As the increasingly complex world of health care becomes crowded
with patients uncertain of which plan to choose or what doctor to
see, hospitals are vying for the millions of dollars those patients
could bring to their facilities.
This competition has sparked an all-out marketing war between
hospitals. Oklahomans are bombarded every day in the paper, on the
radio, and television, by advertisements telling them why they
choose a particular hospital. Many of those ads are rooted in
patient satisfaction surveys. They give hospitals a clear indication
of what is important to patients, as well as what can attract new
business and retain what they already have.
"Over the last decade, hospitals have become more concerned about
the level of competition," notes Leslie Gamble, director of
and public relations of Deaconess Hospital. "It was a major turning
point for us to use patient surveys in marketing our hospital."
Deaconess is certainly doing that. After receiving exceptional
survey results for the second quarter of 1997, the hospital embarked
on an extensive media campaign to promote their numbers.
"You don't see any of them (the competing hospitals) touting their
scores," Gamble added. "We just have to get the word out that we
really care and we will continue to do that. Other hospitals would
like to have our numbers, but you just can't make it up."
So are the patient satisfaction surveys merely a marketing tool?
Gamble and others in her position say no.
They point to changes in the quality of care patients are
receiving due to information gathered by the surveys.
Some even go so far to say that marketing is a second thought when
it comes to patient surveys.
"Our results are not used necessarily as a marketing tool," notes
Dennis Gimmel, director of marketing for the Oklahoma division of
Columbia/HCA Healthcare. "Providing good quality care is our main
Gimmel points out that survey results for Columbia hospitals go to
the operations department and the vice president of patient care,
unlike some of his competitors. "Patient surveys are one factor in
everything we do when trying to understand and improve the level of
Judy Akins, vice president of corporate relations of Mercy
Hospital, agrees. "Our surveys are much more focused internally. We
enjoy the chance to share our results with the public, but we prefer
to start internally."
But how reliable are the results on which hospitals are basing
their media campaigns and patient care improvements? …