Maximize time, resources to improve marketing

Strong relationship with partners is key

Hospices traditionally devote too few resources to developing marketing staff, so they need to find ways to maximize the available time and resources, an expert advises.

"How do they maximize their time and resources, because hospices don't have enough sales people to go around?" says Michael T. Ferris, managing principal of Home Care and Hospice Marketing Solutions in Chapel Hill, NC.

One way to make the best of use of available marketing opportunities is to outline all of the ways in which a hospice organization can tell its story in the community, Ferris suggests. This would include having various managers and other staff give speeches to community organizations, including senior centers and civic clubs, he adds. "We have to make sure that what we're doing is done to the maximum advantage," Ferris says.

Develop strong relationships

The primary key to improving a hospice's marketing efforts is to develop very strong relationships and partnerships with referral sources, Ferris says. "We've got to constantly look at ways to get referral sources to expand their use of hospice resources so that we're reaching and touching more individuals with our services," Ferris explains. "The more that we can work with our referral partners to keep a balanced flow of cases coming into the organization, the better we're going to be. This is not only to manage whatever payment rates are, but also, ultimately, to be able to best fulfill the mission of hospice globally."

For example, a hospice should start a marketing improvement project by stepping back and identifying who in the organization is conversing with the community about the hospice program, Ferris advises. Then ask these questions:

  • Are they sufficiently trained to be able to maximize those interactions? If not, the hospice should provide the training or send the staff to hospice workshops of marketing training, including the marketing courses sponsored by the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) of Alexandria, VA.
  • Do they have good account management skills, such as keeping an Excel spreadsheet of current referral sources and the number of referrals made by each in a given quarter?
  • Are they constantly working to expand the referral partners' knowledge of hospice by leaving the hospice's brochure with doctors' office staff and mentioning specific pain management services to oncology physicians?
  • Are they working to help the referral partners expand their thinking about which types of patients are suitable for hospice services? For example, do they check with clinical hospital and physician office staff to see whether there are Alzheimer's disease patients, kidney transplant patients, and other patients with chronic diseases who are at the end stages of their diseases and could benefit from hospice and palliative services?

"I think one of the greatest opportunities for hospices today and one of our greatest obligations is to increase the number of people who would be appropriate for hospice," Ferris says.

But first these people and their health care providers need to know that hospice exists and what kind of services are provided under the hospice benefit, and they need to be referred to hospice within a timely fashion, Ferris adds. "So we have to look at who it is we have out there telling the story," he says. "And we need to make sure they're trained and supported, so they have effective interactions and are able to increase on a regular basis the yield of those marketing activities."

Competitors are increasing

Accentuating a particular hospice's differences is especially important for hospices that are older and accustomed to a noncompetitive environment, he notes. "What we've seen in market after market is the number of competitors that come in are increasing, and they're chipping away at some of these relationships an older hospice had with the community," Ferris says.

This means that no hospice can be complacent and expect patients to continue to come to them without renewed marketing efforts. "Are we effectively reporting why we should be the logical choice for referrals in each of the markets, including skilled nursing facilities and other referral partners?" Ferris says.

For example, hospices could show how the hospice Medicare benefit in a nursing facility could complement the skilled nursing facility benefit by providing hospice nursing visits, volunteer, and chaplain visits. All of these hospice services will raise a patient's satisfaction level, which has an indirect benefit to the nursing home as well.

Hospices who closely evaluate their marketing efforts and staff education/preparation for marketing hospice will be in a much better position to compete for hospice referrals in coming years. This process is ongoing, Ferris says. "Develop a plan in the coming year or two that will improve any of those elements once you've determined what your strengths are," Ferris says. "Maximize the benefits of your strengths."