What physicians think of your hospital plays a key role in its U.S. News & World Report rankings. Content is a powerful tool to boost reputation as part of an overall physician engagement strategy.
It’s no secret that the hospital rankings landscape is crowded, with entities ranging from the federal government to Consumer Reports to the most venerable of them all, U.S. News & World Report, which has been ranking adult and pediatric hospitals since 1990.
Forget the debate—and it’s robust—over how much stock the healthcare industry and consumers should put in such rankings. The fact is, people pay attention to them, especially the U.S. News & World Report Best Hospital rankings. In 2016, Ben Harder, chief of health analysis at U.S. News & World Report, told the Chicago Tribune that his publication’s website received approximately 100,000 daily visitors in search of hospital and physician information.
A Matter of Reputation
Reputation score—as determined by physicians from a variety of specialties who vote in the U.S. News & World Report Best Hospital rankings surveys—is estimated to account for one quarter of a hospital’s overall ranking. While the methodology is frequently updated based and weighted heavily toward patient outcomes and safety, the reputation score is a significant factor in determining a hospital's overall ranking.
The roots of reputation’s role in influencing the Best Hospitals rankings run deep. For healthcare marketing professionals seeking to boost their organization’s rankings, moving the needle on reputation represents a challenge and an opportunity. You have the power to shape your hospital’s reputation through the content you deliver to physicians, as the reputation score is based largely on a survey of physicians within each of the 16 adult and 10 pediatric specialty categories.
In a way, your hospital’s reputation is only as good as your content.
How and when should you communicate with physicians, and what sorts of stories should you tell? In our experience working with nationally ranked pediatric and adult hospitals, email and e-newsletter campaigns are effective ways to get your marketing message in front of physician voters. They work best when hospitals adopt a long view of reputation building, says True North Custom Managing Editor Emily Main.
“Ongoing campaigns seem to have the most success,” says Main, who has worked with large, nationally-ranked children’s health systems on both coasts to improve their U.S. News & World Report rankings. “ Reputation building, which is, essentially, what the rankings are built upon, becomes stronger when a brand is repeatedly putting itself in front of its target audience, rather than only during the U.S. News & World Report three-month survey voting period in the winter.”
As for the content itself, regardless of format or medium, tell the stories that highlight the outcomes, services, procedures, technologies, and other elements that make your hospital stand out—and, if possible, have your physicians do the telling. Physicians value and want more perspective from their peers.
“Know your competition,” Main advises. “It’s difficult to differentiate a hospital from its competitors if marketers aren’t aware of what their competitors are offering. Learning more about the competition can be as basic as surveying physicians at your facility. Physicians attend many conferences and belong to professional organizations where a lot of knowledge is shared. They can offer valuable information about what to market and what isn’t terribly unique. Keep your message focused, which again, is easier to do if you have a long-running campaign.”
Earlier this year, True North Custom worked with a large children’s hospital in a major metropolitan area in the Midwest on a physician-focused email campaign to improve its U.S. News & World Report rankings. The campaign targeted specialists in cardiology, oncology, neurology, and orthopedics.
“Articles about innovative treatments and accreditations were well-received by the target audience, whereas physician-profile pieces didn’t perform as well,” says True North Custom Managing Editor Erika Bennett. “Also, multi-article teasers in the subject line of an email performed much better in click-to-open rates than broad or vague subject lines."
Also, pulling one article headline and using it as the email’s subject line drove most readers directly to that article. For example, a multi-article subject line had a 29% click-to-open rate, whereas a broader subject line had a 14% click-to-open rate.
Building Reputation Boosts Rankings
In partnership with True North Custom, a major children’s hospital in the Southwest developed an email campaign designed to boost the U.S. News & World Report rankings by burnishing its reputation among physicians in key specialties, including oncology, cardiology and heart surgery, nephrology, neurology and neurosurgery, and urology.
The campaign—an initial message highlighting specialty-specific, leading-edge care at the hospital, followed by an additional message to non-openers—resulted in a year-over-year improvement in U.S. News & World Report ranking of at least 20 points for each of the aforementioned specialties, including an improvement of 30 points or more for two of them. The improved scores were enough to move several of the specialties into that year’s top 20 in the nationwide rankings.
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