Westchester Hospitals’ Marketing War

How county hospitals compete for your healthcare dollars.

You feel a stabbing pain in your chest or a loved one has been injured. Any ambulance you call will likely take you to the designated ER in its catchment area—no substitutions. Yet most patients come into Westchester’s acute-care facilities on their own (as do hospitals’ outpatient-therapy and elective-procedure clients), so the choice of where to go is usually yours. 

You could simply drive to the nearest hospital emergency room. Or select the hospital at which your primary-care physician has privileges, or the one your health insurance network prefers for financial reasons. Or  you might go to the hospital you consider most expert/most innovative/most caring for your medical need. The latter is the one many Westchester hospitals are banking their advertising dollars on.

Local healthcare providers are engaged in a competitive marketing fight to shape consumers’ perception of which hospital is best for treating their specific medical concerns. As Obamacare changes the face of healthcare and economic forces compel local hospitals to consolidate or affiliate with larger institutions (see “Healthcare in Upheaval” in our Q1 2014 issue), they are casting wide nets through both traditional and new media to raise awareness about their services.

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You’ve read their full-page branding ads in local print media, and you’ve likely seen those hospital-patient success stories planted on local TV news stations by medical institutions’ ongoing media-relations campaigns. Now, Google a treatable ailment in Westchester and near the top of the results page, you’re likely to find links to area hospitals’ websites, thanks to savvy search-engine optimization and paid listings. And if you’re on Facebook or Twitter, you’ve also undoubtedly seen the efforts of  local hospitals’ social-media outreach.

Marketing Care

“We all use a variety of media: print, radio, cable TV advertising, brochures, publications, and new media. We have to so we can reach any potential patient,” says Victoria Hochman, marketing director for Hudson Valley Hospital Center in Cortlandt Manor. 

Recently, some of the hospital’s print efforts gained national recognition at the 31st annual Healthcare Advertising Awards competition organized by trade publication Healthcare Marketing Report, which drew some 3,700 entries in all categories. Hudson Valley Hospital Center won a Gold and a Merit Award for its “Our World is Cancer” brochures, publicizing the new Cheryl R. Lindenbaum Cancer Center. The campaign’s striking stylized logo of four brightly colored hands forming a globe of embracing care was used in print ads and outdoor signs. 

The campaign, developed with creative agency jodyandiane Creative Communications in New Rochelle, warmly crystalizes the idea of a comprehensive cancer center dealing with all treatment issues in one place—nearby. “People diagnosed with cancer immediately think ‘I have to go to New York City for proper treatment,’” Hochman remarks, “but we’re saying you can be treated closer to home.” Fending off the lure of glitzy Manhattan hospitals (and close-by Greenwich Hospital, which draws half its patients from Westchester) constitutes one of the fundamentals of hospital marketing in the county. 

“What we use most in our marketing is the idea of quality,” Hochman explains. It also helps to have a distinctive offering. For prospective emergency patients, the hospital can boast a “no-wait” emergency room (the first in the region), where patients are quickly taken to treatment areas. “We’ve run a lot of ads for our no-wait emergency room. That draws people,” she says.

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Medical Marketing

In-person events raise potential patients’ awareness of  health issues—and the sponsoring hospital. 

Touting the latest technologies and procedures is a mainstay of hospital marketing.

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Depicting cancer care in a warm, welcoming manner, Hudson Valley Hospital Center’s brochure has won national accolades. 

The latest improvements in hospital care and medical procedures are a mainstay of healthcare messaging. “Our marketing focuses on our differentiating factors,” says Mary Sernatinger, director of marketing/communications at Sleepy Hollow’s Phelps Memorial Hospital Center. “The latest technology or a physician whose technique improves on a traditional method can be the basis of a successful promotion.”

Recently, a Phelps orthopedic surgeon introduced the region to anterior-approach hip replacement, an advance that lessens cutting and sawing in mobility-restoring operations—appreciably diminishing pain and length of stay. “We are able to promote our anterior-approach hip replacement team as the first and most experienced in Westchester,” notes Sernatinger. “In all our advertising, we tell a story: Someone had a problem and we helped them get better.” 

Phelps’ marketing is the product of a long-term campaign, developed with Hells Kitchen Advertising Agency on Manhattan’s West Side. Out of this collaboration came Phelps’ variation on local-care branding: “Get Better. Here.” Its ads in area magazines and newspapers often display a humorous edge (a rarity among local hospitals), playing on the theme of “New Legends of Sleepy Hollow.” In a recent survey by the ad agency, consumers had the highest recall of Phelps’ advertising among Westchester hospitals. “Typically, that translates to greater interest in our hospital and our website,” adds Sernatinger, “and that leads to new business.” Phelps also uses a media-relations firm, Katonah-based The Gold Standard, to communicate with the press and help manage its Facebook page and Twitter feeds. 

