I recently read a few articles published by Kaiser Health News that clearly articulate the push by hospitals and health systems to market themselves more aggressively to patients. The methods aren’t new to the marketing discipline; in fact, credit card companies, supermarkets and many other businesses have been using these practices for years. What’s new is that hospitals are using these tactics to recruit patients and establish loyalty to facilities in the event that medical services are needed. Some people see this as questionable behavior on the hospitals behalf. As a marketer, I think this is smart business. If it helps a patient receive preventative care to head off a medical problem in the future, or leads to an improvement of quality of life while also benefiting the hospital, I’m all for it.
In “Hospitals Seek To Attract Business With Patient Perks”, author Michelle Andrews, provides a few illustrative examples of the direct to patient perks offered by hospitals. These run the gamut from VIP programs offering free parking and discounts at the gift store to trips to the theatre and in some cases an overnight casino trips. What do these perks have to do with better health care? Very little. However, the programs do create a positive connection with current and prospective patients, provides a list of potential people to market to and helps differentiate a facility. The success of these programs highlight that patients consider many factors in deciding which hospital or health system to seek treatment at.
Another article titled, “Hospitals Mine Their Patients' Records In Search Of Customers” has generated considerable buzz among industry pundits. The article describes how some facilities are combining patient demographic data with some health record data to more effectively market specific services to segments of the population. Again, this targeting is nothing new in industries across the US, but patient advocates and consumer watchdogs see some concerning signs. Chief among the concerns is that the data is being used to cherry pick “good” patients while not providing care for those in need. Proponents say this practice allows hospitals to increase revenues in a hyper competitive environment which in turn allows for more care for the under insured. In addition, patients may be more likely to pursue the care they need if they receive targeted messages about what type of care they need and where they can receive it.
Regardless of your viewpoint, I see both as positive examples that hospitals and health systems are increasingly turning to traditional marketing techniques, including technology and data analytics, to help provide better insight into improving financial performance and to engage patients. The applications are many and I believe we are at the cusp of achieving significant and meaningful change that will benefit those involved in the health care value chain - patients, physicians and the facilities where care is delivered.