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. 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 maybe 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 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 put 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 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 is 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.

And the health system in question thought I was not qualified to be their VP of Marketing a couple of years back. Silly me.

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.

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