Makes Sense to Talk Dollars & Cents
High unemployment and rising medical costs concern hospitals as much as they do the people looking for good healthcare. On the one hand, patients with limited financial resources are putting off needed procedures so they can pay the rent or put food on the table. On the other hand hospitals are seeing fewer patients enter their doors and, thus, are seeing fewer dollars than they would earn during a robust economy. In the NYTimes, Walecia Konrad writes about the patients’ needs to negotiate prices with their doctors. For older patients, used to doing whatever their doctors tell them to do, it is understandably difficult for them to broach such a difficult topic as finances. But with rising co-payments and high deductibles these conversations are increasingly necessary… so, go ahead, negotiate. The Konrad piece shows how a patient can approach the discussions. Take a look: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/08/health/policy/08patient.html?ref=health
A Marketing Opportunity for Hospitals
Here, I want to look at a patient’s financial concerns from the hospital’s point of view: as an opportunity to further build trust with the community. Although physicians and hospitals may be uncomfortable having financial discussions, they should be aware that money is now near the top of their patients’ concerns, right up there with whatever ailment they have. So, consider the following:
Create a marketing/public relations effort which acknowledges patient concerns about finances; highlight the services available for patients who do not have insurance, or who have insurance but are constrained by high deductibles and co-payments. The strategy should include a video-driven web-based initiative that would include a virtual trip through the hospital’s billing infrastructure. It would also include a question-and-answer between a physician and patient about the costs of a procedure. Yes, the physician. It is the physician a patient trusts first and foremost with their care, care that now extends to their ability to pay for treatment A as opposed to treatment B. I would also seek to demystify the entire billing/insurance process with sound-bites from billing professionals. They would put a friendly, caring face on what can be a contentious issue – the payment of usually expensive services. Though some hospitals may have programs in place for educating patients about billing and payment options I see a need for a greater effort to highlight these services given the current state of the economy and rising healthcare costs.
In the end you end up with three or four well-produced videos that can reside on the hospital’s website, on Youtube, communicated through Twitter and Facebook. These are informational pieces which seek to address a growing concern and also put the hospital in a positive light with patients.
And get the media involved! The initiative, in and of itself, is a hook. As a former journalist, and longtime broadcast news producer, I can tell you I would pick up a story that hits several hot-button issues: healthcare, unemployment, rising healthcare costs, doctor/patient relationship, and the hospital’s relationship with its community. Even with that list I’m certain I’m leaving out other hooks, but the ones I mentioned should be enough!
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