Healthcare Marketing: 4 Strategies for Improving Patient Experience

Marketing must take the lead in patient experience.

Marianne Aiello recently wrote an article for Health Leaders Media about how to improve patient experience.  Aiello makes some excellent points.  The article is republished here in its entirety.

Picture this. One day while watching TV you see an engaging hospital commercial, depicting smiling providers who whisk a patient through the continuum of care. The end of the spot directs you to a website, which has a fresh design and smartly describes the organization’s many service lines and resources.

A few weeks down the line you need to schedule an elective procedure, and, based on your positive memories of the ad and website, you choose this hospital. But upon arrival, the parking lot is confusing. When you finally stumble across the waiting room, the desk worker passes you some forms to fill out without raising his head. Your procedure goes well, but afterward it’s unclear how to schedule a follow-up.

Unfortunately, scenarios like this one happen all too often at well-meaning hospitals. Often the problem lies in the marketing department’s detachment from operations, which—like it or not—controls the patient experience.

For the marketing chief to be considered a key leader within the hospital hierarchy, marketers must bridge this gap and take full responsibility for the patient experience.

1. Align promise with experience.

The positive hospital ad/negative hospital experience described above showcases the hypothetical organization’s inability to align its brand promise with its brand experience.

“No longer can healthcare organizations be a lot better in their ads than they are in reality,” Gary Adamson, chief experience officer of Starizon told the April issue of Healthcare Marketing Advisor. “There is too much consumer information and power for that approach to be viable any longer. The marketing department must become responsible for the melding of the promise and the experience into a powerful and fully differentiated brand.”

In order to merge the promise and the experience into a differentiated brand, Adamson suggests thinking of the two as overlapping circles. It is ultimately the marketing department’s duty to not only make the area of intersection larger, but to eventually create concentric circles.

To do this, marketers must integrate operations and communications.

“By working with cross-functional teams, marketers can help organizations keep a finger on their patients’ pulse and develop communication materials that heal and strengthen relationships,” Tom DeSanto, principal, Tom DeSanto Strategy and Communications, told HMA. “It’s like multispecialty care for the patient experience.”

2. Start with first point of contact.

Naturally, aligning the brand promise with its experience is a daunting task. A good way to start is to focus on the patient’s first physical point of contact with your organization. The patient’s perception of your parking lot, lobby, and front-line desk staff make a lasting impression on their overall experience. This is why many organizations choose to employ valets and greeters; to construct warm, spacious entryways; and to extensively train staff in customer service.

“Marketers should consider all of the variables that will impact the patients’ and their families’ or visitors’ impression of the building and the people inside,” Shari Short, research director and strategist for Aloysius Butler & Clark, told HMA. “For example, if the parking lot feels unsafe or if the elevators are broken or too slow, consumers note these factors as part of their experience.”

Once the patient enters the treatment phase of their visit, clinical care takes precedence. But there is always room to craft a positive patient experience.

“For many healthcare workers, the patient experience is about clinical health outcomes, but for the healthcare consumer, it is about the levels of comfort and customer satisfaction that determine whether it is a positive patient experience,” Short says. “Marketers need to be present and involved in designing the patient experience from parking, to driving away after discharge, to keep the voice of the healthcare consumer in the conversation.”

3. Improve staff communication.

Staff attitudes, from disengaged desk workers to pressed-for-time caregivers, has a profound impact on the patient experience. The first step toward correcting any unsavory behaviors is education. Many staff may not realize that the way they are acting has such an impact on the patient’s satisfaction and perception of their care.

You can “inspire frontline patient care staff through simple, ongoing quality and satisfaction communications that praise their efforts and challenge them to improve,” DeSanto said. Also, “develop simple training and motivational materials to help improve performance in areas that have low satisfaction ratings.”

Furthermore, it’s important to report individual successes and overall progress in improving the patient experience to staff members, as well as patients and the hospital community.

4. Improve the patient experience.

Providing patients with friendly, uncomplicated, and practical information about what to expect from their hospital stay will help the patients feel more at ease even before they step foot in your facility.

This virtual or paper first point of contact can be just as important in making a positive impression as the physical first point of contact.

It’s also important to “examine and improve all aspects of communications with patients from initial contact with the physician referral line through episodes of care to interactions around insurance and billing,” DeStanto says.

Much like how the patient experience can begin before the patient enters the hospital grounds, it can continue long after the patient leaves.

In order to stay competitive in today’s healthcare environment, marketers must be responsible for much more than advertising and public relations. Not only must marketers communicate the brand, they must create and sustain the brand.

“If marketing is ever to evolve into the important strategic discipline in healthcare that it is in other industries, then the marketing department must take the lead role in orchestrating the patient experience,” Adamson says.

“For those marketers who choose not to leap across this chasm with excitement, however, they will be dooming themselves and the departments they lead to more of the same frustration that has been vocalized since the advent of healthcare marketing.”

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