Sunday, February 25, 2018

And What is the Hospital Ambulatory Strategy and Brand Name? Choose Wisely or Risk Failure with the Healthcare Consumer.

The other day when obtaining some physician-ordered tests; I was at a brand-new free-standing hospital-based ambulatory care center.  When I called the central scheduling department of the health system in question, I asked if the new center near me did those tests. Well, low and behold they did. I scheduled one of the tests because of some pretest requirements, and the other test I did nearly immediately as X-rays are available on a walk-in basis.

Now, understand that I drive by this ambulatory medical center on a very regular basis and never had a clue that all this and more was available. In all honesty, I didn’t pay that much attention to the marketing either as it focused on providing geriatric physician services that I did not need nor have any interest in. The other thing to note is that the parking lot is empty a fair majority of the time, indicating a lack of consumer utilization.

And it very well may be because of the name.

When you put Senior in the name which smacks of age biased segmentation and marketing, you are automatically defining the perceptions of the center to a significant portion of the area’s population. From a healthcare consumer standpoint, who wants to go to a “senior medical center” for ambulatory medical services?

Now part of me understands why the health system did this as there are two sizable retirement communities in the area. The head-scratcher is that those “senior” individuals already have a long-term well established primary care relationship and would be unwilling to change primary care physicians. It is also a head-scratcher as to why the health system would go head-to-head to compete with the admitting physicians in the community who already use the systems area hospital with the same ‘senior” population.

By the way, it is a beautifully designed exterior and interior building. But then that is what some hospital leadership do best, build buildings under the brick and mortar belief of build it, and they will come. I bet, however, its hemorrhaging red ink due to lack of utilization.

Ah, the perils of retail medicine which dear reader brings us to the important question.

What is your ambulatory retail brand, location and naming strategy?

Are these questions easy to answer? By no means and I am not going to give you the ten-steps to success. What I do want you to consider is what is your ambulatory retail center strategy. And in doing so, hopefully, you will learn that planning, executing and marketing a successful free-standing the ambulatory medical center is more than owning a piece of land, sticking some pins in a map and making some assumptions based on the demographics of an area.

It is retail medicine, not hospital medicine. That means the rules are different.

Experience is the best teacher.

From my experience in doing ambulatory care center planning and marketing, my first rule of thumb was never place a hospital-based ambulatory center in an area where I had admitting physicians so as not to compete with them. The second rule of thumb was always to put a dental practice in the center to drive foot traffic. The third rule of thumb was never to use the words “senior medical center.”  And the fourth rule of thumb was to build out the primary care physician services first adding specialist capabilities over time. And the fifth rule was working with the admitting physicians in the area to refer their patients to the center for more convenient and accessible testing. There are more, but these are the basic rules.

Rules my friends, that are the beginnings of a retail strategy for location, building and marketing a successful hospital-based free-standing ambulatory medical center. 

Did I mention the fact all of this done in the early 1990s and those rules still holds true today? The more things change, the more they stay the same. And those family health centers are still open and operating profitably today, some 20 years later.

After all, if the hospital doesn’t know what the ambulatory brand and naming strategy are how can one expect the market to know? And judging from the little utilized hospital-based ambulatory centers popping up like weeds in a garden, they don’t know either.


Michael is a healthcare business, marketing, communications strategist, and thought-leader.  As an internationally followed healthcare strategy blogger, his blog, Healthcare Marketing Matters receives over 20,000 page views a month and read in 52 countries.  He is a Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives, Professional Certified Marketer, American Marketing Association.  

As an expert in digital marketing & social media with a Klout score of 64, that places me in the top 10 percent of social media experts nationwide. Michael is an established influencer. Opinions expressed are my own.


For more topics and thought leading discussions like this, join Healthcare Marketing Leaders For Change, a LinkedIn Professional Group.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Eight Critical Marketing Strategies Needed for Hospitals to Remain Independent.

Dateline Anywhere USA. Hospital anywhere closed today after serving the community for 80 years. Beset by changes in reimbursement, competition from retail medicine, telehealth, innovation, and an empowered healthcare consumer, hospital leadership, and the Board of Directors could not adapt to the new healthcare market.  Hundreds of employees lost jobs as hospital leadership blamed declining reimbursement and utilization.…, as reported in the local paper.

