The care business is tricky in many ways. Most of us can recall the days when all that mattered for a hospital was to be open and responsive. Many were not as customer responsive as we would have liked them to be but we all looked up to them as the community healers, far above our capacity to totally comprehend. Today things are different.
Changes such as the Affordable Care Act are penalizing hospital for premature or what the federal government calls unjustified re-admissions. Competition for the insured and cash-paying patient is strong with hospitals commanding the airways with large advertising budgets touting gains in research, availability of specialty physicians and the shortened time of emergency room visits. During these media buys the hospital looks pristine, devoted, humungous in some cases and committed. Many have invested into customer service programs and training to enure the approach to patient interaction from the retail vendors in the lobby to the nursing staff meets with the highest of possible standards. They want to ensure that everyone who encounters them leaves with a feeling of really being cared for.
You have to applaud them for adhering to one key principle: They have made themselves almost stately and have made an extra effort to show-off their competence.
Community based care providers including smaller assisted living programs and adult day care centers have not, in most cases adopted the same approach. Obviously things will be different as the owner of a 6-bed home or multiple 6-bed homes and a 60 participant adult day care center are not going to have the marketing budget of a hospital. Even with this reality there are still certain duties they must not ignore. These include:
- Planning from the embryonic stages of the business to have a reasonable cash cushion to allow the business to get a foot-hold in the neighborhood.
- Showcasing the home’s clinical competence by preparing well-written, colorful program explanations.
- Developing among the staff a basis for helping to keep new admissions medically stable within the community. This means the staff must be trained in how to manage insulin on a sliding scale, monitoring changes in glucose levels throughout the day, understanding a resident’s medications and monitoring for the affects of hypertension while utilizing techniques to prevent and/or manage the onset of pressure wounds.
- Marketing aggressively and strategically in order to keep the profile of the business high within your area of operation.
Strategic marketing is not necessarily complex and can be successfully executed internally. For example some rely exclusively on national referral services. These is nothing wrong with such relationships although many bristle at the 50% to 60% commission most demand of the first two, (2) months of residence. This does not have to be a deal-breaker when a resident stays with you for 24-30 months on average
At the same time a strategic thinker is always looking for ways to accomplish the same processes for which they rely upon others with the same effectiveness but for less money and with more internal control. For example, generally when a referral comes from one of these national agencies the prospective resident or client and their families live within a reasonable proximity of where you operate.
These prospective residents and their families attend nearby churches, belong to the rotary clubs, use local laundromats, shop at local stores, visit with local physicians, are patients in the local hospitals and skilled nursing centers. The strategic provider is reaching out to them directly by developing and managing a community based marketing and outreach initiative that complements the likelihood of referrals from these national placement services. Some even develop on-line radio shows and canvas the neighborhood for listeners. The result is you make people think about those individuals in their lives who may need your services. That is what effective marketing is all about, making people think.
Let’s face it a resident or client from our own efforts comes without the 50% to 60% commission. It can also prevent us from falling into the thinking of false expectations and/or entitlement that could be associated with receiving referrals from one source without reliance on self. Just keep self-reliance classy and consistent, remembering that passing out flyers comes across as tacky for a care business.
But here is where it gets dangerous. Far too many providers ignore the aforementioned principles for a variety of reasons and fall into financial ruin. Their approach to professionals whose work could complement their growth now becomes rooted in: “We’re at the end of the road, we may have to close, we need revenue now” so the marketing is rooted in desperation which quickly overshadows your being able to articulate your powerful claim to fame, namely: Clinical competence and accountable management of your care business. After seeking to convince someone of how desperate you are for a client and/or resident you spook them since many may not want to make a referral to a business that faces closure.
How likely is a new romantic relationship to prosper when one partner tells the other: “We really need to get together. I have not managed my life well, am not sure how to present myself and I’m really desperate. As a result I’m incredibly unstable and my future is unpredictable.” For most of us its not ideal. It does not work in business either.
Following the example of hospital marketing has value but when that marketing is rooted in a dialogue of desperation we shall not make many friends and even if we manage to survive we will likely not thrive.
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