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Patient Outreach Starts Earlier Than You Think

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, March 31, 2010

When does patient outreach truly begin? I've been pondering this question since interviewing Jeff Miller, assistant vice president of marketing at MedStar Health, for a future HealthLeaders magazine story. He described a targeted direct mail campaign the Columbia, MD-based eight-hospital system used to reach out to locals who had had some sort of experience with the organization—attended an info session, visited a hospitalized family member, or requested a referral—but have never been treated there.

This got me thinking about a particular prominent Boston hospital I've visited for various reasons and the elements that stand out in my mind most.

The first time I visited this organization—let's call it Boston Hospital—was when I was doing research for a college journalism class article about a child life specialist in the pediatric oncology ward. Aside from the cute and strong young patients, the thing I remember most is the wall art. Each wall was covered in a bright and intricate seascape mural that had helpful directional arrows and room numbers blended in.

I also remember the cheery optimism of the staff, who were kind enough to answer my questions while never neglecting their patients. Sure, I also recall obnoxiously loud construction outside the main entrance and the confused hustle and bustle of the labyrinth-like lobby, but my overall impression was a positive one.

Circumstances were much different the next time I found myself in Boston Hospital, visiting my brother who just had back surgery. Though he was also on a pediatric floor, you wouldn't have known that by the decor. No brightly colored fish here—just a sea of sad pastels and worn linoleum.

My brother's shared room only had one chair, which my other brother and I proceeded to whisper-fight over (so as not to disturb the other sleeping patient), while our parents stood by the window whisper-scolding us. My non-hospitalized brother and I finally took refuge in the empty playroom, where we were delighted to find a Wii console and a bored volunteer to help us choose a game.

(My hospitalized brother wasn't ecstatic about his stay, either, due in large part to a painkiller-induced hallucination featuring a robot-man yanking him out of the 18th floor window. But I'm not sure there's anything marketers can do about that.)

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