Patients today are less concerned with (and less bound to) your physical location than they are of the potential impact on their health. Consumer habits are changing, and healthcare is no exception. While patients may heed the recommendation from their primary care physician for specialized or emergency care, they are likely also serving themselves by doing internet-based research.
So, what happens when your hospital is not answering their questions? And what questions are your potential patients asking? The wholesale adoption of telehealth during the COVID pandemic exposed patients to the effectiveness and convenience of remote telehealth visits expanding the potential geography of their selected provider. In this article, we will explore how you can serve the patients who are searching for your services without requiring them to travel and how you can ultimately attract more brand authority in a crowded space.
New innovative alternatives have arisen to the traditional hospital including urgent care centers, outpatient surgery centers, and a host of digital health offerings. These innovations are now giving consumers a whole new set of choices to what had been their natural direction to their local hospital. To compete with these options, hospitals need to up their marketing game.
Brand. Identity. Differentiation.
Before we dive into the healthcare aspect of this topic (remote second opinions), let's consider the macro concepts of brand, identity, and differentiation. Most hospitals have already thought about their “brand.” But brands are often misunderstood. According to Ignyte, a San Diego-based branding agency, A brand is the way a product, company, or individual is perceived by those who experience it. Much more than just a name or a logo, a brand is the recognizable feeling these assets evoke.
We’ll dig deeper into brand in just a minute. But, first, let’s define what identity is. Identity is the actual name and logo or perhaps even sound or smell associated with the brand.
For the typical hospital, it would be the former two things – name and logo. The idea of identity is that it is a shorthand trigger to conjure up the brand associated with it in the consumers’ mind. For example, when you see the company name Apple and the partially bitten apple logo, you immediately think of the innovative edgy technology that many of us have in our pockets or on our desks.
Lastly, but perhaps most often neglected, we need to consider differentiation.
Differentiation is that unique thing or set of things that we do or produce.
This is perhaps the most important idea for hospitals to understand.
Humans have limited brain capacity. It is not easy to consider, digest, and recall everything that floats by our retinas. Instead, we load information into discrete compartments in our brains, effectively categorizing it for later recall. When we do this, we attribute some basic characteristics, to what likely is a complex and comprehensive set of actions or components that lie behind the identity, of what we have just seen or experienced.
Using the prior example of identity, when we see the Apple Computer logo, we may think of innovation, the cool factor, and cell phone technology. When we think of Southwest Airlines, we may think of inexpensive, friendly, mass air transportation.
Due to our limited brain capacity and to conserve it from getting too distracted, we don’t usually permit two different things to occupy the same position at the same time. This means that for every set of attributes: inexpensive, friendly, mass air transportation, we only store one brand. If Southwest Airlines occupies that position in your brain, it likely means that JetBlue, Frontier Airlines or Spirit doesn’t.
Differentiation is sometimes referred to as positioning, reflecting that a particular brand ends up occupying a specific position in your brain. Think of the position as the intersection of these several brand attributes, like those we attributed to Southwest Airlines for example.
That brings us back to brand. Since brand is a perception, a great place to start is to ask your existing customers or prospective customers about their current feeling about your organization. Once you understand that base level, you will then be ready to leverage that feedback into your active branding strategy.
To be effective, your brand has to be consistent and credible. If your patients believe that your facilities are not the most current, then emphasizing modern in your brand might be a heavy lift for your marketing team. Even in a sea of potential negative perceptions, there likely is something that stands out as a positive that you might want to consider for establishing or re-establishing your brand.
Once you pick the customer perceptions that you wish to promote in your brand, everything you do has to be consistent and reinforcing of that brand. If great customer care is the foundation for your branding strategy, then putting callers on hold for inordinate periods of time likely dilutes your branding efforts.
Ensure your internal stakeholders are aware of whatever brand strategy you select. Everyone in your organization is a public spokesperson for your brand. They all should act consistently in accordance with your brand strategy.
A brand that is consistent with an established position is hard to unseat. Once a human makes up his or her mind, they don’t change it very often. This reality poses a set of challenges during the marketing process, what the authors Ries and Trout call the battle for your mind.
