NEWS FLASH: The most important social network for your hospital isn’t online. It’s in your community.

It’s the weekly coffee klatsches and happy hours (in-person and virtual) where neighbors are coming together and commiserating with one another over their health experiences. It’s around the Sunday dinner tables where relatives are sharing stories they’ve heard from friends about how rude the scheduler at their primary care office was, or how their PCP went out of their way to make them feel comfortable at a vulnerable time. It’s the real human connections happening all around you—and they have a serious impact on how you are perceived and trusted.

One of the most efficient tactics in getting to know your patients’ lived experience is by taking a deeper look into the needs of the community you serve. To our chagrin, we often forget that patients are people, and their health is an important topic throughout the community. Your community is often an untapped resource for much needed context in completing the picture that is patient experience and rooting out implicit consumer concerns that may be hiding beneath the surface. If your brand’s messaging is out of sync with consumer experience, you may be creating negative perceptions of your brand, or at the very least, apprehension about their quality of care, and at risk of losing their trust in your services.

So how can your hospital ensure patient experience aligns with brand messaging so that it doesn’t come up short? This is a major incentive to conduct research.

Leveraging Qualitative Research Methods to Tap into Local Perceptions

When creating brand identity for companies, a lot of research is conducted by talking. Talking internally, brainstorming, and figuring out the personality of your brand—but research shouldn’t stop there. Once your brand is launched, it is inextricably linked to the experience of your consumers. 

Once that shift occurs, your patients now own the meaning of your brand. Ongoing research captures patient attitudes and behaviors as they evolve over time. These regular efforts to connect with and listen to the needs and concerns of your patients keep your finger on the pulse of your brand.

Blending qualitative research techniques into your approach allows you to capitalize on the valuable snapshot of consumer attitudes and opinions identified by your quantitative survey results. It takes more than short, digital survey results to capture full picture insights, and a qualitative approach is more contextual in nature (see our last blog [LINK])—often uncovering unseen problem areas leading to a deeper understanding behind the sentiments expressed by your patients.

Capturing Patient Insights Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated.

Don’t overthink how to gather insights. Research comes in many forms, such as your digital surveys, quick follow-up phone calls, and ethnographic interviews, but can also be as simple as having conversations. 

There are a number of ways to keep a finger on the pulse of your community and align your hospital’s messaging. Conversation and listening whenever possible are key to giving your market research data the voice of your patients. Starting inside the four walls of the hospital, one simple way of gathering insights could be by taking a stroll to the cafeteria or waiting room and having lunch or conversations with patients and other key stakeholders. 

Another way is to follow-up with a 5-minute phone call after reviewing the results of your patient satisfaction surveys; patients appreciate follow-ups, it shows them that you care and are addressing their explicit concern with definitive action. At the very least, you can make it known you are listening, and that you are quickly working on a solution to better their experience. As much as consumers want to be on the receiving end of crystal-clear communication from their provider, they are also eager to provide their own feedback when given the opportunity. 

If time or resource restraints don’t allow for follow-up phone calls, you could conduct quarterly focus groups or extended one-on-one interviews. The invaluable insights gained from this consistent research and listening will improve your digital surveys, identify consumer patterns, and keep you in touch with their attitudes and opinions as they change over time.

An outside-the-box, but powerful way to contextualize your research approach and ultimately to better align your brand’s messaging with its consumer’s values is to design focus groups so that they resemble social gatherings. ‘Healthcare social networking parties’ can be organized by identifying an individual and incentivizing them to invite a close group of friends for an evening of discussing, sharing, and learning. 

An Important Final Note on Listening

Health is close to heart, and you should always pay keen attention to the language patients use when discussing topics important to them—your language as a marketer might differ from the way consumers talk about the same concepts. 

Using a keen ear and eye to identify patient needs—the needs of your community—will aid you in expanding or maintaining relevant service lines, doctors, specialists, accessibility, innovation, and technology as your community and brand grows.

Community-based marketing—more contextualized understanding—and a mixed-methods research approach helps healthcare marketers craft more effective and articulate messaging, determine the most effective means to communicate that message, and align with core consumer values in a way that maximizes your brand positioning for more impact. Tap into your community and use the insights as an accelerant for your marketing strategy.

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