Once, during a consumer focus group, we asked the participants what they thought about a local hospital promoting their J.D. Powers #1 ranking. Their responses were varied.
“Isn’t that a reward car companies get?”
“Did they pay for that?”
“Every hospital says they’re #1 in something.”
“What does that even mean?”
Good questions — and point taken. This article in the New York Times referenced an analysis by the academic journal Health Affairs which looked at hospital ratings from two publications, U.S.News & World Report and Consumer Reports, as well as Healthgrades and Leapfrog Group. No hospital rose to the top by all four. And some hospitals were actually designated as a high performer by one group but a low performer by another.
The article goes on to say that the rating groups are serving different purposes and are not measuring the same thing. OK, I buy that. It doesn’t make sense for them to overlap and measure the same things. But consumers don’t understand that. They have access to all kinds of information, but it’s difficult to find reliable information that compares apples to apples and is meaningful when it comes to hospitals or health systems. As communicators, we shouldn’t be adding to the confusion. And by advertising and promoting these ratings, isn’t that what we’re doing?
As healthcare is an area of focus for our agency, we know that, for the most part, consumers are interested in the patient experience. That experience equals quality. They expect great clinical quality and safety. So it’s good that your hospital has lots of processes and initiatives in place to assure high quality and safety. But consumers are interested in whether the phone was answered quickly and the person on the other end was helpful. Can they schedule an appointment for when they want it? Is it easy to park and get to the office? Did the healthcare providers listen to them? Can they easily pay their bill online? Can they easily find the location and hours online?
So, the next time your physicians or CEO ask you to promote your hospital’s latest ranking, ask yourself these questions:
- Does the ranking support your brand?
- What happens if you don’t get the same ranking next year?
- Will it help consumers make an informed choice about their healthcare?
- Are you promoting to satisfy internal audiences?
Because there is a better way to spend those marketing dollars! Make sure they’re allocated to communicating what customers really want to know.