Think 'preference' before promotion
By Mike Milligan, President of Legato Healthcare Marketing
When it comes to increasing patient volume, many rural healthcare CEOs and marketers share a common misperception. In fact, I hear it from virtually every new client: “We just need to make people more aware of our services – then they’ll use us.” With all due respect, if it were that easy, these hospitals and healthcare organizations could simply run a brand awareness campaign or two and call it a day.
Don’t get me wrong. Promotion is definitely part of the “services solution.” But we shouldn’t overlook another critical piece of the marketing puzzle: patient preference – why a patient is likely, or not likely, to use your services.
For example, I can be totally aware of a failing hospital that has a reputation for poor customer service and outcomes – but that doesn’t mean I’ll use it. Or, I may know that I can have joint replacement surgery at my local hospital – but that doesn’t mean “location” is most important to me when it comes to where I receive care.
Patient preference is based on several factors:
- Patient experience: All of the interactions patients have with your hospital or healthcare organization, before, during and after care. Think about:
- What is most important to your patients? This ranges from sufficient communication and trust with providers, to ease of finding information on your website, to cleanliness of your facility.
- What solvable issues are preventing your patients from having a positive experience and sharing this experience with others?
- Outcomes: Consumers want to know about the quality of care they’ll receive for their condition or a specific medical procedure. In most cases, they’ll research outcomes before making a decision about where to receive care.
- Differentiation: Too often, rural hospitals or healthcare organizations rely on convenience/location to distinguish their facility from big-city competitors. While this is a benefit worth leveraging, consider the fact that 42% of consumers are willing to drive a longer distance under the right circumstances (e.g., the hospital or healthcare organization offers better care, has a better reputation, etc.) to receive care. 
- Patient reviews: Current and former patients can be your strongest advocates – or your most vocal critics. Studies show that:
- 91% of consumers regularly or occasionally read online reviews. 
- 60% of respondents have chosen one provider over another based on a positive online reputation – so it’s critical to monitor and be responsive to patient reviews.
- Recommendations and testimonials: 84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.2 Patient testimonials prove the value and benefits of the services your hospital or healthcare organization offers and are viewed by most consumers as a reliable source in the decision-making process. There’s a big difference between just advertising services compared to patients sharing their personal stories of how your hospital or healthcare organization improved their lives.
- And yes, promotion of services! As I mentioned earlier, promoting services is definitely part of the “patient volume/revenue-building” solution. But here again, many new clients tell me, “We’re already doing that and it’s not working.”
The problem is, they’re advertising the wrong message in the wrong places. Before launching an advertising campaign, it’s imperative to:
- Identify service lines with the highest growth potential and support those key services.
- Create targeted messaging around the identified service lines and use a strategic approach with planning.
- Reach consumers seeking those services at the right place, at the right time.
- Be ready to measure results.
Let’s talk about patient preference and promotion, and what that looks like for your rural hospital or healthcare organization. I can share some “ah-ha” moments many new clients have had. I think they’ll help point you in the right direction, too. Email me at email@example.com or call me directly at 920-544-8102, ext. 101 to schedule a time for us to chat.