Editor's Page: Hospital or Hospitality?
Direct-to-patient marketing might not be such a bad idea nowadays.
Dan O'Connor, Editor-in-Chief
We've long preached to you in our pages a seemingly contradictory truth: Your surgeons are your primary customers, not your patients. That's difficult for some nurses to accept, but the fact of the matter is that surgeons sit alone atop the surgical food chain. They control where patients go for surgery. You might run the best ORs, have the greatest staff and the latest equipment, but they'll all collect dust if surgeons don't book cases at your facility.
So you can imagine our surprise when we saw a TV spot for a local hospital's joint replacement program (tinyurl.com/mr6kcbm) that's aimed squarely at prospective patients. The Total Joint Center at Springfield (Pa.) Hospital bills itself as "the hospitable hospital." The message is this: If you need hip or knee replacement surgery, why not make going in for artificial body parts as comfortable as it can be? Why not have it at a place that has private, newly updated rooms, contemporary hardwood floors and subdued ambient lighting, plush robes and room-service menus that you'll enjoy on fine china, crystal glasses and real silverware, a pull-out bed for your family member or support person to stay with you overnight, flat-screen TVs and Wi-Fi Internet access?
"While providing a high level of care is our top priority, we also recognize that little conveniences and comforts can make a big difference," the commercials say.
Good outcomes. Nice amenities. It's working.
In the 9 months since the joint replacement program's launch, about 150 patients have been treated. "We're ahead of budget," says Frank Giammattei, MD, chief of orthopedic surgery at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. "We've done very, very well with patient-reported outcomes about their experience.
"When we designed the program, the philosophy was completely centered around patients and their families," he adds. "From the minute patients say, 'Yes, I'm going to have a knee or hip replaced,' we wanted [our program] to be as friendly to patients and their families as was humanly possible. One of the ways we thought we could set ourselves apart from the rest was amenities without sacrificing quality and outcomes."
We asked Dr. Giammattei about the thinking behind direct-to-patient marketing.
"We wanted to get a buzz in the community," he says. "I think previously people thought of joint replacement surgery as the hour you spend in the operating room with the surgeon. But it's much more than that. It's a flow from the day you make the decision to the day you feel fully rehabilitated."
Dr. Giammattei also mentions that the first person a prospective patient meets at the Total Joint Center is not her surgeon, but a dedicated navigator who'll facilitate the process and help schedule appointments. So maybe the pecking order is changing slightly, surgeons not as all-powerful as before. And maybe surgeons are watching the TV spots, too.