Are You Ready for Some Marketing Magic?

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, November 19, 2008

If, like me, you're curious about what's next for healthcare marketing, you're probably keeping an eye on Florida Hospital's plans to open the Disney Children's Hospital in 2010. In addition to the usual promises—great doctors, advanced technology, and high quality—the Orlando hospital has big plans for branding itself on patient experience. (You can read more about the planned hospital in my September 10 column, You Need a Different Differentiator.)

For the November HealthLeaders magazine cover story on new brand strategies to attract patients, my colleague, contributing writer Marianne Aiello, interviewed Sy Saliba, senior vice president of marketing and planning at the 17-hospital health system. He had so many interesting things to say, but we just couldn't fit them all in the article. Thank goodness for the Internet . . . now I can share them with you here.

Saliba talks about an issue that hospital and health system marketers have long struggled with: the fact that, with only a few exceptions, they're selling a product that nobody wants.

"Even the vocabulary of hospitals resembles that of a prison. We talk about inmates and inpatients. There's a whole vocabulary of hospital language that is very custodial in its approach, versus the hospitality industry, the hotel industry—which talks about guests," he says.

"Basically, when you come in as a patient you have to surrender your clothes, you have to put on a gown, your things are kept for you. There's a very custodial environment still associated with the hospital culture, even today, if you stop and reflect on it."

In fact, the healthcare industry seems unusually attached to the model, a habit developed over many, many years. But if you want to compete in today's patient-centric environment, it's time to let go and try something new.

As Walt Disney once said, "It's kinda fun to do the impossible."

"In terms of the patient experience [we ask], ‘How can we re-craft the experience so it reflects more one of the hospitality industry rather than one of a prison?'" Saliba says. "But the hospitality industry isn't quite where [hospitals] should be—that's fun and entertainment. People are dealing with fairly serious issues when they come to the hospital, so the experience probably should partake of dimensions and facets of the hospitality industry and merge those with some of the home and of the family. And that's really the kind of experience we're trying to craft."

You might not have the resources to match Disney Children's Hospital's magical plans. But it doesn't hurt to dream about and plan for the future.

As the Fairy Godmother once said, "Even miracles take a little time."

Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at
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