Is that the headline of a story written each day in papers around the country fueled by provider leadership? It’s a scary thought, and unfortunately, a story that written all too often. From a marketing perspective, it’s not entirely avoidable but could be. 

In the end, the inability to adapt quickly enough and meet the needs of the healthcare consumer and patient utilizing less costly treatment alternatives and innovative services that meet their needs along the dimensions of price, outcomes, engagement, and experience will write that story.

Blaming declining reimbursements as the sole contributor to the closure of a hospital would be a mistake. An important contributor as the leadership could not adapt or guide the healthcare enterprise through the transition to a quality-based reimbursement system, yes.  But not the sole reason as some may have you believe.

Unless the healthcare enterprise is the sole community provider, there are always alternatives. If leadership is being honest, this is a new reality for many.

What to do.

This blog post isn’t about P4P, capitation, risk-sharing, ACOs, quality payments or any other of the myriad of reimbursement models in operational practice.  What we are discussing is what providers can do from a marketing standpoint to mitigate the risk of that headline becoming a reality.

Marketing is an asset and not just there to make things look pretty.

Survival in today’s environment requires a focus beyond readmissions, patient safety improvements, elimination of preventable deaths, cost reductions, quality improvements, etc.  All very important business-critical mandates as well as the cost of doing business in today’s healthcare world. While doing all of that you still have to find ways to grow.

Eight steps to growth along the four dimensions of price, outcomes, engagement, and experience

1.       Become the customer-focused organization for real and not in thought or a grand stagey on paper.
It’s about your focus on the healthcare consumer and patient, not the hospitals. It’s an external market focus compared to an internal focus. It’s about becoming the healthcare consumer/patient-focused hospital. And saying that the healthcare enterprise has a customer-centric focus, doesn’t make it so.  Measure the healthcare enterprise against the 20 MAKKOR scale attributes of a customer-focused organization.  Then and only then will one know what the improvement steps needed for the journey.

2.       Evaluate the healthcare enterprise brand and competitive position.
Consumers and patients are ready for transparency and convenient technology-enabled access to care. Healthcare providers that can identify meeting these needs and how they want their healthcare needs meet through technology focused on them will gain new patients and the next generation of physicians. 

3.       Engage healthcare customers and patients all the time.
An individual is only a patient 1/3rd of the time they encounter you.  That is the diagnosis, treatment, and recovery phase.  Pre and post this experience; they are a healthcare consumer, not a patient.  So why then is it the only time one chooses to meaningfully engage them is during the period when they are a patient?   Engaging the healthcare consumer on a continuous basis builds loyalty and importantly keeps them in the network, which has some significant financial ramifications in a risk-based reimbursement model.

4.       Engage the physicians.
No matter the payment models, the hospital or health system still needs a physician or physician extender’s order to get anything done in a healthcare setting. That means engaging physicians in meaningful ways, using the methods, technology, and systems that will make their life easier, improve their productivity, and protect or increase their income. An effective and efficient physician has more to do with the impact of cost and quality in the hospital than any other factor.

5.       Improve the physician experience.
How hard is it for a physician or physician extender to practice medicine in your organization?  Have you looked at the hassle factor that physicians encounter when they try to get things done in the hospital setting?  Understand how the physician experiences your organization at every touch-point they encounter in the hospital. Understand their experiences overall from beginning to end, not just in an isolated segment. Fix what’s broken, keep what is working. The more satisfying the experience, the better you will do financially.

6.        Make the healthcare consumer/patient experience memorable.
A healthcare provider's ability to deliver an experience that sets it apart in the eyes of its patients and potential patients from its competitors - traditional and non-traditional - serves to increase their loyalty to the brand. One needs to actively manage the customer experience in totality by understanding the customer's point of view.  That is, all touchpoints internally and externally that a customer/patient meets which in turn creates the experience. Exceptional experience means gains in market share, brand awareness, and revenue.

