Readers Write

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, January 9, 2008
In New England, we're fresh off the heels of primary season, where each presidential candidate has been trying to convince our New Hampshire neighbors to the north that he or she is the true candidate of change. You have to at least appreciate the dialogue that elections encourage. It's kind of hard to imagine any change without a good number of open-minded people talking to each other. And that brings me to this week's column, which is all about dialogue in the form of your thoughtful responses to what I've written in the past month or so in this marketing column.

For starters, I finally got some answers to the question I posed back in December about whether or not healthcare marketers are taking on a more strategic role in hospitals and health systems. The answers: Sort of, sometimes, and it depends on what your definition of 'marketing' is.

    I meet with leadership from different hospitals almost weekly to discuss strategy. My experience is that marketing is invited less than 25 percent of the time. When present they do not usually participate unless directly asked a "marketing" question. When they are involved strategically it makes a positive difference and the institution is more informed. I was surprised at the low (47 percent) COO involvement. My experience is they are always involved in strategy along with the CEO, CNO, and CFO.
    Marshall Steele, MD
    CEO Marshall Steele and Associates
    I posed this [question] to a recent gathering of marketing and PR folks. Way back when I entered the profession, there was no such word as 'marketing' in the hospital vocabulary. It was all about solid community relations at that time. At the end of the day, are the marketing functions really about that anyway? Maybe the department is misnamed. Telling the hospital's story and getting involved in the community are some of the biggest responsibilities these functions undertake. Moving market share is something that marketers can try to do but never actually can fully measure. So, should we be doing what we do best and recognize that there is a value to that (as CEOs I have talked to recognize) and try to stop disguising these initiatives under a marketing banner?
    Anthony Cirillo, FACHE
    President Fast Forward Consulting, LLC
    I was fortunate to have spent a lot of time at the top planning level during my 20-year career in hospital marketing and operations. I recently opened a health insurance agency for one of my clients. Agents I brought in have been demanding "marketing" to help them make sales. I quickly realized that to insurance agents chasing Medicare Advantage enrollment, "marketing" means "leads." Once I figured out what they wanted, it has not been too difficult keeping them happy. In hospitals, "marketing" may also be too encompassing a term. "Business development" or "medical staff development" would tend to move the function up the planning scale, while "public relations," "communications," and "creative services" would move it the other way. Perhaps we should be focusing more on the "components of marketing" in hospitals than on marketing itself.
    Ken Peach
    Future Vision Group, LLC

In response to my predictions for healthcare marketing in 2008--one of which was the death of sites that allow consumers to rank physicians and hospitals--my colleague Molly Rowe pointed to the fact that the insurer Wellpoint has partnered with restaurant review giant Zagat to help it rank the hospitals and physicians in its network. "Although customer-written review Websites may go away, restaurant and hotel raters might replace them," she noted.

Another reader wasn't confident in that particular prediction, either. "I am not sure I agree with the fall of consumer written Web sites and rankings. I think they will proliferate not dissipate," said Cirillo, using our new online comment feature.

To clarify, I'm not saying that I think those sites will disappear altogether. The insurance-based ratings sites, in particular, probably have legs. But I do think those anonymous sites--the 21st Century's version of a slam book--won't hold much sway with consumers. Other types of ranking sites, on the other hand, could well catch on.

I did get at least one vote in support of my prediction that there would be an increased focus on internal communication among healthcare marketers in 2008.
    Your comments on the importance of internal communications in improving employee satisfaction really resonate. At Studer Group we believe that the culture that is created and hardwired by specific tactics for good communication makes all the difference not only in employee satisfaction but even more importantly in great patient care.

    We in healthcare have an obligation to provide the employees and volunteers at our hospitals with the tools they need to make a difference in saving lives. We must communicate both the tools and the passion that we share.

    At 56 years of age, I continue to be in awe of healthcare difference-makers. Tools, techniques, medications, and training are wonderful and a necessity. But passion is the constant that keeps our souls alive to continue to serve others.
    Quint Studer, CEO
    Studer Group

And one last note from the field came in the form of an update. One reader who resolved to cut down on meetings after reading my column Death by Meeting says reports that "meetings are down, productivity is up, and . . . morale is up too."

See, that's the kind of change I'd vote for.

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