Are Hospitals Walking in the Right Direction? - Part 1


I hope you had a chance last week to read Part 1 and Part 2 of my Point of View article, Hospitals: Walking the Right Way.

This week and next look for a series of posts outlining seven issues and trends that I believe constitute a starting point for a re-thinking by executive-level management that is absolutely critical if hospitals are to survive and thrive through the coming years of tumultuous change in our health care system.

Today we’ll look at two of those issues and trends.

I recently read a wonderful comment by Larry Downes, an author and contributor to Forbes.com, regarding organizations that do not properly recognize and react to changing marketing conditions:

“…when you’re walking in the wrong direction, it’s certain you’ll never reach the destination you have in mind.”

I believe that is a concise summary of what hospitals are doing by focusing solely on operational, quality and regulatory issues at the expense of marketing strategies that are designed to ensure sustainable revenue growth.

#1: Hospital myopia — thinking in terms of patients rather than customers

Yes, we are “patients” at certain critical points in our relationship with hospitals and the health care system as a whole. The problem is that by thinking of us solely as patients, hospitals limit their strategic thinking, their services and their value to those occasional times when we are in a doctor’s office, a clinic or occupying a hospital bed.

Health is a pervasive issue. From dieting to exercise to nutrition to hygiene to illnesses and accidents, rarely does a day go by that health concerns don’t play at least a background role in our thoughts and actions.

Accessing health information is the third most common reason adults go on line, ranking only after email and search. There is a whole world of opportunity for creating new value, strong brand preference, cradle-to-grave loyalty and new revenue by thinking in terms of customers rather than patients.

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#2: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

In no other field, perhaps, is this adage truer than in health care. Yet, the bigger truth is that your customers are self-educating themselves about health care concerns in general and about specific diagnoses and treatments for themselves, family members and friends.

They’re searching the web for general information…

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…and they’re using the web for information on specific conditions and diagnoses.

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Your customers have become digital-savvy. Take a look at your website and pick a few of your competitors to review, as well. View them as a customer, not an insider.  With few exceptions, they offer little to differentiate you or why you’re better than any other randomly selected hospital. Outside of what I call “patient logistics,” such as finding a physician, where to park and how to check in, little of value is offered to your customers.

Yet, the web has become the first and primary source of health information for the vast majority of your customers and potential customers.  Customers are becoming empowered by access to information and they are taking advantage of it on a daily basis.

Where is the leadership and partnership from hospitals in this explosion of knowledge? By not proactively engaging with your customers’ primary and fastest growing source of information, hospitals (and physicians) are ceding their historical health care leadership position. One of the greatest opportunities for hospitals to create added value for their customers is in the digital sphere, including social media, where use is also exploding as a source of health care information and advice…

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The days of passive patients deferring to the expertise of hospitals, doctors, nurses and third-party payers have passed. Right or wrong, the health care customer is quickly taking charge, with almost unlimited access to alternative sources of information about health lifestyle, diagnosis, treatment and support. That choice is the very essence that drives increased competition.

There’s another old adage: Knowledge is power. As the head of one auto company said:

“Someday soon, the last stupid customer is going to walk in the door.”

The opportunity to create differentiating value through astute engagement and leadership in the creation and transfer of knowledge is nearly unlimited.

Later this week we will delve into the third and fourth issues and trends, Not all customer’s are created the same and Three-dimensional consolidation.

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