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The power of patient experience in community hospital branding.

As the healthcare branding landscape becomes more and more crowded with less-than-ideally differentiated options, one of the few things we can count on is that people still want to be cared for by people who know what they’re doing. That’s why, in positioning a community hospital, it’s important to consider patient experience and consumer attitudes about their experience.

Common wisdom is that the largest hospital in a market should (if they can) capture the technology-leader position. Generally, the 800-pound gorilla will be the one with the CON advantage, the budget advantage, and the critical mass to garner leader status within a market or region. This is increasingly true as consolidation of regional health care systems accelerates in view of the ACA. But even as the large hospital gets larger and critical mass gap gets broader, the well-managed, well-branded community hospital has one abiding advantage—patient experience.

While specialized services and high-technology procedures are trending away from local hospitals and toward more centralized, specialized facilities, most of the care required by most reasonably-healthy people is still best provided at the local level. This is best for the patient as well as the system. Developing this grass-roots level primary care program requires a humble, community-building, personal-caring-as-mission approach to both health care and health care marketing.

As community hospitals go about claiming their position in the heathcare branding landscape, a great habit to cultivate is that of identifying and documenting best-case patient testimonials. An ongoing program of capturing stories in video form, as well journalistic stories with photography, will provide a library of tools that can be used together, in isolation, in branding scenarios, in crisis management situations, in human resource strategy and training…in celebrating and building the community in order to put the community into community hospitals.

Unlike celebrity testimonial (about which consumers have become somewhat cynical), real-people testimonial—actual patients, speaking about the good and bad of their experiences, unscripted—connect with consumers in a way that continues to resonate. The story-telling component makes them inherently engaging. Their spontaneous “warts-and-all” quality give them great credibility. And the “what your neighbors are saying” approach to brand evidence brings feelings into the equation.

Of course, it would be a mistake to think that real-people testimonials are the silver bullet in community hospital branding. Building any kind of service brand requires a systemic process of discovery, documentation, and sensory system development. But few categories come complete with so rich a vein of content as the personal testimonial for community hospital branding.

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