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Many hospitals turn to professional advertising, marketing firms for help

Hospitals battle heavy competition for market share

Health care used to be something people just had. People saw their doctors and their doctors told them if they had to go into the hospital, and usually that hospital was the only game in town.

How times have changed. These days doctors specialize in everything from neurology to oncology, patients have Internet access and the wherewithal to go so far as to diagnose themselves, as well as access to a dozen or more hospitals in some cases.

So the fact that many hospitals now compete for the same patients is a relatively new phenomenon. And with so much information available today, hospitals want their voices to be heard — loud, clear and individually. They’re doing that by using the old technique of public relations, and relatively newer strategies, at least when it comes to health care, of marketing and advertising.

The idea of marketing in health care is nothing new for the Jackson-based GodwinGroup, which has been involved for about 20 years in health care marketing.

“It’s important for consumers to know that there’s a difference and a choice in their health care. Not all hospitals are created equal,” said Jeff Russell, executive vice president and director of account management with GodwinGroup. Russell has worked in the firm’s health care marketing division since 1985.

Russell, who works with several hospitals on marketing, including, among others, Baptist Health Systems in Jackson and Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg, said today’s health care environment is much more competitive than it was in the past. Now it’s not just about educating patients and providing a public service, but getting enough market share as well.

“It’s important to attract an adequate market share so new services can be offered,” he explained.

Ginger Cocke, director of corporate communications at Baptist Health Systems, said the mere fact that Baptist is one of five hospitals in metro Jackson, which include Central Mississippi Medical Center, River Oaks Hospital, St. Dominic Hospital, University of Mississippi Medical Center and Rankin Medical Center, is reason enough to tell the public what Baptist offers.

“We all basically offer the same types of services and many of us have the same types of physicians, so from a hospital standpoint we want people to know what makes us different,” Cocke said. “Of course, advertising and marketing is our best way to do that.”

Baptist uses every form of advertising — television, radio, print, direct mail and outdoor — and they do this in a 16-county service area. Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties are the hospital’s primary service area, and the secondary service area includes 13 surrounding counties.

Forrest General Hospital also uses every form of advertising, and it airs a weekly series on a local television station called FHG On Call, which features a physician on a health care topic.

“The reason I think marketing and public relations have become so important in health care over the years is because, through those forms of communication, hospitals are better able to let others know what they provide and how what they provide can benefit patients,” said Millie Swan, director of physician and public relations at Forrest General.

Forrest General also faces some tough competition with Wesley Medical Center. But they also face competition from other markets, such as New Orleans, Houston and areas with larger, and in some cases better known hospitals.

“You hear all the time people saying ‘bigger is better,’ but that’s not necessarily the case,” Swan said. “Many times I think people don’t stop to see what services are right there available to them. Why uproot your family and go to another area for care? That can be added stress when you have to travel and find accommodations.”

Swan said teamwork in hospitals is important because, working together, doctors and other hospital staff members are better able to let people know that they’re there and that they offer the same services larger hospitals do.

“Health care has gotten so much more complex and we’re faced with so many different things,” Swan said. “But what I think we need to let people know is that we’re going to be here for you and take care of you and at the same time we’re going to take personal responsibility for your health.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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