3 Costly Rural Healthcare Myths CEOs are Following & Don't Even Know It

Feb. 25, 2020

Rural Healthcare Myths 3I have the privilege of working with CEOs from across the country who know rural healthcare like the back of their hand. But what if I told you that most of these executives were unknowingly making some critical marketing decisions based on rural healthcare myths?

These misperceptions were putting their business strategies at risk and diminishing return on their marketing investment. So before you dismiss the possibility that you could be doing the same, take a quick look at three common – and costly – myths that could be leading your hospital down the wrong marketing path. And find out how to bust through these myths to accelerate the patient acquisition process.

MYTH #1: “People in our community are already aware of our facility’s capabilities.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this comment from rural healthcare leaders. The reality is: No matter how long your hospital has been part of the community, you cannot safely assume that people know about all of the services you offer.

One CEO was adamant about this myth when Legato first partnered with the hospital. He did a 180 when a survey revealed that services like orthopedic surgery, ophthalmology and urology were largely unknown by the community. The survey also showed that over a four-year period, awareness of some services significantly decreased. 

The point here is that it’s never enough to simply “exist.” Rural hospitals need to actively promote their facility and their services if they want to grow. Here’s what that might look like for your rural hospital:

  • Building a social media presence.
  • Developing Google AdWords campaigns.
  • Using traditional tactics like print ads, outdoor boards, direct mail and radio. (Yes, these still resonate in rural communities!)

MYTH #2: Those doctors won’t do any surgeries here.”

I’ll admit that every situation is different. In some cases, rural hospitals that have partnered with visiting surgeons haven’t had much success. The visiting physicians may set up office at the hospital to see patients, but when surgery is needed, the patient is referred to a big-city competitor.  

We both know that your hospital’s success is predicated on performing procedures at your facility—not the facility a surgeon is affiliated with. So what’s the solution?

Legato has helped many clients turn this situation into a revenue-generating opportunity by creating clarity around mutual benefits.

Most referring providers are open to discussing what procedures can be performed at your hospital. At the same time, it’s important to have realistic discussions about when it makes sense to refer a patient to another facility.

For example, diagnostic work might be done locally, but the total joint replacement is referred out. Or the endometrial ablation is done locally but more complex gynecological or urological procedures are done somewhere else.  

Of course, part of the conversation will be around the equipment, staffing and efficiency of your operations. The important thing to keep in mind is: How you can make the relationship mutually beneficial? As with any successful business transaction, there has to be give-and-take. 

Also remember that in the end, you’re still promoting your services – not the individual physician's practice. This will help you stay clear of any Stark or anti-kickback concerns.

MYTH #3: “Direct mail and publications are old forms of advertising that don’t work anymore.” 

Many digital marketing firms base their existence on perpetuating this myth. But I can tell you unequivocally, rural America still wants – and responds to – traditional media. This isn’t my “professional opinion” or my “personal perception.” It’s data-driven FACT. Here are just a couple of proof points.

  • When members of rural communities in Wisconsin were asked about their preferred methods of communication, they overwhelmingly expressed a preference for direct mail.
  • In studies Legato has done on behalf of our clients, we've found that publications are often the No. 1 preferred source of information.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big proponent of integrating digital media into traditional marketing strategies. In fact, our clients have experienced a significant increase in patient and surgery volume when we’ve incorporated digital into their existing marketing budgets. But keep in mind, success starts with community engagement and involvement. And in rural communities that means leveraging customized community magazines, direct mail, health fairs ... all of the traditional forms of marketing that resonate in small-town USA.

If you have specific questions, or if you’d like an outside perspective on an internal marketing challenge you’re facing, give me a call at 920-544-8102, ext. 101, or email me at mikem@golegato.com.