Almost every hospital we have worked with has an established identity – a name and a logo. Some have done some good work on branding, establishing a recognizable feeling. Few have done the necessary work on differentiation or positioning and linking that back to their brand.
Here is Where an Online Second Opinion Practice Can Help
Every patient wants competence when it comes to something as important as their health. When confronted with a dire diagnosis, patients are more likely to ask for a referral to a specialist or seek one out themselves. In today’s connected world, self-directed patients do much of their research on the internet. Depending upon their level of mobility and willingness to travel, they may seek a regional, national, or perhaps even international specialist for their specific need.
Hospitals that have established expertise in a particular subspecialty might consider this opportunity as a way to differentiate themselves.
Consider a Connecticut-based regional hospital that had particular expertise in migraine headache treatment. Upon doing research in their state and region, they found this expertise to be unique and could serve as the basis for their differentiation regionally.
When you think of differentiation, think narrow. Better to be a big fish in a small pond than get lost in a red ocean of confused competition. There is likely something that you are really good at. Flaunt it! That doesn’t mean that is all you do. Your differentiation becomes a lightning rod to attract attention. It will lead to you becoming recognized and ultimately winning the battle for a position in some of your prospective patients’ minds.
Building a "Better" Mousetrap
Establishing a second opinion program for a particular field of expertise is a necessary step towards expanding the hospital’s reach and brand, however it is not sufficient alone. Just like the proverbial "better mousetrap", simply building a second opinion program likely will not draw patients to your hospital on it's own. You must take the necessary action to ensure that patients and referring physicians (both inside and) outside of your region know about your program so they can beat a virtual path to your door.
How do you do that? You tell the world! While this requires some effort, it's nothing you don’t already have the skills to do. Talk about your expertise. Do it in a way that is responsive to how your patients already ask.
If you specialize in treating migraine headaches, you might write a short article about “what are the treatments available for migraine headaches,” or “ is Botox treatment safe?” or “what lifestyle changes can help my condition.” Then you will need to publish these articles on your website. You can learn more about content marketing by reading Marcus Sheridan's book "They Ask You Answer".
SEO is the way to go
There are ways to optimize how your content gets found and is ranked on search engines (AKA Search Engine Optimization or SEO). Your ranking affects how far down the page your particular content gets found. There are lots of resources available for you and your marketing team to get a quick education on this topic.
Done right, when someone asks a question in a search engine, your content will appear near the top of the page under the paid ad results. While paid ads are great for exposure, they're often not as trusted as organic results. You can consider a paid approach as your web presence matures, but SEO done well organically can be just as impactful.
You can learn how to do all this well enough to make a difference. But if you are hesitant or don’t have the time, find someone in your organization that already knows this or hire a consulting firm to help you get started.
As a patient searches for answers to questions about their diagnosis or illness, their next question will likely be: "who can help me?". This is where a second opinion program comes in. The patient has begun to establish trust in your organization because you've been able to answer their questions. You've communicated your knowledge on their specific diagnosis and they now perceive you as a thought leader. But, how can they get an opinion on their specific medical case if they are unable to travel to your physical location? With a remote or online second opinion!
Second opinions pay
Assuming you attract someone outside of your current coverage area or health system, typically remote second opinions are paid for out of pocket. Most providers do not attempt to get insurance reimbursement for these opinions. The range of fees that are charged generally covers the cost of providing the opinion.
But that is often just the start. Your goal is not just to attract patients to your website. It’s not just to take you up on your offer to provide a remote second opinion. This is all done with the idea that some percentage of patients that get their second opinions from your facility will ultimately visit in person to obtain treatment from your expert physicians.
We found that hospitals offering second opinions do attract new patients to procure medical services beyond second opinions. One hospital in Ohio reported that 53% of second opinion patients become hospital patients within 15 months. Even just a small percentage of these second opinion patients can make a positive financial impact.
As your hospital inevitably begins to focus more attention on branding, consider establishing remote second opinions as a way to stand out from the crowd. Identify what services you are already good at. Focus your remote second opinion on one or several of these. And, publish content relating to ordinary questions patients might ask about this specialty on a regular basis.
Purview is here to help. We offer a marketing assessment as a first step towards implementing a remote second opinion. This is part of our “Adaptive Services” offering, that is customized for your particular situation.