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Beyond Obstetrics

Elyas Bakhtiari, for HealthLeaders Magazine, March 12, 2009
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However, there's always a danger of duplicating services when cutting across multiple departments. Hospitals handle that differently: Some partner with other service line leaders to market services and track patient usage, while others essentially carve out a women's health program from an existing service line.

Success Key No. 2: Consider co-location
The challenge in bringing a wide range of services under an ever-bigger tent is figuring out how to arrange everything. Women's health is often spread out across imaging centers, ambulatory surgical centers, multiple hospitals, and a wellness center or other freestanding facility. Co-location certainly helps branding and patient satisfaction, but it can take a lot of capital and political clout within the organization.

Freestanding women's hospitals have been popping up around the country in the past few years, offering a centralized, visible location for women's health programs. But are freestanding centers necessary? Are they worth the investment? On the flip side, can you really brand and organize a full women's health service line without one?

There isn't a universal answer, says Jeffrey A. Kraut, senior vice president of strategic planning and marketing at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, which is in the process of building Katz Women's Hospital, an 88-room hospital in Queens, NY, combining maternity and other services. North Shore LIJ opted for somewhat of a hybrid model—it designed a new hospital primarily for obstetrics, but other services like cardiovascular and obstetrical care operate as a virtual service line. Most of those services aren't physically located in the women's hospital, but patients can still be admitted from there and triaged to the appropriate department. The services will be branded under women's health, and each patient will be tracked in a customer relationship management database no matter where she enters into the system, in order to measure the return on investment.

Ultimately, it's how services are packaged, whether virtual or concrete, that makes the difference, Kraut says.

"Everybody envisions it in terms of bricks and mortar because you're trying to create a unique and distinct experience that has a physical aspect. But we've seen programs at different-sized scales that have done this very effectively," he says. "Women are different, they need to be treated differently, and if you address their needs in a comprehensive way, you will engender loyalty that will translate beyond women's services."

From a patient's perspective, however, there are times when co-locating services can make a major difference. AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center operated under the virtual model until 2006, when it built a freestanding women's pavilion that houses a breast health program, a urogynecological program, a cardiologist, a female pelvic medicine program, and an oncologist. The impetus for building a new facility came from patient satisfaction surveys showing that women would often forgo screenings primarily because of the inconvenience of traveling to multiple locations, says Ann Szapor, RN, MBA, executive director for women's and children's services at the 267-licensed-bed teaching hospital in Atlantic City, NJ.

Although it was a large capital expenditure, the new facility immediately began bringing in new revenue. Women who come in for one procedure are more likely to be aware of additional tests and procedural options, she explains. For instance, a sizeable number of women with incontinence problems were previously reluctant to seek treatment either because of a stigma or lack of information, but during routine visits to the pavilion they were able to ask questions and pick up educational materials. More patients began seeking treatment, boosting overall volume.

"What we found is women are not only more likely to get their screenings, but they're more likely to address things they have not addressed before," Szapor says. "There's a lot of opportunity for cross-marketing and an ability to educate patients about available services."

Success Key No. 3: Segment marketing
Marketing plays a particularly important role in women's health service lines. Winning women's loyalties isn't always easy; it takes a strong brand and a convincing argument.

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