A brand new day for hospitals and health systems

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New landscape, new challenges

When the Supreme Court upheld most of the Affordable Care Act last week, it was generally seen as a net positive for hospitals. With more than 30 million more insured Americans entering the marketplace, hospitals are likely to see gains in patients as well as the bottom-line.

Although hospital stocks jumped following the ruling, they’re far from being able to sit back and enjoy the added revenue. In addition to cost pressures and looming Medicare cuts, there is an arms race for patients. Last week’s landmark decision on health care reform will make it more important than ever for hospitals to deliver a consistently outstanding patient experience that aligns with their brand.

Everything matters

Starting this Fall, through the new Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program, Medicare reimbursements will take into account patient satisfaction scores. These scores reflect not only the quality of care delivered, but the entire patient experience from the attitude of the nurses to the comfort of the environment to the food.

Readmission rates will also be considered for reimbursement starting in 2013, meaning the patient experience is no longer confined to their stay at the hospital. Hospitals now need to align the entire patient journey with the brand promise, starting before the patient steps in the door through providing easy follow-ups and clear discharge information.

Patient or consumer?

We have already seen increased consumerism in healthcare, and the trend is likely to gain momentum as both providers and insurers become more transparent.

The cost of routine procedures is still largely unknown to patients (costs of some procedures can vary by 100-fold). But that may change in the near future with the requirement that hospitals disclose their prices for common services by 2014.

Insurers will become more transparent as well, as the mandate will likely lead to establishment of health insurance exchanges to help patients choose their coverage.

As patients become increasingly informed and empowered, brands will play a bigger role in their decision making. Providers and insurers will benefit from thinking about patients as consumers and taking some lessons from other industries like retail, hospitality or even e-commerce, that place an emphasis on the customer experience.

Is bigger better?

In this new era, the imperative to improve care at a lower cost has resulted in continued consolidation. Hospitals are merging and acquiring physician practices, and there will likely be a significant uptick in the creation of Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). While this creates some scale efficiencies, it can also lead to an inconsistent experience that can undermine the hospital brand.

As hospitals and health systems navigate a transformed health care landscape, following are three brand imperatives:

1. Keep it simple.
Our 2011 Global Brand Simplicity Index ranked the insurance industry the least simple. While we didn’t look at hospital brands, it’s not hard to imagine that most would not fare well. There’s vast room for improvement here and the brands that can innovate and simplify processes will likely see both increased demand and cost savings.

2. Integrate smart.
In a time of rapid integration, brands need to consider how the merged or acquired organizations will come together. How do esteemed institutions like the Mayo Clinic or Johns Hopkins ensure a consistent experience that lives up to their brand promise across hundreds of practices in their systems? How will patients, employees and staff perceive and experience the joint entity? How will potentially different cultures come together?

3. Sweat the small stuff.
Not every hospital has the means to build a VIP wing like New York-Presbyterian’s Greenberg 14 South, and for city hospitals, space constraints are a way of life. But small changes like having clear name tags, intuitive billing and ease of navigation can make a big difference in the patient experience.

With the new measures in place, it’s not going to be about what you say, but about what you do.

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