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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 12/5/11

December 5, 2011 Dr. Jayne 3 Comments

For those of you who are my Facebook friends, you may have noticed that I’m at the National Finals Rodeo this week. (And if you’re not my friend on Facebook… well, you know what you need to do to keep up with all my travels and adventures.) Despite my love of all things technology, I really am a cowgirl at heart.

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For those of you who are not rodeo fans, NFR is in Las Vegas. I’m amazed at how the city transforms itself for different constituencies. The casinos of the headquarters hotels are filled with the sounds of country music. Shopping areas are featuring cowboy boots in the window instead of rhinestone stilettos (although there are plenty of rhinestones on the boots.) The cocktail waitresses at one bar I’ve been to several times in the past have given up their leather bustiers and miniskirts in favor of tight jeans and white cotton shirts. If there’s any place on earth that’s a triumph of marketing, it’s Las Vegas.

So what does this have to do with healthcare and technology? A couple of things.

First, let’s talk about marketing. We always think about vendors when we think of marketing. Nearly every vendor’s ad campaigns these days prominently feature the twin terrors of Meaningful Use and Accountable Care. If those aren’t mentioned, then it’s revenue cycle or other financial aspects of health care.

I think we forget about the sheer amount of hospital marketing that goes on, however. Just like the casinos marketing to the cowboys (many of whom have wallets the size of their belt buckles – and trust me, Jayne and her crew have been checking out some jeans pockets on this trip) the hospitals, surgery centers, and physicians are heavily marketing towards whatever demographic they feel has the fattest wallets or deepest pockets.

Driving around most cities, you see plenty of healthcare-related billboards. One hospital I passed recently boasts a Heart Hospital. What does that mean? Do they do more heart cases than anyone else? Are their outcomes better than others? Or do they just want the perception of being specialized to try to garner business when their volumes are the same as the hospital across town?

Everyone is tweeting their emergency department wait times. I’d like to see them tweeting their nurse-to-patient ratios or their infection rates instead. That would really create some interesting discussion in the community about which facility is the best.

Physicians and other providers aren’t much different. Going after high-paying patients is an art form. Medical buildings (and some physician offices, too) are installing complimentary coffee kiosks to go with their waiting room check-in kiosks. Ancillary services including cosmetic and convenience offerings are proliferating faster than Medicare Wellness exams. Availability of after-hours physician access at premium prices is becoming more commonplace. Concierge-type practice models such as MD VIP are going mainstream. My travel companion noticed a special advertising section in the Southwest Airlines Spirit magazine this month that featured not only concierge medicine, but other specialty and alternative practices.

Hospitals and physicians have their own internal marketing campaigns as well. It may be as simple as signs in a primary care office reminding diabetic patients to take off their shoes prior to seeing the physician or as complex as a multi-hospital multimedia hand washing campaign (complete with Big Brother surveillance, as we’ve seen recently) or promoting desired behaviors such as vaccine compliance through viral videos.

The medical establishment is increasingly marketing technology to patients. Not only emergency wait times, but also patient portals, secure messaging with providers, lab results online, bill pay, and a host of other services. Many of these offerings not only add value to patients and families, but also have the potential to significantly increase the bottom line for healthcare organizations. Payers are in the game as well as employers, with many offering health promotion and disease prevention as well as online enrollment, updating, and claims management features.

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Many agree there are health benefits to increased patient education and empowerment. But the jury is still out on some of these marketing efforts. I’m interested to hear what HIStalk readers think about marketing – on the vendor, client, and patient sides. Have an opinion? I promise to read your comments just as soon as I’m finished watching the action. Tonight is “Tough Enough to Wear Pink Night.” I’ll let you guess what color my boots are.


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Currently there are "3 comments" on this Article:

  1. I like to joke that one reason I went into medicine is so that I would be able to really know who the good doctors are and which facilities practice great medicine for which problems. This is already an impossible task for a lay person even without slick marketing. As a physician I’m disappointed, but not surprised, to see marketing get layered on top of medicine. Maybe there is a career out there for me selling advice on who is really good at what, and where. Now if I can just think of a good marketing slogan…


  2. Agree with Skeptic, but how to get the lay person’s attention if you’re the best provider but the guy down the street has the coolest birthing suites that are heavily marketed? More importantly, enjoy the NFR and wear your pink boots loud and proud!

  3. Another great topic, Dr. Jayne. My favorite vapid meaningless jejune slogan locally is “[Health system name] proven” the true value of which is demonstrated when this oligopoly member consistently fails to appear on any of the meaningful lists of top hospitals or clinics and who must constantly defend itself when the state-wide reports on quality measures come out. But to the patients. . . must work in some positive fashion and so the ad agency that creates the stuff gets rewarded.

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