With tens of thousands of new enrollees to Medicare each day in the United States, healthcare providers have to be ready to take care of the increase of acute and chronic conditions presented by an aging population. Federal and private payors are looking for providers who can offer solutions to achieve the ‘triple-aim’ of healthcare- lower per capita costs, higher quality outcomes, and healthier overall populations. The landscape is shifting in a way that compels us as providers to respond and ensure we’re meeting the needs of both potential patients as well as referral partners. Hospice can absolutely be a part of meeting these needs- the unique, person-centered, interdisciplinary approach that hospice uses to support patients and families will be key to meeting the triple aim. In order to meet these goals, hospices have to incorporate effective marketing strategies as a part of their strategy.
Government oversight agencies, policymakers and value-based payors like Managed Care Organizations and Accountable Care Organizationsare all demanding that providers offertop-quality service at less cost. This is nothing new for the hospice industry, in fact it is the very foundation of our care model. Hospice was a capitated, risk-based model of care long before the term was en vogue, receiving a pre-set per diem for our patients regardless of diagnosis or acuity. This experience with risk and quality outcomes has helped us create better end of life experiences for millions of patients since the hospice model of care took hold in the U.S. in the late 1970s. However, marketing our services isn’t without its challenges, even as our model holds great promise in a value-based environment.
With value-based care driving referral decisions, our team needs to be able to market with data. For example, how can we prove that we can help a partner reduce burdensome transitions of care or unnecessary rehospitalizations? By how much? Can we prove it? You have a whole new group of decision makers to understand and market to, and they’re hungry for hard data on outcomes and quality. Organizations that know how to leverage these when marketing will have a distinct advantage over those who do not. Put another way, flyers, branded pens, and donuts won’t cut it by themselves in the next five years. If you don’t know the publicly reported quality measures for those to whom you’re marketing, how can you offer your services to help ease their pain points? Similarly, without knowing your own quantified strengths and weaknesses, you can’t engage with referral sources hungry for data outcomes.
Marketing to our referral sources is one thing, but perhaps a greater challenge is marketing to our prospective patients, many of whom don’t yet fully understand what hospice really is. Many Americans still fear dying in a hospital under extreme and uncomfortable care, but are even more reticent to have end of life conversations about alternatives because they feel too uncomfortable doing so. This is a challenge that hospice marketing teams still struggle with.
We know, however, that our patients and their families need us. According to the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization, the average length of stay for a patient on hospice is usually measured in days to weeks. Since patients with a six-month prognosis are eligible for the holistic care hospice provides, that means that the patient, their family, and their caregivers are potentially missing out on months of additional care, support, and therapies that could add to their quality of life. Because of this, our strategy has to be one of both marketing and education, not only for our patients, but for the doctors and other referral sources who are sending them to us when it is almost too late.
There’s no doubt: marketing “a betterdeath” is tough. But it is also rewarding. It starts with our marketers. We hire people with a “hospice heart.” These people are typically the first to meet with our patients, so besides having grit and tenacity, we need them to have empathy to understand the people they’re meeting with may begoing through one of the hardest times of their life.
We need our frontline marketing and education staff to be able to understand the nuances of hospice care and the complex family dynamics that often accompany a terminal diagnosis. They must be good listeners, but also must speak from the heart while giving a clear and concise picture of the wonderful benefits that hospice has to offer. They must also be able to communicate the limits of what hospice provides, as well as navigate complex federal regulations and compliance guidelines-something we take very seriously at our organization. We also need our teamto be able to speak on a higher level to physicians and other referral sources who are data-driven or who may need help seeing the patient as more than their disease or symptoms. As a motivated salesperson, it can be a fine line to walk. Given this, much of our work as leaders within the organization goes into education and professional development for our marketers, so they can navigate end of life discussions with a wide variety of different sources and also understand a changing and dynamic healthcare environment.
Our patients and their families are also becoming increasingly tech-savvy. Many boomers have cell phones! This means organizations have to beef up and advance our digital presences-website, video promotion, and systems for responding to online reviews and requests; people expect real-time responses about hospice even via Facebook Messenger! Our marketing strategy has to cover those, as well as other multiple social media channels.
For medical professionals and referral sources, it’s about how you build them a digital environment that works for them. Do you need an app? A physician portal? How do you build resources that work for them and are effective marketing tools to grow your organization?
To that end, we have a number of different resources to help our marketers in each interaction. We provide educational videos and patient stories that can be shared on tablets in face-to-face meetings with families or via email with referral sources. We also respond to all online reviews and share feel-good stories on our social channels and with media outlets, building up our reputation in our local markets and beyond.
We undertake this work because we believe that hospice is an incredibly valuable part of the solution to the issues facing the healthcare community in the US. We look for partners with data-sharing ability, as well as those who are open to compassionate but honest end of life conversations. We’re seeing more organizations who view our services as a part of the solution to their needs as well, instead of something to be shied away from or that happen ‘outside the building’, regardless of if that’s a skilled nursing facility, an assisted living facility or hospital.
The hard work that weput into our marketing and education efforts is so important because we’re not just selling a service. We truly believe in hospice care and want more people to experience it, not only for the health of our organization, but also because it makes such an incredible difference in quality of life fora dying patient.
People fear hospice, but once they understand it, it is almost universally embraced. Quality metrics for hospice are much higher than for many other types of healthcare. Hospice cares for the patient and their loved ones, coordinating care across their physical, emotions and spiritual needs. Each patient is surrounded by an interdisciplinary team of professionals, including a doctor, nurses, aides, social worker, chaplain, music therapist that make visits to whatever location the patient calls home multiple times a week.
In the more than twenty years that Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care has been in operation, we can point to one thing that has been and continues to be our north star: our patients. It’s not always easy to grow and sustain a business based on end of lifewhen the issue can be surrounded by layers of fear, anxiety, and misinformation (remember death panels?), but the love, support, and comfort that we have to offer is more valuable than any tangible gift. It takes a dedicated team here at Seasons to help us market and overcome these barriers, but it’s incredibly fulfilling work.