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 Building A 21st Century Referral Pipeline

Data-driven results are the backbone of an effective marketing program in today’s competitive environment.

 President of CommuniTech

 
Why does a new patient come through the front door of your facility? Once upon a time, a discharge planner may have sent a new patient to you because your facility was nearby, or, because you had good food, clean buildings, or a snazzy logo.
 
Today, this is changing quickly: Hospitals, accountable care organizations (ACOs), bundled payment initiatives, and managed care organizations are increasingly contracting with post-acute partners who bring meaningful, proven results to the table.
 
This means your future business will come from data-driven decisions. Hospitals and other acute-care partners are increasingly being rewarded or penalized for factors such as 30-day readmission data and clinical outcomes. Stakeholders are becoming increasingly particular about who they work with and are holding them more accountable than ever.
 
So what does this do to your marketing? It changes everything. Marketing—the science of influencing future engagement decisions—has changed 180 degrees from the past. It’s now a data-driven science that influences who will partner with you and who refers patients to you. More importantly, it has become a business-critical investment with predictable financial outcomes.
 
If you feel your marketing isn’t—or can’t—be measured against goals, then you simply aren’t approaching it correctly. Every aspect of marketing can and should be measured, and leading providers like Van Dyk Health Care, Bartley Healthcare, and Bridgeway Senior Healthcare are taking appropriate steps to retool their marketing strategies in line with data-driven processes instead of traditional “gut feelings.”
 
How are they doing it? They’re re-engineering their marketing using a blending of big data analytics, integrated marketing programs backed by 21st century marketing automation to measure results and return on investment (ROI).

Four Steps To Effective Post-ACA Marketing

How can you reengineer your marketing processes to bring you new business and market share, particularly in the post-Accountable Care Act (ACA) era? You can boil this process down into four predictable, rational steps that improve your chances of success in the marketplace.

1. Know Your Strengths

Competitive providers like Van Dyk Health Care know where their strengths lie—because their data tell them. They know they’re doing especially well with cardiac patients, so they brought their HeartWays care service to the front and center of their marketing. More importantly, they can take an enterprise-wide system view of their data and outcomes and better quantify what they do best. When you can do this, you can also better market what you do best.
 
Bartley Healthcare and Bridgeway Senior Healthcare are currently undergoing this same self-examination. They realize that, as providers, they are working in an environment of increasing competition and increasing data and that these data hold the key to their competitive advantage. Knowing what they do well, and what organizational strengths they can build on, is the first step in effective marketing.
 
Think about your own organization. Do you have good intake planning? Integration with medical teams? Superior outcomes? Your unique matrix of competencies forms the bedrock of your marketing message.

2. Understand—And Own—Your Data

Radio celebrity Garrison Keillor once described a fictional town of Lake Wobegon, where “all the children are above-average.” In our industry, everyone can’t be above average, but you can learn where your opportunities and weaknesses lie and take strategic action to improve your competitiveness.
 
The best organizations commit themselves to a process of continuous improvement based on what they’ve learned through analytics and self-examination. For example, it’s one thing to look at your rehospitalization numbers. It’s another to go behind them and see what factors led to the outcome.
 
That’s why, when you measure rehospitalizations, it’s important to use the case-mix-adjusted metric adopted by the American Health Care Association. You’ll better understand what caused each patient’s status to change. Were there signs and signals that could have been tracked ahead of time? Could more or better in-house care have prevented a readmission?
 
Aside from rehospitalizations data, your referral sources are interested in learning about other analytics-driven aspects of your organization. Below are the data you should communicate to referral sources:
•    30-day case-mix-adjusted hospital readmission rates
•    Case-mix-adjusted facility-acquired rates (infection/pressure ulcers/falls)
•    30-day unexpected death rates
•    Patient satisfaction
•    Percent of follow-up visits or outreach within 24 hours of skilled nursing facility discharge
•    Percent of patients educated on discharge materials/instructions
•    Functional improvement measures (FIMs)
•    Medical error rates
•    Staff turnover and ratio to patients
•    Pain management scores
•    Medical director status
•    Agency usage (RNs/therapists)
•    Discharge against-medical-advice (AMA) rate
•    Average length of stay (ALOS) by diagnosis group
•    Five-star rating

3. Tell Your Story Purposefully

Why do you purchase coffee at Starbucks, fly on Southwest Airlines, or ship via FedEx? Each of these successful companies has a story—a narrative that drives their business, backed by data. You believe that you’ll get the best coffee, arrive at your destination on time, or have your package delivered absolutely, positively overnight because you link these companies with their marketing story and their competitive brand positioning.
 
So what’s your story? Why are you a provider of choice? What do you do better than, or different from, competitors? What “pain” do you relieve for stakeholders? Turning this story into a message that brands you—and using effective marketing automation to disseminate this story—is the key to improving your competitive posture.

4. Measure Your Results

How many times have you placed an ad or deployed a marketing campaign, only to be disappointed with the results? You’ve probably lost count. The failure of many long term and post-acute care operators is to learn the enduring lesson about the return on investment of expensive one-shot marketing approaches. They simply don’t work. Marketing is a program that builds upon itself and takes time to take hold.
 
Smart marketers deploy an integrated approach to their marketing and measure results consistently. The right marketing partner can tell you where to best spend your dollars, especially where your stakeholders are looking, and then link these efforts to your bottom line.
 
The result? By following these four steps and doing it diligently, your marketing will become an investment that fuels your business instead of an expenditure that burns your resources.
 
Pam Selker Rak is president of CommuniTech. She can be reached at (412) 221-4550 or pam.rak@ctechrocks.com.
 
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