Westchester hospitals are all flexing their marketing muscles with robust websites and dynamic social-media approaches. It’s not just about staying current. “Traditional media is helpful in creating awareness, but is one-sided. Engaging in dialogue with patients [through social media] builds trust and earns respect,” says Mark Vincent, vice president of marketing and service line development at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco. “New media is a much better forum for creating this dialogue in a highly transparent manner.”

Hospital Paperwork

For all their outreach through digital media, local healthcare institutions still invest significant resources to produce their own magazine-style publications, mailing high-quality paper issues to tens of thousands of former and potential patients on a complimentary basis. Our area’s hospitals (close to a dozen) put out at least one print title each, making healthcare the most active print-publishing sector in Westchester. 

Some of their magazines are essentially well-designed newsletters, like Hudson Valley Hospital Center’s Healthy Living Magazine, a thrice-yearly eight-page marketing and informational piece sent to 80,000 local residents—produced with the help of a content-marketing firm. Phelps Today provides a heftier full-color educational and promotional package three or four times a year to as many as 100,000 local households. Written by the hospital’s marketing staff, its design is by Stamford, Connecticut-based PCI Creative Group LLC. Slickest and largest of the lot is Westchester Health & Life, a glossy wellness magazine full of lifestyle ads, co-branded by Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla and regional magazine publisher Wainscot Media of Montvale, New Jersey. 

Lifeline, a six-page quarterly newsletter created in-house by Bronxville’s Lawrence Hospital Center (with the help of a layout consultant) and sent quarterly to 33,000 addresses, provides appreciable results, says Tracy Conte, vice president of marketing and development at Lawrence. The hospital also publishes a second newsletter, The Joint Connection, focusing on its orthopedics and sports-medicine program, for 15,000 residents. The payoff comes with highly visible referrals: “People walk in holding the newsletters in their hands,” Conte says.

Within their printed pages and online, local hospitals also devote ample space to event calendars, listing upcoming community programs they sponsor. Health-themed events,  including talks, screenings, support groups, volunteer activities and more, help raise consumer awareness of important medical problems—and also of the sponsoring healthcare institution. 

“Community service is part of our mission,” says Hudson Valley Hospital Center’s Hochman. “We’re required by New York State to have a community-service plan to deal with health issues in our area.” Along with the usual events, for instance, her hospital runs its own home-grown “Harvest for Health” program to promote healthy nutrition. The program includes classes in the hospital’s Chef Peter X. Kelly Teaching Kitchen; an organic garden; an on-premises farmers’ market; and locavore food services for patients. Hospital-led community events will likely play an even greater role in the wake of Obamacare. Patients’ good impressions will count more than ever because of the “pay-for-performance” aspect of the new healthcare regulation. “Under The Affordable Care Act, hospital reimbursements are driven by [metrics that track] quality of outcomes and patient satisfaction,” Hochman observes. 

Merger, She Wrote 

Even without the Obamacare impact, area hospitals would be facing a huge marketing realignment, with many morphing from community institutions into divisions of regional medical conglomerates. In the last year alone, Bronx-based Montefiore Health System has purchased two bankrupt Westchester hospitals—Sound Shore Medical Center in New Rochelle and Mount Vernon Hospital—and has become affiliated with White Plains Hospital. Coordinating marketing messaging for these hospitals is sure to be a top priority at Montefiore.       

Phelps Memorial Hospital Center recently announced its intent to explore a partnership with the North Shore-LIJ Health System on Long Island—self-touted as “the largest private employer in New York State.” And in Bronxville, Lawrence Hospital Center’s merger with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital of Upper Manhattan launched the rebranding of the 105-year-old healthcare institution as NewYork-Presbyterian/Lawrence Hospital. “We’ll continue to serve as an acute care facility for Lower Westchester,” assures Tracy Conte. “Access to the quality care at New York Presbyterian is a win-win for the residents of Westchester. The high-level branding will lend credibility to our institution.” 

The intent of these mergers and affiliations is to provide cost-effective, high-quality care, but its a new(ish) trend in the county, so the jury is still out. As is the impact of all this merger activity on marketing efforts. A few years ago, county hospital marketing wars focused on the improved outcomes of easy-to-advertise robotic surgery systems; medical researchers later determine that outcomes were no better than in minimally invasive surgery done by hand. 

Only the industry’s marketing minds can be sure what the next big trend will be. Meanwhile, faced with picking a hospital for emergency or elective care, your response to local marketing may be decisive. “Distance is a factor in choosing where to go, until something else influences your decision,” says Conte. That something could well be the right impression conveyed through the right medium at the right time.

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