What's Your Brand?

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Magazine , November 14, 2008
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Sy Saliba, senior vice president of marketing and planning, says that in teaming with Disney, the 17-hospital health system is trying to "find a way to move healthcare out of this fearsome experience in a hospital that people tend to think of and associate it with into something that's a little different."

Saliba says that much of a typical hospital's culture and language is "very custodial in its approach, versus the hospitality industry, the hotel industry—which talks about guests. Basically, when you come in as a patient you have to surrender your clothes, you have to put on a gown, your things are kept for you. In terms of the patient experience, we ask, ‘How can we re-craft the experience so it reflects more one of the hospitality industry rather than one of a prison?'"

Still, Saliba acknowledges that people deal with serious issues at a hospital. "The experience probably should partake of dimensions and facets of the hospitality industry and merge those with some of the home and of the family. And that's really the kind of experience we're trying to craft."

Marianne Aiello

Three Steps to a Strong Brand

Forward-thinking hospital leaders are constantly going on about looking to other industries to improve their organization, but many can't quite place a finger on what that means in terms of branding. There are a few basic principles that experts say will set any tumultuous brand straight.

Make it all about the patient
The hospitality industry is already a major influence in healthcare, but hospitals can't implement those branding techniques without adapting them to healthcare. In hospitals the patient is not always right. But that doesn't mean he or she should feel any less respected.

"The consumer demands more of the healthcare experience than they used to," says Elizabeth Scott, associate vice president of marketing and e-business at Norton Healthcare in Louisville, KY. "It's not just about getting a prescription and going on your way, or getting a surgical treatment and leaving a facility—it's about every aspect and every touch point of that experience."

Adopt a specific selling point
Sure, most hospitals want to be seen as a jack-of-all-trades. But vague branding lacks vigor.

"Hospitals really try to be all things to all patients, and I don't think that is viable," says Jane Parker, CEO of InterbrandHealth, a branding consultancy based in New York City. "Most hospitals are afraid to stand for something because they don't want to lose patients in other areas—and that's a mistake."

Make a long-term commitment
Both Scott and Parker point out that branding is more than just a logo or an advertising campaign. The most successful nonhealthcare brands—like Apple, Coke, and Disney—follow through on their long-term brand promises.

"Who you are and what you stand for—the pillars of what defines you —should be the pillars of what defines you for a long period of time," Parker says. "The difference is hospitals don't think that way. They say, ‘Oops, we need an ad campaign; we'll go to an ad agency.'"

Marianne Aiello

The Satisfaction-Quality Connection

It's safe to say that every hospital wants to be known as the quality choice (after all, the alternative is not exactly a wise brand strategy). So how does patient experience affect clinical quality?

Just ask CMS.

The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey for hospitals (HCAHPS) is a standardized survey that measures patients' perceptions of hospital care. In March, CMS tied participation to reimbursement and published the results on its Hospital Compare Web site for consumers, reporters, and the rest of the world to see.

HCAHPS measures quality of care by asking patients questions about how they were treated during their hospital stay. But the questions are not focused on clinical treatment. Rather, they ask about the little things that can so annoy a person—from how noisy the halls are at night to how quickly nurses respond to a call for help to the cleanliness of the rooms.

There are 27 questions that fall into seven categories, including communication and responsiveness. The last two questions are the real zingers, asking if the respondent would recommend the hospital to others and to rate the hospital from "best hospital possible" to "worst hospital possible." All of the questions are about the patient's perception of the care they received. After all, that's how consumers think about—and talk about—their healthcare experiences. It's easier to discuss the food, the nurses, and the noise at night than it is to understand clinical details.

And that's where your marketing team comes in. Physicians, nurses, and other clinical staffers have the greatest influence on clinical quality. But marketers are the best people to make sure patient-consumers perceive that they received the best quality care.

The HCAHPS questions
The following HCAHPS questions are a good illustration of how CMS views the quality-satisfaction connection:

  1. During this hospital stay, how often did [doctors and] nurses treat you with courtesy and respect?
  2. During this hospital stay, how often did [doctors and] nurses listen carefully to you?
  3. During this hospital stay, how often did [doctors and] nurses explain things in a way you could understand?
  4. During this hospital stay, after you pressed the call button, how often did you get help as soon as you wanted it?
  5. During this hospital stay, how often were your room and bathroom kept clean?
  6. During this hospital stay, how often was the area around your room quiet at night?
  7. How often did you get help in getting to the bathroom or in using a bedpan as soon as you wanted?
  8. During this hospital stay, how often was your pain well controlled?
  9. During this hospital stay, how often did the hospital staff do everything they could to help you with your pain?
  10. Before giving you any new medicine, how often did hospital staff tell you what the medicine was for?
  11. Before giving you any new medicine, how often did hospital staff describe possible side effects in a way you could understand?
  12. During this hospital stay, did doctors, nurses or other hospital staff talk with you about whether you would have the help you needed when you left the hospital?
  13. During this hospital stay, did you get information in writing about what symptoms or health problems to look out for after you left the hospital?
  14. Using any number from 0 to 10, where 0 is the worst hospital possible and 10 is the best hospital possible, what number would you use to rate this hospital during your stay?
  15. Would you recommend this hospital to your friends and family?
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