Saturday, March 7, 2015

What is the healthcare consumer to do?

“It’s the time… of the season”…. as the lyrics from the 1968 hit by The Zombies, Time of the Season say in the Odyssey and Oracle album. Yep, that time when hospitals and health systems across the country walk down the red carpet of healthcare awards (with apologies to the Academy Awards). Claiming their place of the “highest quality imaginable” because they are in some top hospital list as a “best” place for care.  Never mind that a different list has them in the worst category.

With so much conflicting information available what is a healthcare consumer to do? Better yet, does it really make any difference to the healthcare consumer? The answer is they probably don’t care and don’t pay attention. See What Are the Best Hospitals? Rankings Disagree, by Melinda Beck, Wall Street Journal, March 2, 2015.


That statement does not mean that I am against hospital quality ratings for the consumer. I think that those ratings can be useful in the decision making process in choosing providers. They also have the potential to give hospitals a much needed boost in the constant battle to differentiate from competitors.

But they don’t. And it’s because the healthcare consumer has no context or appropriate content to educate and inform them as to why they should even care. Let alone what makes that “quality” award meaningful.

Just slapping the awarding organizations logo on an ad that doesn’t say anything other than screaming “We Won!”   with some vague language about world-class and highest quality, can be seen as a disservice to the healthcare consumer.

The times, they are a changing.

Hospitals and health systems cannot stop or slow down the transformation of the healthcare industry from a provider dominated business model, to a retail consumer oriented model.  As a reminder by 2020, it’s predicated the 30 percent of the hospitals will be gone either liquidated or acquired. Only 25 percent will grow and thrive. See Stagnation with a chance of decline: Healthcare’s 5 year forecast, Becker’s Hospital Review, February 20, 2015 by Emily Rappleye.

Carpe Diem

Seize the day for the hospital that is a third party quality award winner.  Turn it into the competitive advantage that can differentiate one in the market.  Besides, in a retail medical environment competitive advantage is everything, even for a not-for-profit. And markets do not behave under the Queensberry rules. The sooner hospital leadership learns that there no such thing as “friendly” engagement with competitors, the sooner one has the chance for survival.

Some do’s and don’ts

Just don’t put an ad out there with the award logo saying we won.
Do explain what the award is and how it was determined.

Don’t make grandiose claims that if everyone else was as good as us, 160,000 lives would be saved annually.  Really and the healthcare enterprise doesn’t make medical mistakes that kill people?
Do put the award in context and how that shows you are better than average.

Don’t put a smiling executives or physicians in the advertisement.
Do combine the award in an ad with a real-life patient and their testimonial.

Don’t use the award to make claims that the hospital is excellent at everything.
Do use the award for the specific clinical services that were mentioned.

Don’t hide the data underlying the hospital performance to achieve the award.
Do be data transparent in terms the healthcare consumer can understand.

Don’t expect the healthcare consumer to care about the award.
Do engage and educate the healthcare consumer on why the ward is important to them.

Don’t just put the award ad out as a brand image piece.
Do create a strong and measurable call to action for the brand based on the award.

“The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things……” from The Walrus and The Carpenter by Lewis Carroll.  The time has come for hospitals to do the same.

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