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High use rate is result of multifaceted marketing
Follow through on promises made in promotions
How does a hospice located in a county facing high unemployment and a population of only 63,000 become and stay one of the highest-utilized hospices in the state, with a 55% utilization rate?
Ask people what they want, then tell everyone what you have, suggests Heidi Owen, MBA, CFRE, director of community services for the Hospice of Rutherford County in Forest City, NC.
"We've had a successful patient satisfaction survey program for many years, and we've received a number of good ideas about new services or programs needed in the community," she reports. Agency management decided something else needed to occur because after a 24-hour admission program was implemented, a number of surveys came back identifying 24-hour admission as a needed service. "We had the service, but we hadn't publicized it so no one knew we offered it," Owen says.
The hospice has stepped up marketing efforts to include new services and to emphasize quality care in all marketing materials, she says. "Twice a year, we publish a 16-page insert in the local newspaper that includes articles about the hospice and its services," Owen says. When introducing a new service, Owen uses the phrase: "You said you wanted ... " to emphasize the fact that surveys are read and good ideas are acted upon.
"We are very specific when we describe our services; we don't just use quality to describe everything," she says. "We do emphasize changes we've made to improve care and services we've added to better meet the community's needs."
Other services added in response to community suggestions include crisis care and grief counseling for the school system, says Owen. "We rely upon donors to support programs such as the grief counseling, so we publicize our work in the community," she adds.
In addition to the newspaper insert, the hospice has produced a brochure that is distributed through the hospice's faith-in-action representatives, volunteers who visit local churches to educate pastors and church members about hospice services. "We also place the brochure in physician offices," adds Owen.
A major change in marketing for the hospice involved revamping the web site to make it more interactive and allow visitors to donate to the hospice online or to inquire about services online, says Owen. "We are seeing an increase in activity on the web site, with more visitors and people using it to contact us," she says.
To make sure that staff members know what the community is seeing and hearing, communication is maintained with all staff members through newsletters, staff education programs, voice mail, and e-mail, Owen notes. "You must keep your staff informed so that they are saying the same thing to the community as your publicity," she says.
"Don't forget to evaluate your communications and surveys," says Owen. When the satisfaction survey return rate leveled off at 37%, Owen put volunteers to work to call family members to remind them about the survey and to ask them to remember to return it. The tactic worked with the return rate rising to 60%, she says.
Owen believes that her hospice's marketing efforts have worked because the hospice doesn't just talk about providing services, it provides what it promotes. When the hospice established the crisis care program to send nurses to homes when patients experienced unanticipated crises, managers made sure they could staff the service by identifying 22 on-call, part-time nurses who were available to take calls when they came in to the agency, she explains. "Just be sure that you do what you say you're going to do, and your marketing is effective."
Need More Information?
For more information about successful marketing, contact:
Heidi Owen, MBA, CFRE, Director of Community Services, Hospice of Rutherford County, 374 Hudlow Road, Forest City, NC 28043. Telephone: (828) 245-0095, ext. 105. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.