Don't forget hospitalists in your marketing plan

Make good impression with research

(Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series that looks at marketing in home health. This month we look at the importance of marketing to hospitalists. Next month we'll discuss how to choose and manage an effective sales staff.)

All home health agency managers understand the need to market their agencies to ensure success. The use of web sites, brochures, sales staff, and communication with referral sources will produce success, but be sure that you are addressing all of your referral sources in your efforts.

"Many hospitals are using hospitalists as one way to handle increasing patient loads," says Lucy Andrews, RN, MN, CEO of At Your Service Home Care in Santa Rosa, CA. "Not only are hospitalists not accustomed to thinking about home care choices that are available, but hospitalists are usually pretty insulated and not very accessible to home care marketing staff."

Usually, the hospitalist just passes the patient to the discharge planning staff when it is time for discharge, she adds. While your agency may be communicating with the discharge planners at the hospital, it is worth the effort to talk with the hospitalists, she says.

"If you do have a relationship with the discharge planner, be sure to let him or her know that you do plan to meet with the hospitalists to educate them," suggests Andrews. "You don't want the discharge planners to think you are trying to go over their heads, so you need to let them know that by giving the physicians more information, it might make the discharge planners' job easier because the physician will give more information upon discharge." One way to keep the discharge planner in the loop is to ask his or her advice about whom to contact, she recommends.

The first step to take when contacting a hospitalist is to find out what specific issues the hospital faces, says Andrews. "You definitely don't want to meet with a physician and say that you can help them address their shortage of beds when the hospital always has empty beds available," she points out. "Knowing what type of patients the hospital sees, what services they offer, and what problems they face will help you focus your presentation on their needs."

Once you know what your focus will be, find out how to set up a meeting, says Andrews. "Try to meet with the chief of the hospitalist department, or if the hospitalist department is new, go through the CEO of the hospital to identify the best contact," she says. It is important that you meet with a hospitalist, not the chief of the medical staff because the medical staff chief's focus and way of working with patients is very different from the hospitalist, she explains.

"You will probably only get one shot to sell your agency's services, so be sure you make a good first impression," says Andrews. Approach the physician with the question, "What can we do to help you?" she suggests. "Tell about specialized programs you offer related to diabetes, cardiac care or telemonitoring, but also talk about how you can help get the patient discharged more easily."

Be sure the hospitalist knows that you work frequently with certain physicians in the area and you are familiar with their patients so you can facilitate their admission to home health, says Andrews. "Position yourself as a resource for both the hospitalist and the discharge planner," she adds.

While your agency may have a number of very nice brochures about home care, be selective about what you take to leave with the hospitalist, suggests Andrews. "First, ask yourself what your chances of meeting with them again might be," she says. If it was an ordeal getting the first meeting scheduled, take a few key items that directly relate to their patients or their specific challenges, she suggests. "Even if you take a few things, if your conversation uncovers another area of interest for which you have a publication, offer to bring it back to the physician another time," she says. The opportunity to go back, even if to deliver a publication, helps establish a relationship, she adds.

Whatever you take to the meeting, don't take a supply of patient brochures and expect the hospitalist to distribute them, warns Andrews. "The hospitalist does not have a long-term relationship with the patient and won't be seeing them in an office setting so they are less likely to hand out information for your agency," she says. "You want your meeting to focus on what you can do for the hospitalist, not what he or she can do for you."