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Time to Break the Taboo of Wooing Well-insured Patients

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, June 16, 2010

You won't often overhear a hospital marketer loudly proclaim at a dinner party that their organization is trying to attract more insured patients. It's understandable—most people in healthcare got into that field to help people, and admitting aloud that you're trying to bring in wealthier clientele just doesn't seem right. This taboo needs to end now. High-value patients keep hospitals in business and enable them to care for the poor and uninsured.

I write about the strategic importance of high-value patients in the June issue of HealthLeaders magazine. The definition of a high-value patient varies depending on an organization's current business goals. It may mean a patient with insurance, a patient who uses a service line that is a strategic priority, or a patient who has been treated before and may need follow-up care—or all three.

MedStar Health, a nine-hospital system based in Columbia, MD, recently began focusing its efforts on ED patients who were not admitted and inpatients who presented with a visit to key service lines. It did this by launching a targeted direct mail campaign, a common method for reaching out to high-value patients.

"The critical thing is to identify who the high-value patients are and what strategic direction you wanted to take with them," says Jeff Miller, assistant vice president of marketing for the health system. "The key first step in the process for us was to meet with each individual hospital and determine what their business goals were and then determine what the high-value patient meant to those business goals."

DeKalb Medical, a three-hospital system based in Atlanta, also used direct mail for its ability to target specific populations and because it was a less-expensive alternative to the local media market.

Traditional media, such as TV, radio, and print advertising “is very wasteful because I can't zone in the way I really need to," said Terri Whitesel, director of corporate communications for the health system. "I could easily spend $50,000 to $60,000 a week and not get there—and with today's budgets that's not practical."

Online advertising can also be an effective way to target high-value patients, because Web sites can provide you with detailed information about their visitors, including geographic location, age, gender, and, if it is an e-commerce site, how much money they spend and what kinds of products they buy.

For their direct mail efforts, both MedStar and DeKalb use CRM software from CPM Marketing Group in Madison, WI, to segment the patient population and craft the correct messages for each audience.

This segmentation can allow you to send out a variety of messages based on age, ethnicity, gender, and incident rate.

For example, at DeKalb, a young woman who has yet to have a mammogram will receive a different postcard than an older woman who had a mammogram years ago but hasn't returned, Whitesel said. The imagery on the direct mail piece changes for each target audience, as well.

Once you've succeeded in attracting high-value patients, you must consistently continue to reach out to them to keep well-insured patients coming back. Doing so can help your organization remain profitable, which means you can continue to help those who need it most.

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