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Tennis Lessons

illustrated tennis player_edited-1

Its important to remember that I am not a marketer and as such, I really don’t know what I am talking about but that has never stopped me before and it isn’t going to stop me now.

So, I am a tennis player at heart.  I played for years and keep thinking I am going to join a team again but haven’t gotten around to it yet.  Truthfully, the competition in league tennis can be overwhelming.  If you have never played, imagine a bunch of overly aggressive, middle aged women in short skirts  hitting at tennis balls with incredibly expensive graphite as though they swatting were flies.  There’s nothing pretty about it.

So that got me to thinking about the competition in general and then in healthcare.  Just like tennis, everyone plays the same game and for the most part wears the same clothes.   The expensive racket that no one at our level truly needs is very much like the expense budget most marketers don’t need.   You might have a decent ground stroke or a killer serve but mostly, we all play the same game on the same courts.  A perfectly executed shot sails past the competition and lands out of reach but eventually, one will get one past you.  In both tennis and health care marketing, there is not a great margin between the worst player or the best but at least tennis is decent exercise and is a chance to do something with your friends.

Certainly there are differences between the sport of tennis and the deadly serious game of health care marketing but the one that tickles me is wondering what tennis would be like if the balls had a choice of where to go.  Wouldn’t that be interesting?

Unlike other industries, we can’t have sales promotions or offer limited time discounts.  We can’t underbid the competitors except insurance companies and that usually means taking a hit.  I like the idea of a two for one membership to home health or hospice like the local gym offers but the OIG is not impressed with my idea. We end up playing on the same court with same trendy tennis racket with the same short (extremely expensive) tennis clothes and sharing the wins and losses.  Why?  That’s my question.

Every physician and discharge planner is required by law to pay lip service to patient choice when recommending a co-provider of care and patients for the most part are like tennis balls without a preference.  The very fact that we do not appeal to patient choice tells me that we don’t have much respect for our patients’ ability to participate in their care and we almost completely overlook them completely when marketing services.

Obviously, we cannot solicit business from actual patients and again, I am not a marketer but what I don’t understand is why agencies are not doing more for their communities to influence patient choice before the need for care arises.  The rules are greatly relaxed when you are marketing to non-patients.  What if, when a discharge planner or a physician made a cursory attempt at disclosing freedom of choice, the patient or their caregiver already had a preference for your agency and spoke up?

Here are some of the things I would do:

Start a community falls prevention program open to the public and get other members of the community to participate.  Hopefully you will prevent a few admissions but the ones you don’t prevent will already be loyal to you.

Alzheimer’s support for caregivers is has been shown to greatly reduce the burden of caregivers and delay by six months nursing home admission for the patient.  The Alzheimer’s Association has opportunities for volunteers and ways for companies to show support for Alzheimer’s Disease patients and their families. If your community doesn’t have a support group, get one going.

You have until Jan 31 to sign up for the 2012 Arthritis Walk.  Arthritis is too often accepted as a normal part of aging and patients know this.  Be loud and visible about your understanding of arthritis and your efforts to relieve pain and improve functioning of arthritic patients.

The American Diabetes Association is more active than most and considering how many diabetic patients end up in home health, it may be an idea to get active along with your local chapter sooner rather than later.  Could you have a foot screening at your local Y open to everyone?  It wouldn’t be offering a free service in exchange for referrals because anyone who can get to the Y is  not homebound.  On the other hand, you could save an extremity from a hospital incinerator if you identify even one person in need of medical attention.

Wear Red on February 3 to increase awareness of heart disease in women.  By bringing attention to this cause of the American Heart Association, you will also be bringing attention to your agency and showing – not telling – the community that you are aware of the increased risk of heart disease in women and are prepared to take care of these patients.

This is the short list. Keep searching for local opportunities.   Find a nurse who is willing to stay after church once a month and check blood pressures.  Volunteer at every health fair you can find in your community.  Do basic blood pressure checks at your local homeless shelter.  Teach healthy eating at the soup kitchen.  Reach out to people who have extremely limited access to care even if they will never be your patients.  In doing so, you have gained the respect of your community and frankly, home health has lost a lot of respect lately.

Research shows that job satisfaction increases when people feel as though their company is socially responsible.  Most importantly, with extra health care dollars few and far between, you can help improve the lives of the people in your community.  So do these things with the intention of making life a little easier for some of your friends and neighbors and everything else will fall into place.  And without spending any extra money, you have just added every employee in your agency to your marketing team.

Again, I really don’t know what I am talking about but doesn’t it make sense to look harder at marketing to people before they are patients instead of chasing a ball around the court and waiting for the chance to hit a decent ground stroke?

3 Comments Post a comment

  1. I worked along time ago for an organization that paid attention to what this month was about, i.e., heart awareness, Alzheimers’ awareness, etc. They would produce spiffy things about that month and concentrate their focus on it. It never really seemed to make a difference.

    Patient choice … I think it makes a bigger difference in your younger population. Much of the Medicare group still seems to think that whatever the doctor or nurse tells them is what they need to go with. So if they are handed a list with the comment about their being many good agencies out there and if they do not have a preference, ‘we feel that xyz gives great care’ they are going to go with xyz. I wish it wasn’t so. Because it isn’t always true. They may be the ones that brought the cookies in yesterday.

    And how many of us have heard from Dr. Demento that he only signs orders for qwerty home health? and they are owned by his wife’s sister’s brother-in-law’s uncle’s best friend. Who cares what his patient’s want?

    In a perfect world, quality of care would matter. We don’t live in a perfect world

    January 22, 2012

  2. I think it is a matter of balance. We do need to maintain visibility, but the best PR outreach efforts do tend to go unrewarded. We also have tried to get out there and do community work, but it does not seem to make a lot of difference and the cost is very high. We have found that it is best to stick with certain things that people have come to expect, and that are well attended by seniors.

    In the neighboring county there is a large agency that uses in-your-face advertising everywhere. Billboards, radio, huge ads in the paper. Yes they are well known and have a solid base as a result of these efforts, but I still hear mixed reviews from patients and negative reviews from former employees. Bigger is not necessarily better and it makes me wonder if all the flashy show is to compensate for basic inadequacy. Health care really should not be about advertising and marketing, it should be about care.

    January 23, 2012

    • I hear you. I really do. Maybe I am a little too naive but patient choice needs to be at the forefront of our minds at all times. We have to remember that several of the large corporate organizations have done a lot of marketing for us recently and will likely continue to do so this year. I hate to seem predatory but if I owned an agency, I would be taking advantage of that.

      January 24, 2012

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