Communications Firm Helps Hospitals
Define Problems and Implement Solutions
by John Fries
Hospital administrators and senior managers can often identify opportunities
for growth and expansion based on need, population growth and other
factors. And, when it comes to making improvements in clinical services,
patient satisfaction surveys and other interactions can play key roles
in pointing to where adjustment is needed.
Sometimes, though, it becomes necessary to bring in a specialist.
Often, that's Patrick Buckley. President and CEO of Rynne Buckley
Marketing and Communications, a Chicago consulting and communications
Buckley and his team provide market research, strategic planning,
brand development and a range of other related services to hospitals
and health care-related organizations across the U.S. Over the past
20 years, the firm has worked with more than 700 health care organizations
in all 50 states. He takes a scientific approach, believing that once
public perception is thoroughly assessed, change can occur.
"Consumers are looking to find the best treatment," said Buckley.
"And, many hospitals advertise. One effective tactic to make an impression
on consumers is to advertise what we call ‘halo’ services. These are
critical specialty areas, such as cardiac care, oncology, neuroscience
The premise is simple. A hospital, included in a top 100 list of cardiac
hospitals compiled by a credible evaluating body, decides to let the
world know about it by buying strategically-placed billboards and
running television spots during the evening news. Consumers see the
ads and deduce that, if a hospital has an excellent rating or reputation
for a certain key specialty area, then they must offer excellence
in other areas as well.
"People are always looking for verifiable objectives in areas like
heart care" said Buckley. "In addition to talking with trusted friends
and relatives, they want third party endorsement from reliable and
objective sources." Before hospitals can start putting ads together,
though, they need to understand who they are and have a good sense
of where they stand with the marketplace they serve.
One of Rynne Buckley’s areas of expertise is in market research, which
uncovers that information via a number of avenues.
"First," he said, "we review a great deal of secondary information–from
the demographics of the community served by the hospital to any information
that can tell us how the hospital is perceived. Then, we may recommend
the hospital undertake a comprehensive community perception survey.
This helps us learn what features and characteristics about the hospital
are most important to the people who live in the facility’s service
As you might expect, research often reveals a gap between how hospital
administrators think their publics perceive them and how they actually
do. Sometimes, that gap can be pretty wide. Buckley said that most
administrators consider it a reality check, and nearly always want
to take appropriate steps to correct problems and enhance perceptions.
Sometimes the enhancements can have dramatic implications. "We learned
through research that one hospital with which we worked ranked in
the 16th percentile in emergency services. After working with the
hospital for a while and providing counsel, we helped move them to
the 90th percentile," he said.
Rynne Buckley also works closely with hospitals that are looking to
develop new clinical services.
"It’s important to do the necessary homework before planning programs
and services," said Buckley. "We’ll help the hospital address the
important issues up front. For example, addressing critical questions
like whether they have the necessary clinical interdependencies worked
out, or the right people to staff the initiative, or whether the public
even wants the service."
For many clients, Rynne Buckley performs what they call market opportunity
analysis. "By analyzing key market information, DRG groupings, and
research findings, we can recommend where dollars are best invested.
We also work with clients to create brand and business development
plans that are focused on what can bring business in the door in the
near term as well as down the road."
Brand development is key to the success of a new or existing facility
or service. A brand is the immediate connection a hospital has in
the mind of its patients, community and other audiences.
"To be effective, a hospital’s brand should be present in everything
it stands for," said Buckley. "I ask my clients how they want to be
perceived. Ultimately, the brand should communicate that in a consistent
manner. Once established and defined, they are expressed in various
ways to different audiences, and it’s important to have a clear, focused
He added that, "a brand can also be very helpful with recruitment
efforts, since it can embody prestige and other positive attributes
that might attract new staff members".
Buckley said that many of today’s most successful hospitals are often
the ones that reach out to their public, and keep their name in front
of their audiences.
"They need to be perceived as accessible and friendly," he said. "They
can achieve this by doing things like offering internet-enabled health
information centers for the public’s use, and by interacting with
the communities they serve."
He noted that sometimes hospitals aren’t always aware of impediments
to accessiblity. "Maybe the hospital is in a prolonged state of construction,
and it inconveniences the patient," who has to find his or her way
through a maze of wood and scaffolding. "Or, when you call, you always
get voice mail, rather than a person answering the phone. Those kinds
of things are what shape the public’s perception."
He said that many leading hospitals today take a very integrated approach
to the care they provide.
"They’ll identify a real need, like back care—which eight out of 10
people may eventually seek out—and build a multidisciplinary center
around it that provides a variety of services. This helps them to
position the center as a focused specialty area within the hospital."
Rynne Buckley helps hospitals with a wide range of services, from
planning and marketing, to helping develop services lines within the
hospital, to working with existing service lines so they maximize
their potential, and to advertising through communications vehicles
such as TV, print, radio, outdoor, direct mail and web sites.
"We want to help hospitals and health care organizations wisely use
the information they gather, and craft the messages they communicate
to the public. We also conduct audits and assessments of the marketing
discipline to help marketing directors and their CEOs to identify
structural and functional areas where marketing can be more effective."