levels declined in the past year, joining the energy sector as the only two industries whose scores declined.  And this in spite of a strong emphasis on patient satisfaction by hospital CEOs.

Times have been tough in this economy.  For almost everyone.  And it’s true for hospitals as well.  It has led to implementation of various cost saving initiatives in most hospitals.  And in some, it has necessitated layoffs.  It appears the result has also caused a decline in patient satisfaction.  According to American Consumer Satisfaction Index, which measures consumer satisfaction for ten economic sectors, hospitals’ satisfaction scores fell 5 % over the past year. Only the energy sector joined hospitals with a decline.  It’s clear why there was a decline in the energy sector but both surprising and troubling there was a decline with hospitals.

The results were reported by Philip Betbeze in HealthLeaders Media.  Overall hospital satisfaction dropped 5% with inpatient satisfaction recording the largest decrease.  This is especially interesting when more and more hospital leaders are stating they are placing a stronger emphasis on patient satisfaction.

In fact, Betbeze reports that in the 2010 HelathLeaders Media Industry Survey, many leaders are making patient satisfaction their number priority.  Over 38% selected patient satisfaction as their top priority and it was near the top in most of the other surveys.

Hopefully, this increased emphasis on patient satisfaction will turn the tide and lead to significant increases in future surveys. It needs to.  Declining patient satisfaction will lead to trouble in many other ways and will certainly negatively impact our hospitals’ brands.  When that happens there are long-term effects.

Sure there is great pressure in hospitals to cut costs in the face of a struggling economy, decreased reimbursements and an uncertain industry environment.  But as Betbeze correctly states, “investments in patient satisfaction require more commitment than cash. In fact, relative to other investments hospitals have to make, such as high-tech imaging systems, new patient towers, and new operating suites, patient satisfaction improvement is instead based on clean rooms and hallways, better, hotter food, better service, and more eye contact, among other, seemingly simple fixes. Those things improve with culture”

It is certainly disheartening to see satisfaction scores decrease while management makes it a top priority. Hopefully it means there is not just lip service to the problem but the results just haven’t been fully manifested and thus not appearing in the survey results yet.  It is certainly a necessity to stop the decline and improve satisfaction scores.  So much depends on it.  There are many things in healthcare that management cannot control but a patient-centered culture and a commitment to patient satisfaction is one that can be impacted.  It must be!


Healthcare Marketing: It’s the Real Relationships that Really Matter

It’s not so much about building relationships with brands; it’s about using brands to build relationships.

All the talk these days is about relationships.  Relationships are king. It’s the coin of the realm.  Everything is all about building relationships.  But the interesting thing is that relationships are often discussed in the context of technology, social media, Web 2.0, apps, metrics, analytics, demo-psycho-socio-geographics, social networking, blogs and a thousand other buzz words.  But when I step back it’s all so odd.  All of those terms are so very impersonal.

We talk about building a relationship with a brand, a product, a service.  Yes I do it too.  Everyday.  But have we forgotten that real relationships are human? Can I truly have a relationship with my toothpaste, my jeans, my iPod, my microwaveable food, my gym, my computer, my car ?  Well yes I can have a relationship with all of those things, in a sense.  But not a real relationship.

Real relationships are human. It’s the touch of someone you love.  It’s holding a child or grandchild close and squeezing hard. It’s enjoying a family trip.  It’s working together with coworkers to achieve a common goal.  It’s striving together with others for something noble and right. It’s being with friends talking and laughing and just hanging out.  It’s crying with someone you care about who’s hurting.  It’s shedding tears when someone dear is no longer here.  It’s sharing life with someone.  It’s always a uniquely human experience.

This is not to discount all the wonderful new technologies, techniques, methods and knowledge that help us communicate.  But none of these can be a substitute for real relationships.  And we must not forget it.  We are so busy talking about and “building“ relationship in so many artificial ways but sometimes we forget that relationships are human. They involve the body, mind and soul.  They include the heart and emotions, which cannot be explained or adequately described.

