How to Map Your True Hospital Marketing Area

Do you know your hospital’s true marketing area? This answer is a foundational element for any strategic healthcare marketing plan. The scope and shape of your marketing area determines what marketing strategies and tactics make sense when trying to increase hospital’s patient volume.

Do you know your hospital marketing area?

This answer is a foundational element for any strategic healthcare marketing plan. The scope and shape of your marketing area determines what marketing strategies and tactics make sense when trying to increase hospital’s patient volume.

You need to build hospital marketing area maps.

One of the ‘rules’ about marketing is that it’s usually more cost effective to increase frequency among existing customers than it is to attract entirely new ones. Although pure consumer selection does drive volume for some services, physician recommendations drive a greater share of volume for non-emergency inpatient admissions and outpatient procedures. (For today’s purpose, we will focus on ‘decision simplicity,’ physicians as customers and referral patterns, and tackle how to leverage pure consumer preference in another article).

The purpose of creating maps is to create a common, objective understanding of your primary and secondary marketing area. The size and shape will be determined by the distribution of your physician network, economic circumstances in different areas, competitor locations and expertise, traffic flow barriers and travel time.

After all, most healthcare is local. By understanding the size and shape of your marketing area, you can evaluate marketing and business development tactics with an eye toward impacting physicians and consumers.

Additionally, hospital marketing area maps are a great visual tool to use when explaining your marketing strategy and tactics to administration and medical leadership.

The first step is to work with your finance, strategic planning or business development departments to pull the information needed to generate your maps. Include 12 months of admissions/procedures to allow for seasonality and service lines that have a long lead time. Keep in mind these data pulls can take a while to fulfill, so submit your requests early in the strategic marketing process while developing messaging and proof points on a parallel path.

Slices to Consider in Your Hospital Marketing Area Map

1. All Patient Home Addresses/All Services

When working with patient information, HIPAA compliance is essential. The goal of patient origin mapping is to visualize patterns while preserving the anonymity of each ‘dot.’ (See tips at end.) The areas with the highest density of dots represent your primary hospital marketing area. Your marketing investment would extend beyond this core area when:

  • You are opening new satellite facilities near the edges or outside of your primary area.
  • Your competition has experienced substantial negative change in reputation, medical leadership or scope of services.
  • Your media options are scalable and are more cost-efficient than geographically targeted tactics.
  • You need to make a high-impact statement to raise top-line awareness, improve your hospital’s reputation, re-launch a brand, or attract and retain highly covered clinical leaders.
  • You are marketing a specialized service line where there’s greater willingness to travel.

2. Patient Home Addresses by Key Service Line

The more significant a diagnosis or procedure, the more likely it is the specialist will express a preference about where it would it should be performed, and the more likely a consumer will travel further for it. This is usually the secondary service area captured on your map. The dot density will be less, but the commercial or Medicare reimbursement may be very attractive.

To visualize your secondary service area by service line, you will need to define the CPT (Current Procedural Terminology) codes to include in the request you provide to finance or strategic planning. CPT codes are standardized and used in billing/claims processing to indicate the services rendered. The key is determining which CPT codes to include or exclude to get an accurate picture of just that service line’s market area for higher margin procedures. For example, in the case of an orthopedic service line, you may wish to exclude related services like physical therapy or lab tests and focus more narrowly on knee replacement surgical patients. You can get a 14-day free trail of a tool to identify CPT codes from the AAPC to help.

What’s the Biggest Opportunity in Healthcare Marketing?

Healthcare marketing is a varied space. Facilities and pharmaceutical companies, for example, both have different priorities and marketing paradigms. How can you identify the opportunities that will lead to better outcomes for you?

Target Marketing Healthcare RoundtableWe’ve been looking a lot at healthcare marketing lately. It’s an industry we’ve been covering more, and that will reach a new level next week at our first ever Healthcare Marketing Roundtable! That’s on June 15, at the Pyramid Club in Philadelphia. (Click here if you’d like to come out for that!)

The Healthcare Facility View

Healthcare marketing is a varied space. Marketers at healthcare facilities — like Michael Capriotti of Virtua Health, who we recently had on the Marketing Garage Podcast) — are putting a lot of work into building customer interface systems like patient portals that improve the customer experience and speed up care. Done well, these improve outcomes, allow patients to get information easier, and drive down costs by shortening the time it takes to serve those customers.

If you click on the link to our podcast with Capriotti (who’s going to be speaking at the roundtable, too!) you’ll see that he specifically compares the healthcare patient expectation to customer expectations from instant-gratification tools like OpenTable.

As an industry, he says, healthcare has done a good job of projecting out patient needs, but “we haven’t really done a great job at going back an getting the voice of the customer.” And you need that to understand what each interaction means to patients and it how it makes them feel.

For Capriotti, understanding how these experiences make the patient feel is essential to gaining customer loyalty and evangelism.

The Pharma Prescription

For a pharmaceutical company, marketing is worlds different. Traditionally, pharma used to market directly to doctors. But over the past 15 years of so, marketing to consumers has become a bigger and bigger piece of the strategy.

Today, that consumer-aimed marketing is one of the largest collective ad budgets in the world, and major ad players are vying for it. Both Amazon and Facebook have launched initiatives this year to conquer large swaths of the pharma marketing and sales space.

Drug advertising is not, so far, what I would call customer-centric. There’s a lot of saturation media being bought, and you’re gonna hear about those little blue pills whether you like it or not.

That may sound like it’s behind the state of the art, but that means there’s a lot of opportunity, too.

So What’s the Big Healthcare Marketing Opportunity?

For me, across the board, it seems like making the marketing more targeted and customer-centric is either the active goal or the biggest looming opportunity.

If Facebook and Amazon do get into the pharmaceutical game, they will both offer tremendous targeting capabilities that haven’t been used as much in pharma.

Likewise, the more facilities are able to create customer information portals that make the experience more tuned to personal expectations, the more they’ll be able to improve loyalty and cut down costs.

The customer is the focus of all marketing, and this is a market with a lot of room left to improve and become more customer-centric.

At least, that’s my take. If you want to hear what some much more knowledgeable healthcare marketers think, and you’re not too far from Philly, come to our roundtable dinner on June 15. With marketers from Jeffereson Health, AmeriHealth, Recovery Centers of America, Virtua, and more, it’s going to be a unique chance to meet some of the best minds in the industry and hear what they think are the biggest opportunities in the market.