How to Map Your True Hospital Marketing Area
Do you know your hospital marketing area?
This answer is a foundational element for any strategic healthcare marketing plan. The scope and shape of your marketing area determines what marketing strategies and tactics make sense when trying to increase hospital’s patient volume.
You need to build hospital marketing area maps.
One of the ‘rules’ about marketing is that it’s usually more cost effective to increase frequency among existing customers than it is to attract entirely new ones. Although pure consumer selection does drive volume for some services, physician recommendations drive a greater share of volume for non-emergency inpatient admissions and outpatient procedures. (For today’s purpose, we will focus on ‘decision simplicity,’ physicians as customers and referral patterns, and tackle how to leverage pure consumer preference in another article).
The purpose of creating maps is to create a common, objective understanding of your primary and secondary marketing area. The size and shape will be determined by the distribution of your physician network, economic circumstances in different areas, competitor locations and expertise, traffic flow barriers and travel time.
After all, most healthcare is local. By understanding the size and shape of your marketing area, you can evaluate marketing and business development tactics with an eye toward impacting physicians and consumers.
Additionally, hospital marketing area maps are a great visual tool to use when explaining your marketing strategy and tactics to administration and medical leadership.
The first step is to work with your finance, strategic planning or business development departments to pull the information needed to generate your maps. Include 12 months of admissions/procedures to allow for seasonality and service lines that have a long lead time. Keep in mind these data pulls can take a while to fulfill, so submit your requests early in the strategic marketing process while developing messaging and proof points on a parallel path.
Slices to Consider in Your Hospital Marketing Area Map
1. All Patient Home Addresses/All Services
When working with patient information, HIPAA compliance is essential. The goal of patient origin mapping is to visualize patterns while preserving the anonymity of each ‘dot.’ (See tips at end.) The areas with the highest density of dots represent your primary hospital marketing area. Your marketing investment would extend beyond this core area when:
- You are opening new satellite facilities near the edges or outside of your primary area.
- Your competition has experienced substantial negative change in reputation, medical leadership or scope of services.
- Your media options are scalable and are more cost-efficient than geographically targeted tactics.
- You need to make a high-impact statement to raise top-line awareness, improve your hospital’s reputation, re-launch a brand, or attract and retain highly covered clinical leaders.
- You are marketing a specialized service line where there’s greater willingness to travel.
2. Patient Home Addresses by Key Service Line
The more significant a diagnosis or procedure, the more likely it is the specialist will express a preference about where it would it should be performed, and the more likely a consumer will travel further for it. This is usually the secondary service area captured on your map. The dot density will be less, but the commercial or Medicare reimbursement may be very attractive.
To visualize your secondary service area by service line, you will need to define the CPT (Current Procedural Terminology) codes to include in the request you provide to finance or strategic planning. CPT codes are standardized and used in billing/claims processing to indicate the services rendered. The key is determining which CPT codes to include or exclude to get an accurate picture of just that service line’s market area for higher margin procedures. For example, in the case of an orthopedic service line, you may wish to exclude related services like physical therapy or lab tests and focus more narrowly on knee replacement surgical patients. You can get a 14-day free trail of a tool to identify CPT codes from the AAPC to help.
3. Addresses of Specialists/Surgeons by Service Line
Non-emergency specialist patients arrive in one of two ways: a referral from a PCP (Primary Care Physician) to that specialist, or a direct-referral where a consumer makes an appointment with the specialist without a gatekeeper. Let’s say you have shoulder pain, you may see your PCP who will order X-rays or other tests, provide a preliminary diagnosis and refer you to a specialist who will review the results and discuss options. Or if you have PPO/self-pay coverage, you may decide to go directly to an orthopedic specialist you’ve looked up online. In both cases the specialist will make a recommendation for the procedure and facility. By mapping specialist locations and comparing it to the patient map for the same service line, you’ll see if there are areas where you could geographically zone your marketing tactics and be able to assess the feasibility of certain business development tactics to stimulate more activity from those specialists.
4. Addresses of Primary Care Practices From Affiliated Medical Groups/Foundations
PCPs are the beginning of your service line patient funnel. Typically, a PCP will refer to specialists within the same medical group network as the PCP. It’s in your best interest for PCP practices to grow and see a high volume of general patients. Some percentage of those patients will need service line procedures over time. Laws on the relationship between physicians and hospitals vary by state, so be sure you understand those regulations when developing your provider directory. In many cases you will need to include PCPs who are not exclusive to your affiliated medical groups. That’s OK. In this scenario, you help PCPs attract new patients while simultaneously creating networking opportunities between PCPs and your high-volume specialists to build relationships and referrals.
Now, a few tips to get you on your way:
Creating HIPAA-compliant patient maps
HIPAA compliant patient mapping is about ensuring a dot cannot be connected to a specific household. So even though you map based on an address, the resulting visual should be ‘zoomed out’ such that household level interpretations are not possible and the map’s data set is not linked to the visual. Delete the data file once the map is produced. And there’s a few other ‘fire walls’ to build in. When requesting data internally, do not accept anything other than the bare essentials needed for mapping (no names, apartment numbers, phone numbers, medical record numbers, diagnosis, etc.). Be sure the file name for the data is not ‘self-explanatory.’ Do not email the file outside your internal system, unless via secure email or secure FTP and only with entities covered by a Business Associates Agreement. Ideally, do all mapping internally and only send out the de-identified map visual for large format printing.
If your finance, strategic planning or business development groups do not have mapping software, there are various desktop packages you can download and use. Some of these have free trial periods: Maptitude, ArcGIS from ESRI, and Alteryx.
By seeing your true hospital marketing area, you can be a better, more strategic marketer.
Michael Crawford became interested in healthcare listening to the conversations around the patio table as his parents and their colleagues talked about work. For the past 30 years he's used his marketing expertise to help medical groups, hospitals and health systems connect with consumers, physicians, employers, brokers and health plans. He advocates for a strategic approach to marketing, audience-based communications, coordination between marketing and customer service functions, and early inclusion of the marketing discipline when planning services. His work has earned more than a dozen awards over the past few years. He’s no stranger to healthcare reorganizations or healthcare reform, from the failed effort during the 90s to the implementation of the ACA to today’s efforts at repeal. His blog, Healthcare Marketing Survival Guide, offers advice for B2C and B2B healthcare marketers trying to chart their course during uncertain times. Connect with him via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @health_crawford.