Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Rooney-Inspired Post on Patient-Centered Care


Andy Rooney died last week. An amazing journalist and beloved host of 60 Minutes, he will be sorely missed. He would start each section with a satirical question to which the answer was so obvious, just asking it would make you laugh. Many times his opening would be "what's all this talk about (insert subject here with ironic twist)" or, "why in the world would people (insert action here with absurd twist)."

A few months ago, Laura Harner - Marketing Manager at Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown, Pennsylvania - wrote this blog post for Hospital Branding in Rooney-style on the subject of patient-centered care. In Andy speak, it might have started with this: "What's all this talk about hospitals and patient-centered care? Is this a new concept? Have they been focused in the past on not providing patient-centered care? And if the not on the patient, who is the care centered around?

You can almost hear him ask these questions and, in addition to the smile on your face, put a few thoughts in your head. As the marketing manager with responsibility for the organization's brand, Laura provides some terrific insights on the growing importance and significance of customer satisfaction and loyalty in today's healthcare environment.

So, in Rooney speak, here's her post (and thanks, Laura for taking the time to write it):

The phrase "patient-centered care" seems redundant. Of course hospitals care for patients. But patient-centered care has taken on greater meaning and importance in the wake of HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) scores and their tie to Medicare reimbursements. The data are publicly reported and can be accessed on-line (hospitalcompare.hhs.gov) for consumers to evaluate hospitals. And these scores are causing many organizations, from the top-down, to think about the brand promise and service delivery, now that it's tied to the bottom-line. And isn't it about time!

The task facing healthcare marketers is not only delivering on the brand promise, but determining who in the organization is responsible for it. Some of the most important satisifers are overseen and delivered daily by operational and clinical support staff; from convenient parking, how the phone is answered, to how the patient discharge process is handled. The best brands will succeed when patient experience leads to high satisfaction and the classic loyalty bond, or loop, can begin. This can be a great differentiator in a crowded hospital marketplace.

It's never been more important for hospital marketers to be reminded that true branding is just as much about building loyalty as it is creating that initial patient visit. In a world where consumers have increasing choices and access to information, any brand strategy that does not include consideration of the patient experience and patient loyalty will be missing a major piece of where this market is going.

So what can marketers do to influence customer service, satisfaction, and long-term loyalty? Here are a few thoughts:
  • Don't wait for monthly or quarterly satisfaction scores. Every day, find opportunities to visit with family members to ask about the care and attention their loved one is receiving. Spend a couple minutes in a waiting area, or listen to what's being said in the cafeteria. These minutes, several times a month, can add up to be a significant investment in understanding your hospital's brand of customer service.
  • Be a "mystery shopper." Call your own telemarketing center and find out how long you're on hold or how many transfers are made. Park in the visitor lot during peak hours to learn where you end up and how long it takes to walk to the entrance.
  • Take in the environment - Put on your "visitor hat" and drive the campus and walk the hallways to see how easy signage makes it to navigate around your hospital. Take pictures, make notes and compare these findings to the comments you receive from visitors. Be prepared to respond to feedback and make changes.
  • Go to where people are today - These days, having mobile applications to pre-register and provide information is just as important as an "Information Desk." There are more portals than ever leading into the hospital aside from the front door.
  • Visit your own website - Determine what customer service strategies you can build into the site. From ER wait times to real-time consultations, websites are more interactive than ever and often cited in patient satisfaction scores. In fact, some say your website is really your true front door and the first encounter with your brand.
Andy Rooney would probably have been surprised to hear hospitals talk about patient-centered care. But rest assured, Andy, it's good news for patients that the concept is changing and formal processes are being put in place to improve the overall hospital experience. The healthcare industry is advancing the concept of customer satisfaction and making it an influential metric in hospital performance and reimbursements. And that's where hospital marketers, in collaboration with clinical and operational staff, can have a big impact. In today's hospital environment, the clock is definitely ticking. (SFX UP: 60 Minutes "Ticking" sound)

Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy is a brand development and communications firm with offices in the Chicago and D.C. areas. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob Rosenberg at 847.398.4920 or at rob@springboardbrand.com