7.       Embrace and join the retail healthcare movement.
Traditional ways of delivering healthcare will go by the wayside in many cases.  Price convenience, access, and outcomes are the drivers in retail healthcare.  Find the need, understand the consumer’s behavior drivers, design offering around the consumer, not the hospital in a convenient location, and price it appropriately. If you can't compete in this way market position, share and revenue will erode

8.       Social media is the currency for reaching audiences.
Turn to social media and networks to engage, manage the experience and drive adherence. As healthcare continues the evolution of a healthcare consumer dominated retail environment, social networking is a healthcare marketing channel that is underutilized and underperforms today but holds great potential to improve engagement, experience, and adherence.

All of this takes organizational change, leadership, vision, and meaningful action. An individual only needs the hospital for three things, emergency care, intensive care, and care for acute complex medical conditions. Meet the healthcare consumer on their terms or see you on the ash heap of forgotten history.

Choose carefully.

Michael is a healthcare business, marketing, communications strategist, and thought-leader.  As an internationally followed healthcare strategy blogger, his blog, Healthcare Marketing Matters receives over 20,000 page views a month and read in 52 countries.  He is a Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives, Professional Certified Marketer, American Marketing Association.  Post opinions are my own. As an expert in digital marketing & social media with a Klout score of 64, that places me in the top 10 percent of social media experts nationwide. Michael is a micro-influencer. 

For more topics and thought leading discussions like this, join his group, Healthcare Marketing Leaders For Change, a LinkedIn Professional Group. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

How Can Hospitals Make Their Marketing Stickier? Ten Steps.

Hospitals have a marketing problem. Their marketing is neither consistent nor sustainable and appears random to the healthcare consumer. There are of course many reasons for this, most notable are resources – capital and human, as well as organizational barriers from lack of leadership marketing knowledge and an unwillingness to change the marketing practices of the past.

The economy has shifted from a product and service economy to an experience economy.  Think Amazon. Hospitals and health systems, any healthcare provider, are operating in that same experience and engagement economy.

To be successful then, in spite of the inconsistent and randomness of hospital marketing to the healthcare consumer or patient, requires marketing becomes a sticker. It also means the use of nudge techniques to influence healthcare consumer choice and behavior.

Now what?

To grow and thrive in the experience economy while all else is in flames around the hospital or health system, it means moving from traditional marketing to experiential marketing that addresses needs of and meets the experience expectations of the healthcare consumer and patient.

Making provider marketing sticky is all about the care experience and engagement of the person on a very personal level. And given the multitude of ways, one of the most effective will be social media.

Social media is about the amplification of the experience, and of the brand.  It is also the amplification of marketing that is sticky via nudges.

What the above all represents is how in an experience economy a consumer takes action.  Not necessarily responding to traditional marketing, they are looking for the experience of what you do, not how you do it with technology, bricks, and mortar or smiling physicians accepting new patients.

Here are ten new marketing rules in an experience economy for making provider marketing stickier:

1.       Understand fully and completely the healthcare consumer and person experience. With over 147 touch-points for consumer and patient experience with a hospital. It’s vital in the experience economy that marketing understands what information they are seeking, and deliver it to them at the right experience touch-point with the right call-to-action.
2.       Content is king. Make it memorable. It’s how you drive engagement through effective and compelling storytelling around the experience of care, not the how of the care.  From the web site to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Periscope, etc, focus on the experience. Be visual. Be compelling.
3.       Identify and work with key influencers.  Influencers need to ample your message through social media. Encourage user-generated content.
4.       Key content included testimonials about the experience of care and engagement from patients and healthcare consumers.
5.       Integrate and communicate the value of the brand, key brand messages and brand promise across all channels.
6.       Use social media and SEO to amplify your message. Influencer’s and patients providing testimonials need to complete online reviews to raise your placement in Google and other search engine results.
7.       Integrate the information and experience across all channels and platforms that consumers will use- desktop, smartphone, or tablet for a seamless experience. No disconnects. The healthcare consumer moves freely between all three devices expecting the same experience across all three.
8.       Traditional marketing needs to focus more on the outcome and experience to drive engagement.  No more pretty building, smiling doctors, shiny new equipment. 
9.       Teach employees how to use their social media channels to amplify the provider.
10.   Teach the healthcare organization that marketing today is no longer about transactions but value.  Transactions will come after the value is understood.

Many traditional healthcare traditionalists will say this is just all nonsense.  That marketing has no place in the experience or engagement management process.  But then when you look at that advice, have any real, tangible, and measurable results been accomplished outside of hearing what one desires to be told? Or, is it just treading water until the next healthcare market move slaps one upside the head?

