Ensuring that patients receive quality care in accordance with their wishes and goals is as essential to a hospice’s brand identity as their name, logo and letterhead. Factors such as organizational culture and mission can form a bedrock for a provider’s marketing strategies and brand advancement.
As demand for hospice care grows, hospice providers in an increasingly competitive marketplace are working to bring a larger share of those patients under their wings.
In addition to traditional methods such as territory management and improving call volume, many are finding that the key to successful marketing is building relationships — with referral organizations, physicians, and ultimately the patients, according to Stan Massey, lead consultant for Transcend Strategy Group, and Cooper Linton, associate vice president of Duke HomeCare & Hospice in North Carolina.
Hospice News caught up with Massey and Linton following their presentation at the National Hospice & Palliative Organization’s virtual Leadership & Advocacy Conference.
“One of the biggest things that marketers in any category often forget is that the marketing has got to be appealing from their audience’s perspective,” Massey told Hospice News. “It’s about trying to frame things from the patient’s perspective and use their language. You want to make your brand extremely relevant to the benefit of the audience.”
For hospice providers, their audience includes referral partners in addition to patients and families. In both instances, understanding their needs is essential to building an effective relationship, according to Massey.
Referring organizations have their own priorities in terms of business performance and quality of care. A nursing home, for example, can see a 2% reduction in Medicare payments as a penalty for high readmission rates, which can virtually eliminate their margins. They would want to know how their hospice contractor can help control those rates. Whereas patients and families need to know how the hospice will meet their needs and help them achieve their goals in terms of quality of life.
This requires the hospice to communicate carefully with these constituents.
“The brand is the commitment that we make to our community, the promises that we as an organization make to our consumers and customers,” Linton said. “It should be a tangible set of behaviors that we demonstrate when we deliver care, not something that looks lovely on letterhead.”
According to Linton, careful communication is critical to creating a brand identity that fosters trust among patients, families and referral partners. This includes management staff workloads and patient volume to allow them to spend additional time speaking with patients and families to fully understand their expectations and how they perceive the care they are receiving. This could require hospices to adapt their staffing models or redefine how they measure productivity, Linton told Hospice News.
Hospice representatives will often approach physician practices, nursing homes, and other potential referral partners with gifts, lunches and other tools to build goodwill. This can get them in the door. However, training the sales workforce to engage in enhanced conversations about client and patient needs is often a better investment.
Education continues to be a key aspect of hospice marketing, a spectrum of stakeholders from patients and families to referring physicians can benefit from a better understanding of hospice care.
“We’re quick to start a brand conversation by telling a community partner or someone in the community what we can deliver. We need to flip that around,” Linton told Hospice News. “If someone gets to know you and says ‘I want to help you do this better,’ you don’t have to sell it at that point. It becomes a partnership that’s based on shared values and shared mission.”
Massey last year assisted Hospice and Palliative Care of Alamance-Caswell and Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro rebrand their operations following their merger. The companies settled on the name AuthoraCare Collective, invoking the words “author” and “authority.” The intended message was the patient is the author of the remaining chapters of their life.
The challenge was to not only communicate this concept to patients and referral partners but to ensure staff bought in to the concept and reflected that in the care they deliver, Massey said.
“By really talking about things from the perspective of the patient, you set up that expectation and then have to deliver on that promise. It helps them engage with hospice providers much sooner than patients have historically,” Massey said. “Through that whole strategy of marketing directly to families, we’ve seen major increases for our clients that have taken that philosophy.”