Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How do You Drive Volume, Revenue in a Slow Growth Economy?

Revenue in hospitals, clinics and physician offices are down. Payers earnings are up because of lack of healthcare utilization. They are spending less. Looming Medicare cuts. Slow pay or no pay from Medicaid programs across the country. Increased self-pays. Lowered insurance reimbursements. And of Congress doesn't act on increase the ability of the Treasury to raise the debt limit, "you haven't seen nothing yet".

Healthcare is not a discretionary purchase. There is little if any differentiation between medical providers. With so many individuals out of work, consumer confidence eroding and wage earners fearful of losing jobs, healthcare, whether doctors visits, medication, hospitalizations or insurance purchases, are the last thing on peoples' minds.

What is a healthcare provider to do?

We all know the drill, cut costs, lay-off staff , hiring freeze, decrease marketing. etc. All retrenchment strategies to "weather the storm." In most cases necessary steps. All fatal to the healthcare organizations. When recovery ensues, which it will, you can't take advantage of new opportunities that present themselves because you are trying to recapture what you lost. Focusing resources and effort to make back the revenue and market share that you lost.

You can drive volume and revenue is a recessionary or slow growth economy. Here's how:

Step One: Recognize that healthcare is a purely a discretionary purchase. No one wants to get sick. No one plans to get sick. No one thinks about what health provider they will go to when they get sick.

In recessionary or slow growth economy here is the paradigm:

I get sick » self diagnose and try over the counter medications » doesn't work » consider retail clinic yes/no » call primary care physician yes/no » go to hospital ER.

Hospitals are last on the list and individual healthcare decisions in this economy are driven purely by price. What is going to cost me in co-pay or out of pocket if no insurance and what is the cheapest price.

Realize too, that there is little if any differentiation among providers. You all look and feel the same.

Step Two: Focus on physician and patient experience. Understand every touch point that a doctor or patient comes in contact with you for the first moment that they learn about your brand, to the medical services, to leaving, is an opportunity to create a lasting positive impression. Complete a patient experience map and a physician experience map. Find the issues and fix them now.

Step Three: Focus on the core. That's right, focus on your core services that pay the bills. No wild fancy flights of new services that are consumer or physician discretionary or elective in nature. People won't buy them. So don't waste the time and energy except for planning for those new service lines when the economy turns around. But not now.

Create pricing and service specials for your existing outpatient services, for example with lab create a schedule, test and results in two days (STaR2) program.

Step Four: Crank up the media relations, press releases, statements, white papers, outcomes studies, anything that puts you in a positive light and keep you in the media. Consider a steady stream of health and wellness tips etc. Drive people to your web site and don't forget to use social media efficiently and effectively. Patient and physician success stories are needed as well.

Step Five: Constantly measure and evaluate. Change on the fly. Don't stop. Be consistent in your brand messaging.

The opportunity is now to build for the future.

This is my last post until August. My daughter is a left-handed pitcher on the 14U Plainfield Lightning fast-pitch travel softball team. We are going to the ASA Class B Northern National Championships next week.  Its been a great year for the Lightning: 36-13; 3 tournament championships; a 2nd; 3rd; 4th place finish; and winning streaks of 6 and 12 games. My daughter did pitch a no-hitter too in June! For 2012, the team moves up to 16U.  It will be fun. Enjoy the summer.

You can continue the conversation with me on:
Web site:

For more information, or to discuss your strategic healthcare marketing, customer experience management, marketing/sales integration or start-up needs, you can learn more at my web site the michael J group; email-; or phone by calling me at 815-293-1471.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why do hospitals use the word world-class, unique etc., in ads when it's debatable?

Hospital and other healthcare leadership seems to be struggling with the concept of an empowered, informed healthcare consumer who is making active decisions regarding treatment and care, instead of relying on the provider of care making the decisions.

This is leading to any number of hospitals and others advertising satisfaction rates, awards for care, no wait ERs and other self proclaimed measures or for example, using web site clocks to potential customers that provide real-time ER wait times, etc.

Some innovative hospitals have even been cleaver in their ER advertising and other communication channels allowing potential customers to text a message and get the wait time back. Some ads make claims of being the number one in treatment because of the volume of cases.

Most ads are agency quality and well done, while some are clearly created in-house and look it too.

Misrepresentation of the data

But what I am also seeing is misuse and misrepresentation of data related to quality awards from third parties. It's one thing to advertise that you have earned awards for clinical quality in several areas, who the awarding organization is and the importance of the meaning of that award to your audience.

