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The Ghost of Healthcare Marketing Columns Past

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, December 17, 2008

The thing about writing columns that predict what will happen in the next 12 months is that, a year later, you have to go back and see how well—or how poorly, as the case may be—you did. Last year around this time I made five predictions about the future of healthcare marketing. I got two right. I could have done a little better on two others. And I'm stubbornly insisting that I was right about the fifth prediction, even if nobody agrees.

My predictions:

A growing emphasis on internal communications
I got this one mostly right, though I suspect it's a trend that hasn't quite peaked yet. With stories in the news every day about hospitals cutting staff and a growing emphasis on patient satisfaction due, in part, to HCAHPs, there is still a lot more hospitals can do to improve internal communications. Employees who are unhappy with working conditions or who are worried whether or not they'll have a job tomorrow aren't concentrating on making sure patients are happy. If talk is cheap, then not talking is way too costly.

More innovative use of new media
I got this one a little bit right. "It is entirely possible that in 12 months I'll be writing about a new media that isn't even on the radar yet," I wrote last year. "It's more likely I'll be writing that hospital marketers are using 'old' new media in new ways." Yes, there's more use of new media. And new kinds of new media to use, including the one I wrote about last week (Twitter a Marketing Tool? Maybe). But many hospital marketers (early adopters excluded) are either still trying to figure out how to use new media or debating whether they should use it at all.

The rise of nuevo-niche marketing
At the time I thought "nuevo niche" was a cool phrase, but I didn't exactly go out on a limb when I said that hospital marketers would start to get more serious about segmentation in 2008. Maybe in 2009 it will become even more apparent that you must target your audiences and reach out to new populations in order to hold onto the customers you have and reach out to new ones in a cost-effective manner.

The death of customer-written review Web sites
Many who responded to last year's column said I had this one wrong and those readers were right. Of course consumer ratings sites aren't dead. They're as hardy as cockroaches and as prolific as rabbits: Carol.com, healthcarereviews.com, onlinehospitals.com, and so on and so on and blah, blah, blah. But that doesn't mean that the reviews are helpful or that real consumers will use them to make healthcare decisions.

Most of the "reviews" are just rants. They probably make the person writing them feel better. Some examples:

From yelp.com: "Waiting in line here feels like you're in some sort of third world country or insane asylum. And wait you will—the lines are horribly, horribly long, and the waiting rooms are ridiculously crowded."

From my3cents.com: "In a nutshell, the doctors are rude and the services are just a big joke. I am amaze [sic] that no one has filed a law suite [sic] against them yet. They don't care about their patients. All they see is how fast they can get you out of their facility!"

From measuredup.com: "It is very clear evil hearted money hungry mongers run [the hospital] rather than what they portray to be . . . Catholic."

From yelp.com: "It really sucked that I had to pay for parking for the 2 days I came in for my scan. It would've been nice if they validated my parking ticket at least since I had to take precious time off from work."

I don't care that bad word-of-mouth spreads 10 times faster than good. I'm not basing my healthcare choices on these cranks. And I'm putting this prediction in the win column.

The rise of hospital-specific bash fests
Correctamundo: See above.

So it turns out that I'm not qualified to make my living as an oracle. But I might do OK as one of those "guess your age and weight" acts at a carnival. In my next column I'll show you that I'm no quitter, however, offering up my predictions for 2009.


Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at gshaw@healthleadersmedia.com.
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