The Disconnect Between Hospital Marketing and What Patients Need

March 6, 2012
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If you have an acute health problem like a heart attack or stroke, the ambulance will usually take you to the nearest hospital. For something less urgent you will probably go where your primary care doctor refers you. But if you have something chronic and long-term – it could be diabetes, ongoing heart problems, or a cancer – you might have more to say about it and where you choose to get care.

If you have an acute health problem like a heart attack or stroke, the ambulance will usually take you to the nearest hospital. For something less urgent you will probably go where your primary care doctor refers you. But if you have something chronic and long-term – it could be diabetes, ongoing heart problems, or a cancer – you might have more to say about it and where you choose to get care. And a hospital’s claims of highly rated care or state-of-the-art, multimillion dollar equipment may be only part of the equation.

Hospital marketers don’t understand that. In our online and social networking media world, it is less about what THEY say about themselves and more about what WE say about them. Yes, they are being thrown into the same process as restaurants and hotels. Comments from other “customers” matter and WE are their customers, not just a “case” or HIPAA protected medical record number.

This week I am speaking to an audience of hospital marketers and communications people in Texas about this. A few of them “get it” already. But across the U.S. many don’t. They relying on bragging about their doctors and equipment and, in only a limited way, give their patients a voice. And they don’t work hard to be part of the conversation with patients on an ongoing basis.

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Think about this: when patients network with one another online the odds are the other patients don’t receive care at the same hospital or clinic. So it’s natural to compare notes. This conversation goes on all the time now on Facebook, on listservs, on patient advocacy group sites and in online groups. But few hospitals make it a foundation of what they do to be part of these conversations – to listen as well as to offer education and suggestions. Their normal “M-O” is that they do everything well (that’s what their CEO wants to believe), when a quick check among patients will show that they don’t. A little honesty and dialogue can go a long way.

Another thing they can do is acknowledge the other resources beyond diagnosis and treatment patients need. That’s where the myriad of patient advocacy groups come in. I believe hospitals should not only promote them but partner with them throughout the year. Don’t just exhibit at a non-profit’s fun run, but be involved with their services to patients month in month out and talk them up!  I would respect a hospital that educates me on what they believe they do well, explains other options, and also tells me how other organizations support me too. Yes, I know discharge planners do this and there are flyers in waiting rooms. But I mean much more, in marketing and PR the hospital spends money on. Explain how a hospital is part of our journey as a patient to be returned to a full life or as full a life as possible. A hospital is part of a team. They are not the whole team.

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As my friend Betsy deParry, from Ann Arbor, says, “Hospitals need to include the voice of the patient in what they present. It’s not about them. It’s about us.”

Wish me luck with my speech. I’ll let you know if they 1) throw tomatoes 2) say what I envision is impossible for their business or 3) say they’ll try to do better.

Wishing you and your family the best of health!

Andrew