Doesn’t it make more sense to instead of trying to build relationships using a brand or product, or service, or institution; we talk about how those things can help build true relationships…with other humans?  Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Relationships are indeed king.  But real relationships are about human relationships.  We don’t need to get lost in faux relationships but rather use technology and communication tools to communicate how our brand or service or product can help create and build and sustain and improve real relationships.  The kind that is human.  The kind that can’t be reduced to analytics and research.  The kind that really matter. The kind that makes life truly worth living.


Hospital Marketing: It’s all about the Patient

The emphasis on patient experience has not only improved patient care but it is also improving the health of healthcare organizations.

The past few years has seen an emphasis by hospitals on patient experience. There has been a concerted effort to improve patient satisfaction.  And it appears to be working.   According to a report from Press Ganey,  patient satisfaction has been improving since 2003 with 85% of those surveyed in 2008 reported they were satisfied with the care they received.

The report also shows that hospitals are reaping the benefits of improved customer satisfaction.  Some of the findings are:

1. There is a direct correlation between highly satisfied caregivers and satisfied patients.  And that in return helps in recruitment and retention of doctors and staff.

2. Hospitals that deliver superior customer satisfaction are more likely to be recommended by patients thus increasing their market share, and this of course contributes to the hospital’s bottom line.

3. Staff buy-in to improved patient satisfaction leads to a more positive work environment, which contributes to better patient care.

4. Satisfied customers are less likely to file malpractice lawsuits.

But there is room for improvement.  Glenna Shaw, in an article in Healthcare Leaders Media, cites five areas from the study where hospitals need improvement. In order of priority, they are:

1. Response to concerns and complaints during the patient’s stay.

2.  Degree to which hospital staff addressed the patient’s emotional needs

3.  Staff effort to include the patient in decisions about his or her treatment.

4.  How well the nurses kept the patient informed.

5. How promptly staff responded to the call button.

The survey also noted that service recovery was a key component to patient satisfaction.  One of the key factors is how the hospital responds when things go wrong or when a patient’s needs are not met.

We have known it all along in every other business category.  Now we are beginning to realize that it’s also true for healthcare.  It’s just common sense.  It IS all about the customer…patient!


Hospital Marketing: Surgical Tweets Keep Patients’ Families Updated

At least one hospital is now using Twitter to improve communications from the surgical suite to family members.      

Fawcett Memorial Hospital in Port Charlotte, Florida has begun using Twitter to send updates from the surgical suite to family and friends.  Instead of the family waiting, sometimes for hours, with little or no information about the surgery, Fawcett Memorial has someone in the surgical room sending tweets updating the status of the surgery. Even family and friends who can’t be at the hospital can follow the status.

In most causes there is little information about the surgery until well after the surgery is completed.  Sometimes a nurse will call the OR for an update for the family but the information is usually fairly sketchy.  Tweeting renders an extra level of service to family and friends.  They can know exactly what is going on in surgery and that provides a greater level of comfort and emotional connection to the patient.

Referring to the patient as “a patient of” and their doctor’s name and never mentioning the actual name of the patient prevent HIPAA violations. Both patient and surgeon have to give approval for the tweets.  The tweets are sent only to persons who are given the appropriate Twitter information and approval to receive the updates.

Many hospitals would react to this by arguing that they do not have personnel to send tweets and the nurses in surgery are all concentrated on the patient.  These are valid arguments. But for hospitals that are trying to get an edge in the marketplace, this could be a competitive advantage.  It certainly has the potential to create positive buzz and build loyalty to the hospital.

And it’s just one creative example how social networking can be used to improve service and enhance communication.  There are countless other ways it can be utilized.  Fawcett Memorial is next considering using twitter in the ER for the same purpose.  The availability and acceptance of social media and some creative thinking can truly break new ground in patient service.


Hospital Marketing: The Future of our Brand is Determined by Random Contacts with the Patient

The brands that top the charts in customer experience are also winning the loyalty battle.

