Budget marketing can pay off, too

Don’t have funds to hire an outside marketing consultant?

Tim Riley, manager of business development for Columbia Homecare MetroWest, a home health agency in Framingham, MA, has found some quick, easy — and inexpensive — ways to reach referring physicians at Columbia Methodist Medical Center, a 484-bed facility 20 miles from Boston.

Whenever his agency has changes in one of its programs, or adds a new one, his office fires off a one-page bulletin to doctors within the hospital system.

The bulletin announces the change quickly and succinctly. "It doesn’t have to be fancy," says Riley. "We bullet [the highlights] and get it out to them."

One must always be mindful of the doctor’s time constraints, Riley advises. "A doctor only has so much time."

Keep it brief

With that in mind, he developed a physician satisfaction survey that is brief but valuable for the information about home care it gathers for the agency. Questions are designed so the office manager can answer them if the doctor is too busy.

Riley says some of the survey questions are:

• Did the agency’s service make a difference in what the doctor requested as treatment for his patient?

• If there was a change in the patient’s status, was information relayed to the doctor in a timely fashion?

• Did our service help patients achieve doctors’ treatment goals?

• Is there any new technology or service you would like us to offer to help you meet treatment goals?

"We tailored it so the office manager can answer it. They are the point people. We talk to the office manager in our survey. And they can call us, too, even on Saturdays," says Riley.

David Baker, director of Home Care Services at Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis Health System in Peoria, IL, likes the concept of liaison nurses for spreading the word.

"They can educate doctors, discharge planners, case managers, and others about home care."

Baker credits liaison nurses with doubling the hospital referrals to his agency over a period of about a year. "They grew our business," he says. "We went from about 3 or 4% referrals to 6 to 8%."

Knowledge is power

Providing employees with full information about agency services is one of the surest ways to reach new customers, home care marketing consultant Karen Carney of Andover, MA, points out. Carney publishes The Home Advantage marketing newsletter.

"Think about the number of encounters your staff has with potential referral sources. Arm your staff with information, so they can say ‘What do you want to know?’ You get feedback to help you respond to your customers."

That advice works as well on patient customers as it can on doctors. Riley is in the process of developing a program that will teach employees at Columbia Homecare that marketing begins at home — the patient’s home. Though it is still in the planning stages, customer service training will be his agency’s next big marketing initiative.

Basic concepts

Riley’s goal is to have every employee, including nurses, billing clerks, receptionists, schedule makers, and secretaries know how to help a customer.

"When a secretary gets a call from a patient who complains, ‘My nurse isn’t on time,’ the secretary should take the call and find out who the nurse is and why she isn’t there," says Riley. That secretary must realize that that is the most important call she’ll take all day."

Riley plans to hold inservice training classes, expected to begin late in the first quarter of 1997. He says the classes will emphasize cross training, meaning that a nurse, secretary, and someone from the billing department will attend the class together.

"We want them there together," he explains. "If a nurse does something wrong, it can affect billing too. We want our staff — each nurse, physical therapist, and aide — to be a salesman for the organization."

Riley hopes to foster in the staff a willingness to listen to patients and their concerns. "We have to look at ourselves from the customer’s point of view."