If a given service line and/or procedure generates high patient volume and is profitable, hospitals and healthcare systems can be sure that there will be stiff competition for those patients. So, how do providers attract their fair share of volume?

In the previous post, Melior identified three broad question areas that healthcare marketers should consider before finalizing a marketing plan. Successful hospital marketers know that marketing research can answer those questions. In this follow-up blog post, we recommend some approaches to consumer research that can provide guidance for development and execution of marketing strategy.

Focus groups

To really understand how patients make decisions and their impressions of and willingness to consider area hospitals/health systems, Melior continues to recommend focus groups with consumers as a first step. In this intimate forum, where participants can be screened to insure that all have had some experience with, for example, cardiac care, we can ask questions such as “which hospital in your area is best for a given procedure/service line,” and “where did you/your loved one actually go for this procedure.”

As it so happens, the answers to the above questions are often contradictory. One of our clients — a regional tertiary care provider that has invested heavily in its cardiac service line — learned through focus group research that despite many consumers’ recognition of its capabilities and reputation, other factors such as perceived better access, and their personal physicians’ recommendations, trumped these positive impressions and drove patients elsewhere for cardiac services. Rather than going to what they perceived was the “best” option, many consumers chose a provider that was “good enough” to meet the need…and more advantageous in other ways.

In a focus group, we can explore these contradictions in a free-ranging line of inquiry, and develop evidence-based hypotheses to explain what we’re hearing. In a typical telephone or online survey – with predominantly closed ended questions – we would just have to accept these contradictions and rely on conjecture to understand them. After a series of focus groups, our client decided to focus more of its localized messaging on ease of access to specific physicians.

Quantitative survey of catchment area consumers

Many of our clients do need quantitative data in order to understand the prevalence of what was heard in focus groups, and to satisfy internal audiences who control marketing dollars. Qualitative findings can be used as the basis for a quantitative survey of consumers, the purpose of which can be to measure and track the standard concerns – e.g., awareness, impressions, decision-making priorities and inputs, etc. – as well as to test the hypotheses that were developed in the qualitative phase. Some clients even try out positioning statements or other creative approaches in such a survey.

This quantitative data can provide the additional confidence needed to formulate positioning and messaging strategy for the service line. These findings also allow for development of market segments – based on demographic, experiential, attitudinal, and other data – which can help providers identify specific groups to target based on common characteristics.

To learn more, visit our previous postHealthcare Providers Face New Brand And Spend Challenges As Some Medical Procedures Become Commoditized, PART 1.

In our next healthcare post we’ll explore the role of physicians in consumer decision-making, and make the case for why physician relations are an integral component of consumer marketing strategy.

For inquires, please contact The Melior Group at (215) 545-0054 or by email [email protected]