Is Hospital Customer Relationship Marketing a Threat?
You get the pitches everyday. Someone, somewhere, has determined that you are interested in knowing about hotels in Belize, or that the specific size of tire on your car is on sale at a franchise tire shop in your area. The offer even has your name on it. In marketing, a finely-tuned attempt to attract a specific customer used to be called a “rifle” approach, as opposed to a “shotgun” method, in which a broad message is sent to a broad audience, many of whom are not ready to buy. Today, the rifle method is called “Customer Relationship Marketing.” The weapons references are appropriate, for more and more healthcare facilities are waging imaging marketing wars in an effort to attract the most lucrative cases and patients. For a perspective on the importance of this battle, consider that in 2010, hospital charges totaled approximately $718 billion, or one-third of all health care spending. With so much at stake, it is not surprising that more sophisticated methods are being utilized. The timely solicitations for medical imaging services are different only in that they address what are arguably the most important decisions in our lives. No small distinction, to be sure, but that’s where the differences end. From that point on, it is pure marketing. Hospitals have taken the lead in relationship marketing in an effort to boost their bottom lines with the most desirable cases. Their medical imaging services are a profit center that can be nurtured just like any separate business unit of any other company. Their rationale for the use of external databases, that is, information they purchase, is that they are trying to maintain or improve the health of the community. And while that is true, it may also be disingenuous, for those databases are not likely to include anyone who utilizes Medicare or other government-based programs with lower reimbursements. And it’s all legal. It’s even HIPAA-compliant. If you’re an independent facility, how you feel about this trend is irrelevant: It’s here and you have to address it, even if by addressing it, you choose to ignore it. Because many independents are referral-based, they may view a discussion of Customer Relationship Marketing as irrelevant, but that would be a mistake. The powerful, hidden, long-term benefit of targeted relationship marketing is brand building, which may seem at first as a nebulous concept, however, properly executed brand development can quickly devour market share. If you lack the resources to compete on this battlefield, there are still ways to stay relevant in your marketplace. First, you should develop two Customer Relationship Marketing databases, one for referrers and one for patients, using the information in your own files. The referrer database should be routinely used to keep your name in front of these important customers. Second, identify the types of cases that are most often attached to the highest reimbursements, create the database of physicians most likely to refer them and initiate the contact. The days of shotguns and rifles are gone. They have been replaced by lasers – far more sophisticated medical imaging marketing weapons that will identify anyone, anywhere, who is a potential customer. They key to viability is to stay relevant in the minds of your customers, whoever they may be.