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Changing Your Marketing & Lessons About "Cheating Death"

Published April 19, 2013 11:39 AM by Adrianne OBrien

Editor’s note: This blog was written by Anthony Cirillo, FACHE, a healthcare consultant and aging expert who helps CEOs connect the dots that start healthcare movements. Contact him at and learn more at


By now most of you have read about the "Cheating Death" debacle at CaroMont Health in Gastonia, NC, not far from me.


In an effort to startle consumers and have them focus on health and wellness, they shocked and offended the community to the point that the CEO was let go. They seemed to have a perfect tagline before called "In Love with Life" that would complement wellness initiatives.


I think the CEO is a scapegoat here. In my opinion, the director of marketing, the ad agency and the two board members who have relatives at that agency, should have been held accountable. That is for another day.


Here is what I would like you to think about. Marketing and patient experience are tied at the hip. Your marketing sets the expectation for the experience to come. If the expectation matches the reality then that is good for you. If it doesn’t well word of mouth will take care of the rest. Just ask CaroMont.


Exercise some common sense. Put yourself in the patient’s head. If I am coming to a hospital that sets the expectation that I will be "In Love with Life" I feel hopeful that my quality of life will improve. If I come in with the expectation that this place is about "Cheating Death" well the grim reaper might be in my thoughts. That would give me an uneasy feeling about going to this hospital. And after 28 years in this business, I know that people choose hospitals on such seemingly trivial matters.


When I wrote the article The Chief Experience Officer, I never imagined it would become an impetus for starting a movement in healthcare with the Cleveland Clinic using it as partial motivation to establish an office of patient experience. But I wrote it from a marketer’s point of view. Word of mouth is your most important marketing tool. And it comes down to the experience that people have with your services (no kidding!).


Hospital CEOs need to look at how their marketing is going to change in the shifting winds of healthcare. For my money, I would have marketing report to the chief experience officer because at the end of the day, it is about surfacing and telling stories about care. It is not about the latest robot and cyber-knife you have. Trust me. Suspend some of your mass media advertising. Patients will still come.


The other thing that concerns me, especially after attending the World Health Congress, is this focus on wellness by providers. Don’t get me wrong. Wellness is good. But I question the motivation. Now with bundled payments and the emphasis on keeping people out of the hospital, providers have the financial incentive to pay attention to this. But you are late, maybe too late. Speakers at Congress included representatives from Target and Whole Foods. Guess what? They are in the wellness business and have been. Part of CaroMont’s trouble is that this campaign tried to shift the marketing conversation to wellness and backfired. Consider instead having your marketing and business development people partner with the companies leading the wellness movement.


Robert A. Berenson, MD, Institute Fellow, Urban Institute shared that as physicians and hospitals put their heads together in an ACO, they will find efficiencies. They then will be able to see how they can make money in certain scenarios. He is afraid that they will then bundle these services into marketing programs, causing volume growth, much of it unnecessary.


Marketing and therefore its impact on customer experience is in no man’s land right now, talking wellness but still acting to drive volume.


You can’t have it both ways. With the continuum of care blurring, picking care partners that complement your culture and approach to patient experience will be imperative. And telling that story will be as well.


It’s time to retool your marketing. As I told readers in Hospital Impact, it's time to blow up your marketing and start over. Have the courage? When you’re ready, give me a shout.


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