Moving Beyond “Top Hospital” Billboards: Lessons from the Cleveland Clinic on Demonstrating Value to Consumers

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 4.13.05 PMFor decades, hospital marketers have operated under the rule that patient volume equals revenue. It’s called the fee-for-service system, where payers reimburse for all services, regardless if the services made the patient stay in the hospital for a long time or get unnecessary, excessive tests. Hospitals were singularly focused on driving volume and profits by convincing people that theirs was the best at providing a service, often with really unimaginative U.S. News & World Report “Top Hospital” billboards.

According to the Advisory Board Company, about 80% of hospital revenue today comes from fee-for service; in 10 years, it’ll be about 30%. Reimbursement will be increasingly population risk and value-based, which means hospitals will need to start engaging their patients outside of their campuses to improve patients’ overall health, wellness, disease management, and general medical adherence and focus less on the volume of care they provide. In many cases, hospital visits, admissions, procedures, and tests will start to become cost centers. During this transition period, it’s imperative for hospital marketers to know which service lines are still volume-based “cash cows” and which will be more profitable under the newer value-based reimbursement model.

For marketers, these trends mean they’re no longer just competing with other hospitals for patients, but are also selling health and wellness to consumers. Groups of consumers need to be engaged with effectively; the more of them who become active participants in their own health, the more organizations’ bottom lines will benefit.

Healthy groups of consumers need programs focused on wellness and preventative actions. People at risk of developing a disease need to be guided into early intervention. And those with long-term diseases need disease management services. Resources need to be used to promote behaviors and simple changes that can improve and extend lives.

The Cleveland Clinic is one example of an organization that properly uses its resources to reach the people it needs to keep healthy, while also promoting the remaining volume-based services it offers. The hospital’s strategy strips away the fragmentation of “social media,” “print ads,” “billboards,” “media placements,” etc., and instead uses an integrated content plan divided simply into paid, owned, or earned media.

This approach has resulted in year-over-year increases in earned media coverage, the most visited hospital website in America, and preferential brand awareness that gets consumers to travel great distances to Cleveland Clinic locations for care. The Cleveland Clinic does it by taking ownership of every step of the storytelling process: when you click on an interesting, non-generic link from its Facebook page, the link goes to content hosted on Cleveland Clinic sites, written by Cleveland Clinic employees, with quotes from Cleveland Clinic physicians, with a call to action to use the Cleveland Clinic… you get the idea. Here’s how:

Paid Media: The Cleveland Clinic has an emphasis on search engine PPC ads/SEM (paid) that drive health searches into its owned media ecosystem. According to Google search data from 2012, 77% of patients used search before booking an appointment for care.

Owned Media: Living in Ohio best online casino and searching about lung disease? Click a top-listed link, enter a Cleveland Clinic micro-site, and fill in some information to download a free lung disease treatment guide. The address, email, and phone number gets entered into its web of accountable care followup, so the company can reach the potentially at-risk patient with future owned content, free screening offers, and more.

Earned Media: The “Cleveland Clinic News Service” produces broadcast-quality content and distributes it, free of charge, to hundreds of outlets a day that can use it however they wish; the company also has a stable of designated physicians in different modalities available for media inquiries; and it employs  traditional media pitching. Organizations can scale this down for their relative size, but think of a marketing department as a newsroom: it is there to tell the stories of the day.

The three prongs of paid, owned, and earned media weave into each other seamlessly. People can click on a Cleveland Clinic PPC ad (paid), opt into its e-newsletter or Facebook page (owned), find out about the Cleveland Clinic’s orthopedic expert who was interviewed on CNN (earned), and watch the video on the Cleveland Clinic’s YouTube page (owned). In its market, the Cleveland Clinic doesn’t leave room for its competitors to tell health stories in the digital space.

The most valuable form of capital for healthcare marketers in the future will be how many consumers they can bring, willingly, into the organization’s ecosystem. The Cleveland Clinic doesn’t try to trick consumers into wellness with contests and gimmicks; consumers choose to listen because the company demonstrates its value. The Cleveland Clinic tangibly tracks and drives the number of high-profile earned media placements, website views, back and forth social media interactions about preventative health, and social media followers.

Hospitals and healthcare groups: the rules, literally, are changing. It’s time to evolve.

Nancy Meyer

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