A Different Approach to Hospice Marketing

Campaign around advance directives can start the conversation

Cancer patient in hospice care.

Jonathan Kirn / Getty Images

Hospices are under a microscope and marketing practices and reimbursement are being scrutinized. Unscrupulous players in the market contribute to the unwanted attention. Yet there is a way to approach this subject with a broader campaign that people can embrace and which starts the conversation around end-of-life issues. Here's how to incorporate an advanced directive campaign into your hospice marketing.

The marketplace is shifting. Once a domain for cancer patients, more clinical specialties are utilizing hospice. And while there is recognition that there are some younger age demographics that use hospice, it is still primarily a service with an elder focus. Here are some facts and stats.

  • 41.9% of all deaths are under the care of hospice.
  • Slightly more than 30% of Medicare beneficiaries use hospice.
  • 43.3% are cancer patients.
  • 33.6% have a dementia diagnosis.
  • Median length of service is 19.7 days.
  • Average length of service is 67.4 days and median and average stays are trending downward.
  • 21.9% of patients receive care in a hospice facility.
  • 82.7% are over 65.
  • 38.9% are over 85.
  • 58% of providers are for-profit.

Marketing Approaches and Messages

People do not want to talk about death and dying so you have to couch hospice services in a larger context. Instead of separating the hospice brand on its own, consider that it is stronger when part of a complete complement of services. So if in addition to hospice, you may offer companion care, skilled home health, palliative care. Group these as a bundle of services, which together have a natural progression of use.

One CEO we work with calls this the “Medical Home at Home.”

The consensus among hospice marketers is that while there are two marketing tracks to take – consumer and referral source – all agree that you cannot do both well and really need to concentrate on one. Honoring that, it is still possible to have a hybrid strategy by approaching the consumer market in a different way.

First, ask your referral sources – What is important to you? And “how well do we do it?” The NAHC website has several survey tools, which if not in use, might be valuable including Hospice Bereavement, Patient Satisfaction, and Family Satisfaction surveys.

“Responsiveness” as a Message

For some providers, responsiveness is a differentiator. However, responsiveness is in the eye of the beholder and could change based on the patient perspective versus the eldest daughter who could very well be making the purchase decision. And responsiveness only becomes apparent when you are in the midst of care or in a crisis for the selection of care. It is an important message but a secondary one.

“We Are Local” as a Message

This message resonates much better as it conveys that you are the caregiver and patient’s neighbor. You know the community. You live here. You know the resources. This can be a primary message.

Quality Subtext in Messaging

The quality issue could be another differentiator. The National Quality Forum has endorsed palliative and end-of-life measures. In addition, hospice providers are required to submit a "Quality Data Submission Form" to report quality data pertaining to at least three quality indicators related to patient care. As these evolve, as with other quality measures, they will be part of the “shopping list” that consumers and referral sources research so getting ahead of quality and incorporating quality messages into conversations now could be beneficial.

A Bigger Idea

Community talks are important steps in starting the conversation around end-of-life care and wishes, which in turn presents the opportunity to talk about services and benefits. Once engaged the consumer always wants to learn more.

Go one better. Take this up several notches by having a campaign, complete with “thermometer” or other measurement tool that becomes a community drive to have people complete advance directives to include living wills and medical power of attorney.

Structured like a United Way Campaign or other fundraising campaign, you can include faith-based organizations, employers/worksites in the county, senior centers/programs, and civic organizations. And the media would become a partner as well. First, start a drive to have all of your employees complete these important directives.

Five Questions and Five Wishes

Start with questions from Alexandra Drane's and her Engage With Grace: The One Slide Project. She poses five questions that you can answer for yourself online and use to help caregivers get the conversation started with their loved ones.

Then move on and consider utilizing the Five Wishes document as the tool for completing advanced directives. It is recognized in most states as a legal document.

By in some ways back-dooring the hospice conversation, you develop an effective social media and marketing strategy for your hospice services.

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