Long Island Business News
Hospitals, Health Systems Battle for Patients
by Bernadette Starzee
December 18, 2013
As health care moves away from the fee-for-service model and compensation is based more on keeping populations healthy, Long Island’s hospitals and health care systems are ramping up their branding and marketing to bring more Islanders into the fold.
During the 12-month period ended June 30, New York-area hospitals and health systems spent $62.3 million in local advertising, according to the media research company Voicetrak. That’s up 10.5 percent versus the prior year, when $56.4 million was spent.
“We recognize the critical importance of a strong brand identity that reflects the quality of care that our system provides, especially in the New York area, where there are formidable health care organizations with venerable brands that have existed for decades and decades,” said Marian L. Dezelan, chief marketing officer for the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System.
Over the past couple of years, North Shore-LIJ has shifted from hospital-centric to system-level branding. The system includes 16 hospitals and nearly 400 outpatient physician practices across Long Island and New York City.
“We’re looking to communicate more comprehensively that every hospital and outpatient practice is a front door to the exceptional care provided by the health system,” Dezelan said.
Similarly, this fall, Catholic Health Services of Long Island – which includes six hospitals, three nursing homes and a continuing care division – launched a multimedia campaign to increase brand recognition of the CHS system. The “At the Heart of Health” campaign, which focuses on the brand’s quality and compassionate mission, represents CHS’ first foray into system-level branding.
While 2014 budgets are still being ironed out, North Shore-LIJ will make “a significant investment” in marketing next year, Dezelan said, “to ensure everyone has a better understanding of the quality and breadth of the services the health system provides.
“We see marketing as an investment in the future rather than an expenditure,” she added. “And we’re not going to scale back.”
In their branding, hospitals and other medical concerns “look to convey that they provide the finest care and compassion, and that they’re caring for you,” said Ken Greenberg, president and CEO of Austin & Williams, a Hauppauge advertising agency with a specialty in health care. “They’re all communicating that message. The question is how to make it seem different from the others and make it more personal, so it will resonate with people on an emotional level.”
In addition to the migration toward system-level marketing, there’s an increasing trend toward service-line marketing.
“Health care providers are marketing specific services, such as orthopedic and bariatric,” Greenberg said. “The services fill a need, and they tend to be those services that are more profitable. There is so much going on with rate cuts that health care providers have to protect their bottom line.”
For North Shore-LIJ, “it’s always a challenge to determine which service lines to focus on,” Dezelan said, noting the system has implemented a marketing steering committee, culling leaders from different departments who examine all service lines to determine “what level of investment would be required to get a certain level of return in promoting these services.
“It’s not practical to market everything, just as with capital investments,” she added. “It would be great to build new hospitals or ambulatory centers every year, but you have to pick and choose opportunities.”
North Shore-LIJ is still determining which service lines it will choose to market heavily in the new year, after focusing heavily on cancer services in 2013, in conjunction with the unveiling of the North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute as a system-wide resource for cancer treatment.
“Service-line marketing is aligned with our overall business strategies,” Dezelan said. “We consider what other investments are being made in those areas – for instance, capital improvements or recruitment of world-class physicians. We also look at the prevalence of the related diseases or conditions.”
Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola focuses its service-line marketing primarily on a few areas of care, including prostate cancer, women’s health, pediatrics, labor and delivery and minimally invasive aortic valve replacement.
“These are all things that people need, and they all support our brand and our ability to distinguish ourselves,” said Ed Keating, vice president of marketing, advertising and public relations, noting Winthrop’s advanced services in these areas.
“Few hospitals have the budget to talk about everything in their advertising,” he said. “But like a car advertising its parts, if you have the best-quality parts, one can infer you have the best-quality product.”
Up against the budgets of much larger hospital systems, Winthrop stays the course in churning out a consistent message.
“We believe we have an outstanding comprehensive hospital,” Keating said. “People don’t go to a system for treatment – they go to a hospital.”
Wellness is increasingly an area of focus in branding messages.
“We are embracing the concept that a health system needs to go beyond caring for patients for events that need treatment to be in the business of keeping people well,” Dezelan said.
Last winter, the system ran radio commercials with healthful hints. A new campaign will be launched this winter, to “encourage people to be mindful of ways to prevent disease or detect symptoms that should be evaluated before they develop into a serious problem,” Dezelan added.
Last month, Winthrop announced the launch of an interactive video-on-demand television channel, Winthrop HealthTV, on Cablevision, which will provide around-the-clock health and wellness content.
“We saw this as an excellent opportunity to extend our brand and communicate a broad range of health and wellness messages,” Keating said.
For many health care providers in the New York area, brand positioning focuses on awards from third-party sources, such as U.S. News and World Report. Dezelan, who disagrees with this strategy, pointed to a recent report from the Healthcare Association of New York State, which found “conflicting information and dramatically different results” among multiple rating services, and stated many “fail to understand the complexity of hospital care.”
“We prefer to show that we’re the best because of our outcomes,” Dezelan said. “We want to be transparent and allow people to make educated decisions based on fair representation.”
While hospitals go head-to-head on various quality measures, one thing they largely do not compete on is price.
“Nobody knows the price,” Greenberg said.