This article originally appeared on Forbes.
While providing high-quality medical services is the No. 1 aim of hospitals, this isn’t always the No. 1 criteria women consider when shopping for health care. All hospitals strive to provide the best care, whether overall or by service line, so advertising that as a point of difference is a quick way to get passed up in the consideration set. Focusing on technology and expertise can also be ineffective, as so many hospitals and health systems already do this.
Twenty years of advertising health care for major hospitals and health systems, from campaign creation to launching and measurement, has taught me to dig deeper for what women are really looking for when they shop for health care (which may be different than what they say they’re looking for).
Think about the last time you had to go to an unfamiliar hospital, whether it was for yourself or to visit someone. How big of a hassle was parking? If it was awful, it likely soured your view of the whole hospital. If it was easy, it was probably a big relief. When you went inside, was it easy to find where you needed to go, or did you feel like a mouse trapped in a maze? If you ate at the hospital’s cafeteria, how was the food?
Now weigh these against how heavily you factored whether the hospital had one brand of medical equipment versus another, or where the doctors went to medical school versus where doctors at a competing hospital went to medical school. Which factors stick more in your mind?
Amenities might seem like “soft” services not worth focusing on in marketing materials, but these considerations weigh heavily in consumers’ minds when they’re shopping for hospitals. A quick employee poll I conducted at Northlich, my health care marketing agency, revealed an array of experiences. Some women switched from getting routine tests at the hospital to getting them at stand-alone centers because the hospital experience was a pain, while others said their hospital testing experience was quick and easy. Several mentioned that a hospital’s ancillary services had swayed their choice of where to go, including where to give birth. One woman even said she would have switched from her OB-GYN to a different doctor associated with the hospital that offered the amenities she was looking for. Others mentioned appreciating valet parking, easy-to-understand patient payment portals, and the availability of nurse navigators and financial navigators.
The evidence isn’t just anecdotal: A paper published in the National Bureau of Economic Research found that patients’ valuation of a hospital’s amenities is “positive and substantial.” In “The Emerging Importance of Patient Amenities in Hospital Care,” published in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that, for patients, “The nonclinical experience is twice as important as the clinical reputation in making hospital choices.”
A hospital’s tools, services and amenities can make or break it as a choice in the consideration set when women shop for health care. Yet few hospitals advertise on this, which means consumers don’t have a way of knowing what’s available to them.
So, use marketing to show what your hospital offers. Patient surveys can include questions about which amenities patients find most important. This will give you direction on how to focus your communications. You can also survey other hospitals in your region to see who offers what, and review published research about which services and amenities consumers find most important.
A study from Boston University, for example, found that hospital patients are willing to pay as much as 38 percent more out of pocket for a hospital room that includes hotel-like amenities. Good interior design topped the list of consumer preferences. One thing to watch out for: While amenities are increasing in importance in the consumer consideration set, it’s important to balance showing these off with communicating that you also offer high-quality care.
An example that might help get your creative ideas flowing: My agency has done work for hospitals in Indiana and Ohio to advertise infusion suites, where cancer patients can choose to receive treatment alone or to be with a group. We based this on an insight we discovered that people often make friends during these procedures and like to go through them together to support one another. One hospital even built a garden and ran electrical outlets through it so infusion pumps could be used outdoors.
When marketing materials focus on these sorts of perks, they show how the hospital meets patients’ medical needs, but also serves their deeper need for human connection.
Anything a hospital does to make the process of getting care easier for patients, from streamlining parking to providing birthing suites, online bill pay and patient navigators, is worth a mention in the hospital’s marketing materials — because patients truly care about these factors and choose hospitals based on them.