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Reaching the Real Referral Decision Makers

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, August 25, 2010

After consumer marketing, cultivating lasting relationships with physicians is considered to be a hospital marketer's greatest task. But often the decision about where to refer a patient is not made by the doctor alone—and sometimes the doctor isn't even involved at all. With this in mind, Kindred Healthcare created a strategic marketing effort that targets the entire patient care team.

Commuters driving by a large academic medical center in Cleveland last fall and winter probably noticed a billboard advertising Kindred Healthcare's postacute care services. To most drivers, the ad may not have meant much. But to doctors, nurses, case workers, and discharge planners, the billboard may influence where they refer patients for additional care.

The billboard was part of the Continue the Care campaign to reach out to referrers in a wide range of job titles for the 83-hospital Louisville, KY, system.

"Depending on the level of referral, the physician is going to be the ultimate decision-maker—but a nurse could have a lot of influence on suggesting options to a patient or family,"said Danny Fell, executive vice president of Neathawk Dubuque & Packett, a Richmond, VA-based agency, in the August issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

It's worth reaching out o anyone who interacts with a patient and his or her family to educate them about the services your organization offers, said David Mikula, vice president of sales and marketing for Kindred Healthcare's hospital division.

"The last thing we want is the patient to ask a question to [a referral source] and have them say, 'Gee, I don't know,'"he said. "When a patient or family is faced with that uncertainty, that's the last thing you want. Anytime you have the chance to educate anyone, it's a good thing because hopefully it results in a better patient experience."

When crafting messages to reach a certain group within the patient care team, it's important to understand each audience and what motivates individual referral decisions, Fell said.

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