3 Factors Patients Use to Choose a Hospital

sara johnston

Sara Johnston
Partner

Nov 4, 2015 | Health Care, Point of View

3 factors patients use

COMPETITION IS STIFF among hospitals in the U.S. According to U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, 75 percent of all hospitals have a competitor within 15 miles. As a result, it’s becoming increasingly important for hospitals to differentiate from one another.

So how can you get a leg up on the competition?

DH conducted an online survey with participants spanning the Pacific Northwest to explore health care consumer preferences. For more than half of our participants, the most important factor that influences which hospital they choose is—not surprisingly—what their health insurance allows.

Unfortunately, that is a factor outside the control of a hospital marketing director. But don’t be disheartened. There are three key factors you can influence to position your hospital as the best choice in the minds of consumers.

1. Patient experience and word of mouth

According to a study by Center for Studying Health System Change, Americans choose a new doctor or hospital based on word of mouth. In fact, 50 percent relied on input from friends and family. Even when seeking a specialist, almost 20 percent still turn to friends’ advice. And don’t underestimate the rising importance of word of mouth on social media. PwC reported that more than two out of five individuals said social media affected their choice of a provider or organization.

So how do you get your patients to sing your praises? Well, the scale is not tipped in your favor. A PwC study found that only 54 percent of health care consumers tell friends and family about a positive experience. That means, that half of your patients aren’t telling good stories about you. And research shows that if they have a bad experience, they tend to remember it longer.

But it’s not just about getting patients to refer their friends to you. It’s about getting repeat customers. According to National Research Corporation, once an individual gets treatment at a hospital, he or she is more likely to go to the same hospital for future needs.

That’s why it’s vital to ensure you’re providing a positive experience. Make patient-centered customer service a part of your brand. Treat patients like customers—not just a demographic. Train employees how you want them to interact with patients. For more tips, check out our blog on improving the patient experience.

2. Reputation and brand

According to National Research Corporation, nine out of 10 people found reputation to be an important factor when selecting a hospital. As a branding firm, we aren’t at all surprised. Branding is one of the most important investments an organization can make. It’s how you show up in and interact with the world.

The problem is that so few hospitals have a strong brand. In the health care industry, there is a sea of organizations that look and sound the same. Their marketing and communication efforts rarely get to who they are and why it matters. As a result, their websites, collateral materials and imagery are often interchangeable at best—and unmemorable or irrelevant at worst.

But that sea of ubiquity creates opportunity: for you to stand out, to develop a more compelling story, to create a brand that engages people, to drive results. When we started working with Lourdes Health Network, for example, the hospital needed to find a way to market itself against bigger competitors that shared its market.

Any time you start a branding project, it’s tempting to focus on the services you provide. But a brand needs to communicate more. Your job is not to differentiate with services; you need to differentiate with outcomes.

In other words, keep the focus on your patients and their experiences. Yes, it’s awesome that you’ve recruited a new specialist to your physician team or that you’ve invested in new radiation equipment, but you need to make the case to patients about why they should care. How is this going to improve their lives?

In the case of Lourdes, we helped uncover a way to express the personal, human element of its culture. The story that needed to be told was the hospital’s commitment to working toward unparalleled patient care and a better patient experience.

This played out in a number of ways, including hospital leadership embracing its commitment to the idea through training, new programs and more. And they did this while also honoring Lourdes’ Catholic roots and deep connection to the community.

3. Location and accessibility

the 2014 Healthgrades American Hospital Quality Report to the Nation, consumers are more likely to choose a hospital based on location (58 percent) than based on what health outcomes it achieves for patients (30 percent). That means location is a bigger factor than the clinical quality of care.

That suggests to us that for patients to go out of market for treatment actually goes against their natural inclination. If you find yourself losing market share to faraway competitors, you need to figure out why. And the place to start is research. Conducting insight interviews or focus groups, for example, can help uncover barriers. Then you can create a plan to address those barriers and change your prospective patients’ behavior.

When we began working with Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital, for example, the hospital system faced misperceptions in the community. Though Memorial was investing in stunning new facilities, people didn’t understand why new buildings were necessary or why the organization needed to grow.

We conducted a quantitative survey to explore overall community perceptions, supplemented with nearly 50 insight interviews. From that research, we learned why people didn’t think Memorial’s growth was necessary or why patients were turning to Memorial’s competitor. And we were able to address misperceptions through our brand strategy, marketing programs and community relations efforts.

By focusing the brand on a tighter set of core ideals over the coming years we saw dramatic and positive shifts in awareness, reputation, service line preference and more.

As one example, we featured real Memorial physicians in an ad series—not only highlighting the expertise Memorial’s physicians offer, but their personalities as well (something the research revealed people wanted to know about prospective providers). Over the next few years, we watched as Memorial’s reputation and physician preference improved.

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