Opportunities ignored, or, why Target should run hospitals

“Do you want to go to Green Hospital or St. Marigold’s Hospital for your procedure?” asked the polite young woman from the specialist’s office.

She paused — and there was a moment of silence on the call. I was wondering whether I had a single reason to prefer one over the other for my upcoming test. “Uh, I think I’ll have it done at St. Marigold’s, please,” I told the still-polite young woman, who didn’t know what the problem was.  We scheduled the test — a fairly pricey and for the hospital, profitable one — and life went on. 

Why did I choose St. Marigold’s?  Well, despite the fact that I know a good deal about the medical business, it wasn’t because I was reading from some quality report. It wasn’t because my doctor recommended one over the other.  It wasn’t even because St. Marigold’s is an easier commute from my home. 

The plain, sort of embarassing truth is that I chose St. M’s because I’d visited once and somehow liked its earnest, 40’s-era community hospital ambience (old fashioned ER sign, brick facade, old oak trees scattered around the campus). I think I was perhaps digging into some stereotype I hold, deep in my subconscious, of where Dr. Kildare would have practiced, or maybe Trapper John.  In other words, it wasn’t exactly a rational decision — and getting the business was a random piece of luck for its management.

Now, some patients are going to end up at your hospital’s door that way regardless. After all, that’s the way leads work — some just turn up. But I’m surprised neither hospital I heard about did anything to sway my decision, or at least the likelihood that I’ll refer friends before and after I get my care:

Why not give the office appointment booker handfuls of brochures or even a single sheet of information on why patients should feel safe getting test X or procedure Y there?

What about sending a thank you e-mail or calling me to make me feel all comfy about the procedure, educate me about the broad medical facts (heck, a link to WebMD or the like can help)?

Why not offer a nurse line, strongly branded with your facility’s name, offering patients the chance to ask as many questions as they’d like about the basics of the upcoming experience?  (Few if any booking departments know much about the procedures they’re booking, and physicians can only do so much to handhold patients.)

After the procedure/test, it wouldn’t hurt to send the patient a little gift (innocuous one like a plant, perhaps), if they’re in a demographic you’d like to keep interested.  I know that might sound a bit tacky but if done right it could just seem warm and reinforce your positioning strategy.

As I see it, ignoring such opportunities is a huge mistake. And sadly, it’s a common one.  While some hospitals run smart consumer ad campaigns, most don’t reach patients at key touch points, much less do much to maintain loyalty.  Hell, many don’t even try.  

Why don’t  hospitals think about patients the way the retail industry does?  Any number of reasons come to mind, including laziness, inflexibility, hidebound management thinking and a simple failure of imagination.  But whatever’s going on, you’d better hope Target doesn’t go into the healthcare business. They’ll bury you.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • Landed on your blog through twitter and was nicely surprised to see that somebody, out there faces the same questions and proposes more or less the same solutions that patients going to hospitals face.

  • Welcome to the blog. I’m delighted to hear that you got something out of this item.

    As someone who cares for three patients with chronic conditions (myself, husband and 10-year-old son) I was definitely writing more or less as patient first, communications/marketing/strategy person second.

    Still, I don’t think the two roles clash in this case. My theory is that if hospitals do what they must to bond with patients, both sides win — patients feel more comfortable and hospitals make more money. Connecting with patients emotionally isn’t just reassuring, it’s an act of enlightened self-interest.

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