View from the Bridge

Revitalizing Healthcare: Shaping Perceptions, Restoring Trust

At a recent healthcare conference attended by leaders from healthcare systems representing more than 19% of the total of 6,120 US hospitals, there were several presentations and many side conversations about the state of consumer satisfaction.  An Ipsos survey published on February 27, 2024, was consistent with concerns expressed.  Ipsos reported, “When thinking about the healthcare system generally, Americans have a more pessimistic view:

  • Only one in three Americans (32%) are extremely or very satisfied with the U.S. healthcare system.
  • Three in five Americans say the healthcare system is a hassle (61%) and that navigating it is stressful (63%).
  • More than half of Americans say the system treats them more like a number than a person (53%).
  • Only 39% say that the healthcare system is working in the patient’s best interest.”

During side conversations and presentations, attendees agreed these numbers are a call to action – now.  Members of not-for-profit (NFP) health systems must respond to surveys that show declining satisfaction and media stories that focus on patient and family dissatisfaction rather than the community benefits[i].  If silent, health systems will suffer, caregivers whose morale is already low will suffer even more burnout, and care will deteriorate.  We must control the narrative.  We must message the good we’re achieving while acknowledging the challenges and taking corrective actions.  We must improve morale, reinstill pride, restore trust, and deliver on all elements of the Quintuple Aim[ii].  We must develop a shareable national marketing strategy.

Where do we start?  Branding, messaging, and education are crucial components of any successful marketing strategy, but their importance can vary depending on the context and goals of a particular campaign or initiative.  Design and operationalization of a strategic marketing plan should consider the needs of patients, families, consumers, care providers, payers, and other community partners.  Here’s how to think about the components:

  1. Branding establishes identity and sets the foundation for how a system provider is perceived by its stakeholders.  It should encompass visual elements like logos, colors, and design, as well as intangible aspects like mission, vision, values, and culture.  Consistent branding helps stakeholders recognize and remember a system brand, which is essential for effective messaging and education efforts.

    Beware, however, of potential negative impacts when spending a lot of capital promoting the brand, e.g., using sports events to promote brands.  Branding at such events is expensive and may give critics the opportunity to talk about “frivolous” use of the monies paid for services by patients and families.  Could the branding money be spent on expanding essential services or increasing staffing?

  2. Messaging communicates the value proposition including access, outcomes, and elements that contribute to overall satisfaction with the system components and unique capabilities.  Effective messaging aligns with brand identity and should resonate with target audiences, helping to differentiate the system from competitors and create “stickiness”, i.e., emotional connections with stakeholders.Think of the patients and families as consumers.

    Gather and share stories and anecdotes with emotional impact.  We are changing, saving, and extending lives – there’s value to that.  Don’t neglect the policy makers and regulators.  They’re enacting policies that have an impact that don’t necessarily increase value.  Educate them.  Invite them to visit your facilities, to walk the halls, and visit the homes where care is delivered.  Show them the dedicated staff and their families that sacrifice so much for the benefit of patients and the patient’s families.  Remind them about the collaborative effort during COVID that had communities banging pans, lining hospital exits, singing and in so many other ways expressing gratitude to healthcare workers.

  3. Provide trusted information and resources to help educate stakeholders. To understand the system’s services, participants in care should partner with each other to make the patient and family journey more effective, efficient, equitable, satisfying, and affordable.

    For patients and families in particular, education must take various forms, such as one-on-one counseling during hospital admissions and clinic visits, public lectures, public service announcements, web content, meaningful social media, tutorials, videos, FAQs, and/or webinars.  Meet patients and families where they live and work using language they understand.  Create clear, informative, and engaging educational content that reinforces the messaging that strengthens the brand’s credibility and builds trust – essential to an effective, sustainable relationship.

    Arthur Page said it well, “The fundamental way of getting public approval is to deserve it.”  You must, however, educate the public about all that you’re doing, not to them, but for them.

  4. Listen, learn, and lead[iii]Aggressive listening and seeking feedback improve strategy.  Create a feedback loop to test for efficacy of branding and messaging strategies.  By monitoring stakeholder interactions with educational content, systems can gain insights into stakeholder preferences, pain points, and areas where messaging or branding may need adjustment.  A feedback loop enables continuous improvement and refinement of the overall marketing strategy.

In summary, branding, messaging, and education are interconnected elements that work together to shape stakeholder perceptions, drive engagement, and build brand loyalty.  By aligning these efforts and maintaining consistency across all touchpoints, systems can create a cohesive brand experience that resonates with all the stakeholders and fosters long-term trusting relationships.  Health systems must take charge of the narrative – now.


[i] NFP hospitals must demonstrate “community benefit” which means focusing on medical treatment AND supporting, leading, and funding other major activities all aimed at making their communities healthier and happier – giving back to the people they serve.

[ii] The Quintuple Aim focuses on health equity, stakeholder satisfaction, pursuit of better population health, improved outcomes, at lower costs.  Together, attainment of the Quintuple Aims results in societal and economic well-being.

[iii] This is the theme used by the Scottsdale Institute at its 2024 annual conference.

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