The Expanding Healthcare Market: Can Your Small Hospital Compete With the Big Guys?

HealthLeaders Media Staff, April 15, 2009

About two years ago I was sitting in the back of a room at a healthcare marketing conference, listening to an executive from a well-known healthcare organization. During her presentation, she casually mentioned the organization's emerging market strategy: to expand beyond its primary, secondary, and even its tertiary market. They were, she said, planning to market to patients in cities and towns all over the country.

The room—which was, of course, full of marketers from cities and towns all over the country—got really quiet. I'm guessing they were thinking the same as me: Holy cow; that's brazen. (They might have been thinking of a word other than "cow," though.)

How are small community hospitals supposed to compete when the big guys come rolling into town to steal away their market share?

Well, it turns out many of them are managing to do just that, thank you very much. And some of them are even turning the tables—small community hospitals are reaching out beyond their own primary, secondary, and tertiary markets to grow revenue, allowing them to continue to serve their own communities at the same time.

Take, for example, the case of Waldo County General Hospital in rural Belfast, ME—about a four-hour drive from the juggernaut of world-class Boston hospitals. It's built a national and international reputation for its speech pathology services, using technology, partnerships, and a laser-like focus on a niche market.

The state of the healthcare market today fairly demands that hospitals look beyond their own neighborhoods for patients. "In our small hospital we're looking at millions of dollars of losses this year," says Michael Towey, a voice specialist/speech language pathologist at Waldo's Voice & Swallowing Center. "We have to become more diverse."

Being small has its advantages—and they can be used to differentiate a hospital. "We're able to provide service that will be extraordinary; because we're small we can be responsive and respond to you in the same day," Towey says.

You can read more about the hospital in my story in this month's HealthLeaders magazine story, The Little Guy Breaks Out. I think you'll be inspired.

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