There is no escaping or slowing down the experience economy as it overtakes healthcare.

Michael is a healthcare business, marketing, communications strategist, and thought-leader.  As an internationally followed healthcare strategy blogger, his blog, Healthcare Marketing Matters receives over 20,000 page views a month and read in 52 countries.  He is a Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives, Professional Certified Marketer, American Marketing Association.  Post opinions are my own.


For more topics and thought leading discussions like this, join his group, Healthcare Marketing Leaders For Change, a LinkedIn Professional Group. 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Marketing Lessons from Super Bowl Teams. What Hospitals Need to Learn.

No eye rolls, please. It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and the thought occurred what can I learn strategically for provider marketing from the teams preparing to play on the world’s biggest stage.

But I guess once all the hoopla is said and done, it all comes down to playing the game that the participants have played for a great majority of their life.  It’s the same for provider marketers in an upside-down market where the healthcare consumer gains power each day. Trust us just doesn’t work anymore.

As a marketing professional and mentor, one must learn how to handle success and failure. Endure leadership changes, people who don’t know what they are talking about but think they do, or the long-tenured leadership that looks at you and your recommendations with the “I have seen women and men like you to come and go, and I am still here,” attitude.

In the end, if there are any really important lessons it’s all about the strategy, teamwork and adapting whether you like or not.

The successful Super Bowl teams, besides a little luck along the way, know strategy, and adaptation. From their use of data and analysis with the outcomes of actions leading to an understanding of the results and key inflection points, the strategy going forward determined, and a plan developed for execution.

But herein lies the major difference.

During the execution of the plan, rapid and nearly immediate response to changing conditions takes place. Strategy, adaptability, and continuous learning measured against expectations. If it doesn’t work, make changes. Pretty simple really.

Here are my ten Super Bowl LII lessons for healthcare marketers:

1.       Keep calm. Healthcare is changing in ways that have turned the market upside down.  That doesn’t mean the game is over. It just means your strategy needs to change because the market is rushing ahead of you. 
2. Change it up! If you keep doing what one has always done, this market will just pound the daylights out of the organization. Stop doing the same things the same way as one has always done. 
3.       Fail Fast. Mistakes happen because of errors, and that is just a fact of life. Plans don’t always work as intended. So like winning sports teams when things go wrong, stop, and change to get a better result. 
4.       Change up your marketing channels. Delivering the same message, the same way every time is a prescription for disaster. People stop paying attention, so one must move the messages around and use all the channels available. Your audience regardless of age is omnichannel. 
5.       Build marketing team capability and chemistry.  That may mean new players. Change is good, and everyone needs to learn new marketing skills and to play nice in the sandbox.  One cannot be successful if there is no team chemistry and the team members can’t fill in for another. New skills breed new ideas and capabilities. 
6.       Listen to your coaches, i.e., leadership. It may seem like an oxymoron sometimes especially with marketing because anyone can do it, but you need to be at the leadership table and understand the business strategy, operational plans, and financial challenges. Only then can one make a positive contribution.
7.       Do the unexpected.  That keeps your competition off balance. One can build the organizational marketing story and meet the healthcare consumer’s needs before anyone else has the chance. 
8.       Know the strengths and weaknesses of the team and competitors. Put team members in positions and situations to win. Go after competitors at their weakest point. If they can’t figure it out, keep doing it until they learn how then change. 
9.       You win some; you lose some. No organization is perfect, place the loss behind you and learn.  Enjoy the wins for a moment but move on to the next game. Learn from the past and adapt strategically and in your execution. 
10.   Have fun and play with passion. I think that is the biggest lesson from all of this. Life is about passion, friendships, success, and learning from failure.

No one remembers who lost. Work is the same. Have fun and play with passion. Life is too short.

Michael is a healthcare business, marketing, communications strategist, and thought-leader.  As an internationally followed healthcare strategy blogger, his blog, Healthcare Marketing Matters receives over 20,000 page views a month and read in 52 countries.  He is a Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives, Professional Certified Marketer, American Marketing Association.  Post opinions are my own.


For more topics and thought leading discussions like this, join his group, Healthcare Marketing Leaders For Change, a LinkedIn Professional Group.