Patients and families often don’t recognize the distinctions among the hospices in their communities, which complicates providers’ efforts to differentiate themselves from competitors. Some hospices are reorienting marketing strategies to maximize consumer awareness and encourage patients to proactively discuss end-of-life options with their current providers.
These findings appear in a recent report from senior care market research and consulting firm Transcend Strategy Group. The Toledo, Ohio-based firm analyzed more than 25,000 family health care decision makers in 40 US markets.
These results suggest that hospices can benefit from pursuing direct-to-consumer marketing in addition to the traditional focus on referral partners, according to Stan Massey, partner and chief strategy officer for Transcend Strategy Group.
“This is a largely untapped audience that really hasn’t been focused on by providers,” Massey told Hospice News. “We have seen with certainty that when you really focus on this audience you see not only increased referrals, but they tend to come forward and ask for help sooner. So it significantly impacts length of stay.”
The message that patients can “ask for help” is a key point for providers to get across to consumers, the Transcend research found. Among the survey respondents, 95% indicated that they expected their physicians to initiate those conversations.
Providers can incorporate this messaging into their consumer outreach, taking an educational approach. This includes offering patients and families more clarity on the services and benefits hospices provide and whom they should contact for more information.
Case in point, about 53% of respondents the Transcend survey indicated that they did not know who they would consider to be experts in hospice care. About 31% selected hospice providers themselves as a source of that expertise.
The goal is to encourage a “self-referral” for hospice-appropriate patients, Transcend’s Insights and Brand Strategy Lead, Dave Hochanadel, told Hospice News. This has the potential to not only increase referrals but to create opportunities for collaboration between the hospice and the patient’s other providers.
“The main thing is getting the family health care decision maker to enact the engagement. They are reaching out directly to the provider,” Hochanadel said. “Absolutely, they have to get the certification from two physicians. But by having the patient or family member initiate the conversation, the hospice provider typically has their medical director involved as one of those two physicians.”
A lack of awareness or understanding of their services has been a challenge for hospice providers since the benefit was established. Many believe that hospice solely occurs in the patients last few days of life or that it hastens death.
Hospices should couple general education about the service with information about what makes their organization unique, according to Massey. This can involve sharing quality data or indicators of patient outcomes and family satisfaction in an accessible manner.
“We need to educate consumers on the real, full benefits of hospice care because they don’t understand it. They’re mainly focused on the misperceptions,” Massey said. “The key for individual providers is to not only provide that overall education but to link that knowledge to their specific brand. Then they’re not spending their marketing dollars to educate for their competitors as well.”