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Why and How Safety Net Hospitals are Marketing Themselves

Analysis  |  By  
   March 16, 2016

New pressures to retain traditional patient populations while capturing the newly insured are prompting some safety net hospitals to launch marketing campaigns for the very first time.

Before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, safety-net hospitals didn’t spend much time or money on marketing and advertising. They didn’t have to—the bulk of their patient populations didn’t have much in the way of choice.

But as more and more patients have become insured, these providers are having to market their services to remain competitive for the first time. While some are having difficulty finding their footing, others anticipated this eventuality years before Obamacare became law and are meeting the challenge head-on.

“There are new pressures to retain our traditional patient population while we seek to engage the newly insured and patients who have traditionally had choice,” says Jerri Applegate Randrup, director of corporate communications and marketing for Alameda Health System in Oakland, CA.

“Service area competitors now target isolated patient profiles that fit their service model within the ACA expansion, known as ‘the exchange’ in California. We also have the challenge of proving our service model to our historical base while introducing ourselves to a large part of the community that had no previous connection with us.”

AHS and Kern Medical, a safety-net hospital in Bakersfield, CA, overcame these barriers with the help of AMF Media Group, a San Ramon, CA-agency that has been working with safety-net providers to create their first real marketing strategies.

“The world has completely changed in this segment—public hospitals no longer have protected patient populations,” says Vintage Foster, president of AMF. “Because of their history as a safety net provider, they were never associated with quality of care. This is ironic because they have great care providers, are teaching institutions, and often lead their respective markets in critical service areas.”

Alameda Health System

Two years before Obamacare was signed into law, Alameda health System began working with AMF to conduct research so that it would be ready for the future environment and the challenges that would come with it.

“The situation required a new message and timing forced rapid implementation to get our messaging in place,” Randrup says. “We confirmed our strengths and weaknesses through the research, which drove our objectives, including a platform to build upon these insights and position ourselves as a premier healthcare service provider.”

While AHS had run some traditional advertising in the past, the efforts were limited. The new environment required better thinking around the health system’s channels, improved targeting for reach, and greater frequency.

With AMF’s help, they ran a fully integrated campaign, utilizing TV, out-of-home, transit, radio, digital, social media, and an enhanced web presence.

The effort, which launched in the fall of 2013, made great inroads with improving the health system’s reputation. In one year, AHS saw brand awareness increase by 40% and brand affiliation as a place of last resort dropped by 14%. Web traffic increased by 148% and its community health program grew from 7.14% to 8.3%. Furthermore, positive media coverage increased by 65%.


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Marianne Aiello is a contributing writer at HealthLeaders Media.

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