It’s Time to Get Serious About Marketing Quality Measures

As we continue to reform our consumer-driven healthcare system, the impact of quality in hospital marketing is no longer a trend—it’s the reality. We all know that information is power, and the future of healthcare will be defined by how consumers use this power in the decisions they make, the providers they choose and the services they demand.

But just when we thought quality was starting to really mean something in healthcare marketing, it has become more confusing than ever.

A crowd of healthcare ratings and awards organizations measuring and reporting quality have surfaced. Take your pick – Hospital Quality Alliance, Joint Commission, HealthGrades, National Research Corporation, Solucient, Press Ganey, U.S. News & World Report, Leapfrog, and more.

All of these organizations have their own system of rating the quality of healthcare organizations. Consumers are left with the daunting task of interpreting complex data and trying to determine what it all really means. The extent to which consumers have the ability, time and willingness to consistently pursue this process becomes a genuine question.

“Yes, it is ultimately about the quality of care and successful outcomes. But…”

So can the marketing of quality rating information by hospitals be powerful enough to influence consumer perception, preference and behavior? Those who believe in the sanctity of quality control measures long for a market in which true consumerism rules and decisions are made in the same way we buy a car or TV. However, the concept of quality is a subjective opinion among healthcare consumers. Healthcare is not a purely tangible product. Consumer satisfaction is based on a variety of factors all contributing to the overall experience. Yes, it is ultimately about the quality of patient care and the success of outcomes. But it’s also about access, provider interaction, communication, treatment options, service, food, noise levels, cost and more. The combination of these factors affects how people “feel” about healthcare delivery. And today’s consumer demands the best of everything.

Let’s face it – we will never have a “pure” marketplace for health insurance plans that is governed only by one interpretation of quality. But this does not mean healthcare marketers should shy away from “quality” marketing strategies. Making high quality ratings work influentially is the job of individual healthcare organizations. A proactive approach of informing consumers will serve to build awareness and a more inquisitive consumer population. With effective communication, healthcare marketers can create more educated, more aware and more responsible consumers, all while improving their position within a competitive marketplace. Leveraging ratings in the marketplace and using them within marketing messages, if executed well, can positively impact consumer perception and preference for the hospital.

“Make a plan. Make it measurable…”

But first we need to figure out how to do it. Take inventory and think it through. Stop being arbitrary and random. Make a plan. Make it measurable through a variety of ways – revenue benchmarks, quantitative baseline surveys, qualitative research, call-to-action tracking, digital metrics.

So how do we communicate positive quality attributes? Quality messaging is most relevant for those who have a specific need, but it is also effective in increasing overall hospital perception, consumer preference and ultimately market share. Introduce consistent, uniform quality as a regular signature message in all paid and owned media. Consider a course of action to brand hospital quality in a memorable way, perhaps introducing a descriptive name to rally around (e.g., “The Gold Standard”).

Next, go beyond institutional messaging by targeting efforts to specific audiences. People in need of specific care are more likely to explore and work harder to understand the often-confusing information that surrounds quality messaging. They are looking for some differentiation, so make it available to them. Develop an informed strategy backed by respected accreditation and evidence. Use quality measures, reputation, awards and testimonials to your advantage in targeted advertising, website opportunities, digital marketing and social media. Include referring physicians and internal audiences as important target segments.

One thing is for sure: without effective messaging, quality measures will be a non-issue.

Ratings/Awards Associations… where do you rank?

A wide range of nationally-recognized organizations, magazines and special interest groups spotlight and rate healthcare organizations. Be aware of these ratings and capitalize on them to gain position as a healthcare leader.