It's an entirely different matter when you take that award and tell people that if all the hospitals in the nation were as good as you, in those categories, which are not all of the categories of care awarded, that 158,000 lives would be saved annually is flat out wrong and misrepresenting any relative value of what that awards means.

What you should be communicating.

Which is the experience and how that awards makes you a quality provider of care in that category not all categories. Your messaging and visuals should be reinforcing quality, educating about what that award means , strengthening your brand and brand promise, as well as differentiating you from your competitors. You should be the data and outcomes transparent provider in your community. Create trust and goodwill with your messaging. Listen to your consumers and give them the meaningful data that they want in order to participate in the decision making process.

What you should not be communicating.

Do not use "unique", "world-class", "one-of-a-kind" , or "state-of-the-art" in your copy. What you do is not "unique", others provide the same. Unless someone is coming from another corner of the world to get care, you are not "world-class". And "state-of-the-art" is fleeting because a new service, procedure or technology is already on the horizon. Do not write or say "our medical team" or "staff" and use physicians in that sentence. Nor should you say "our physicians". That will get you drawn into physician malpractice lawsuits under the apparent agency doctrine.

Telling people "you care", when that is already an existing expectation of your consumers is stating the obvious. If anything, those types of messages only raise a red flag to consumers and are seen a pejorative.

Are you listening?

In most cases your advertisements and other channel communications are the primary contact that a consumer has with you that starts the customer experience process or even considering changing providers. Talk to your audiences in meaningful ways. Educate. Teach. Inform. Change opinion. Tell them why the quality award is important and what it means to them. Frame their expectation and experience. Manage it.

Frame it in terms of the customer experience and you will find a heightened sense of consumer and brand awareness. Data transparency in outcomes and honesty will drive volume and revenue for that category of service.

It won't if you incorrectly position the achievement by making wild claims of superiority that no one believes.

You can continue the conversation with me on:
Web site:

For more information, or to discuss your strategic healthcare marketing, customer experience management, marketing/sales integration or start-up needs, you can learn more at my web site the michael J group; email-; or phone by calling me at 815-293-1471.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How do you communicate to your patients or plan members regarding a merger or acquisition?

With the acceleration of mergers and acquisitions across all healthcare verticals, the question is posed for your consideration, how do you communicate with your consumers, patients or plan members about a merger or acquisition? Do you communicate on a personal level what's going on at all, or do you rely on the news media to carry the story?

This is an important question.

After all, most organizations, if they are paying any attention to communications detail, are decent at communicating with physicians and employees about what's going on. Timing can sometimes be an issue internally, especially if a news reports hit the street before employees know.

But commonly, where most healthcare organizations fall down in the communications chain, is how they communicate the merger or acquisition with patients, consumers, and vendors.

They are important audiences and you need to control your message with them as you do internally and with the media. In the age of social media where everyone has the potential to become paparazzi, why would take a chance on publicly generated comments? Comments, that may or may not have your brand messages and information.

When you did your Q&A for internal audiences, did you consider who has daily interaction with consumers, vender and patients, creating and training them with a Q&A for their use? Probably not. That my friends, is a missed opportunity to point up the positives, strengthen your brand and create a better experience for your end-user.

But the communication does not end there. You also need a plan that provides all of your audiences with regular updates about how the merger or acquisition is progressing and what it means to them. You have an opportunity to engage in a meaningful dialogue with your patients during this period. Don't waste it. Just don't assume that because they are your patients, that they don't care, don't have concerns about how it effects them, or don't want information about what's occurring in your organization.

And if you are think about changing the name because two health systems merge, then you need to start planting that idea now.

Having been though more mergers and acquisitions that I care to remember, my communications plans have been extremely detailed and project management oriented. Most importantly, the plan also detailed how I has going to communicate with patient's message frequency and methods.

Never, ever, miss an opportunity to strengthen you brand messages and control the messaging with key audiences.

My best merger-acquisition marketing communication plan ever? Glad you asked- 5 brands, 17 legal size paper pages, containing over 250 steps, not only to inform and minimize patient, employee, physician and consumer defections, but to move four of the acquired brands to our existing brand and brand architecture at the same time.

Good luck. Be detailed. Take nothing for granted. Use all available communication means- direct mail, press, web site, social media etc.

And communicate, communicate and communicate.

You can continue the conversation with me on:
Web site:

For more information, or to discuss your strategic healthcare marketing, customer experience management, marketing/sales integration or start-up needs, you can learn more at my web site the michael J group; email-; or phone by calling me at 815-293-1471.