Forrester Research recently released its list of top brands for customer service.  Surveying over 4600 U.S. consumers about their customer experiences, Barnes and Noble topped the list.  Others making the top five were Marriott Hotels, Hampton Inn, Amazon and Holiday Inn Express.  At the bottom of the list were Charter Communications, United Healthcare and Citigroup. (A complete list can be seen here).

It’s always interesting to see how consumers rate businesses in regard to their customer service experiences.  And to examine what businesses do to improve their customer service.  It’s also interesting to see the correlation between customer service and other brand attributes.

One thing we know is there is a strong correlation between customer experience and brand loyalty.  Those companies that deliver superior customer service also build strong brand loyalty.  The brand image and perception are largely determined at the point it interacts with the customer.  Brand loyalty is determined at the point of customer contact.

As hospital marketers, this is invaluable information. We often put our emphasis on technology, convenience, services and a host of other things.  But how much emphasis are we putting on that point of customer contact?  What is happening when our brand interacts with the patient and the patient’s family?  Brand loyalty is being determined at those random points of contact.  The future of our brand is determined during these interactions.

This is undoubtedly the most difficult thing to control.  There are so many within our organization that have contact with the patient and each one of them can make or break the experience.  It’s very difficult to control all of these contacts.  But it is imperative that we create a culture, an environment, where there is consistent attention and a strong emphasis on positive customer service. Yes technology, convenience, services and a host of other things are important, but in a consumer-directed economy, customer service is at the top.  The customer experience will determine how our brand is viewed and if there is any brand loyalty.

Barnes and Noble and the other companies at the top of the list make great effort to create a customer-friendly atmosphere and attempt to deliver the highest level of customer service.  They make it their corporate culture.  The future of our own brand largely depends on how well we create that culture within our organizations.


Healthcare Marketing: Testimonial Ads Under Scrutiny by FTC

bubble speak

Many hospitals use testimonial advertising, and rightfully so.  They can be very compelling and very effective. But more care must be given to the type of testimonial used.

The Federal Trade Commission has changed the rules regarding use of endorsements and testimonial advertising. Since 1980, advertisers could use testimonials which describe “unusual” results as long as “results not typical” was disclosed. Now the FTC says testimonial ads must clearly disclose typical results of consumers using the product or service

One area of particular concern for hospitals is using testimonials for weight loss services. “Typical results” can be very difficult to determine due to many patient variables. Other ads where patient testimonials reflect a result that is better than the typical patient would be unacceptable unless the typical results are clearly disclosed.

And the guidelines are not only for traditional advertising, but includes social media, the internet, and television/ radio talk shows.

Traditionally bloggers must disclose if they are compensated by an advertiser. And celebrity testimonials must disclose if they are being compensated for their endorsement.

Testimonial advertising can still be very effective for hospitals but should be used with care when a patient talks about results and outcomes. The results and outcomes cannot be better than the typical patient without proper and clear disclosure.


Marketing Your Hospital: Posting Prices and Quality Data on Your Website

Stethoscope with Money

Posting prices and outcomes on hospital website is a gutsy move yet one that has been beneficial for one hospital system –  to both the patient and the hospital.

Geisinger Healthcare System in Pennsylvania posts their prices and outcomes on their website so patients can compare outcomes on different procedures as well as  costs to other hospitals in the state and nationwide.

The hospital website links to a U.S Government site that allows comparisons of hospitals on several fronts including:

1.    Hospital Process of Care

2.    Hospital Outcome of Care

3.    Survey of patient’s hospital experience

4.    Medicare payment to hospital

5.    Number of Medicare patients treated

While most hospitals post some of these numbers, few actually post the “Outcomes of Care” and likely with reason. The comparisons are a great tool for the consumer when deciding on a healthcare provider. In addition, it’s an excellent way to promote and improve the hospital’s performance. This transparency is admirable and Geisinger obviously values performance results.