Patient Outreach Starts Earlier Than You Think

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media , March 31, 2010

When does patient outreach truly begin? I've been pondering this question since interviewing Jeff Miller, assistant vice president of marketing at MedStar Health, for a future HealthLeaders magazine story. He described a targeted direct mail campaign the Columbia, MD-based eight-hospital system used to reach out to locals who had had some sort of experience with the organization—attended an info session, visited a hospitalized family member, or requested a referral—but have never been treated there.

This got me thinking about a particular prominent Boston hospital I've visited for various reasons and the elements that stand out in my mind most.

The first time I visited this organization—let's call it Boston Hospital—was when I was doing research for a college journalism class article about a child life specialist in the pediatric oncology ward. Aside from the cute and strong young patients, the thing I remember most is the wall art. Each wall was covered in a bright and intricate seascape mural that had helpful directional arrows and room numbers blended in.

I also remember the cheery optimism of the staff, who were kind enough to answer my questions while never neglecting their patients. Sure, I also recall obnoxiously loud construction outside the main entrance and the confused hustle and bustle of the labyrinth-like lobby, but my overall impression was a positive one.

Circumstances were much different the next time I found myself in Boston Hospital, visiting my brother who just had back surgery. Though he was also on a pediatric floor, you wouldn't have known that by the decor. No brightly colored fish here—just a sea of sad pastels and worn linoleum.

My brother's shared room only had one chair, which my other brother and I proceeded to whisper-fight over (so as not to disturb the other sleeping patient), while our parents stood by the window whisper-scolding us. My non-hospitalized brother and I finally took refuge in the empty playroom, where we were delighted to find a Wii console and a bored volunteer to help us choose a game.

(My hospitalized brother wasn't ecstatic about his stay, either, due in large part to a painkiller-induced hallucination featuring a robot-man yanking him out of the 18th floor window. But I'm not sure there's anything marketers can do about that.)

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