Effectively Marketing Your Services
Ensuring that local healthcare facilities use your services takes more than simply giving them a good price. You also must know your market, know your community’s needs and know your competition.
Before launching a successful marketing campaign, analyze your call volume reports to determine which hospitals and nursing homes generate the most calls and which should be targeted for additional marketing.
Begin by aiming your marketing efforts at the least productive facilities in your area to familiarize them with the services you offer. Make sure you have appropriate materials available to distribute, including company brochures, physician’s certification statement forms, patient return envelopes and so on.
To determine the competitive environment and each facility’s most critical issues, find out which ambulance providers they already use and what they think about the quality of those services. Ask specific questions about your competitors; include queries about their response times, their professionalism and there availability.
What factors does the facility review to determine which ambulance service to call first for a transport? What most influences those decisions; price, the quickest response times, the easiest PCS form to complete or crew attitudes?
Get in the Door
Making the initial contact poses the first challenge in any marketing campaign. The “front line” people - receptionists, admitting coordinators or nursing staff, may pose barriers hard to get through. When dealing with these gatekeepers, be persistent, but not pushy. Although these people may not be the ones you need to convince to use your services, they can point you in the right direction - or make it hard for you to reach the right people.
Seek out the case managers, social workers, discharge planners or transport coordinators who request patient transports. Also leave materials at the nursing stations for after-hours calls or for when case managers are not available to make the calls themselves. Pens and stickers with your 800 number may be low-tech, but they work. Busy nurses call the first number they see.
Encourage the nursing staff to contact your company for service and offer to make a return visit in a week or two to discuss their experiences. Without forcing them to call you, you are planting the seed of customer service by checking on their progress.
Secure a Contract
The second challenge: Many hospitals require you to have an executed contract with that facility before you can market your services within the hospital. This contract can be as simple as a one-page letter of agreement outlining such basic points as rates, payment and billing guidelines, procedure for terminating the agreement and the services provided. (For more information, see “Negotiate Winning Contracts” in the January EMS Insider and “A Managed Care Contract Negotiation Checklist” in the April issue.)
Healthcare administrators must be cost conscious, so you must demonstrate how your service can provide quality care and still offer competitive prices.
Remember, your marketing efforts must comply in all respects with the federal anti-kickback statute which prohibits giving money or items of value to facilities in return for transport referrals. Consult your legal counsel for questions on particular marketing practices.
Once you have such a signed contract, meet with the facility's case managers and ask them to introduce you to everyone responsible for ordering transports.
Important note: Make sure senior hospital administrators have recommended and authorized the use of your services before staff calls in the first transport.
Ensure Customer Service
The third challenge requires simultaneously addressing customer service issues while increasing awareness of your services. Callers must feel confidence in your company from the initial point of contact with dispatch through completion of the transport. Exhibit enthusiasm about your services and hand out business cards regularly. Offer to help by facilitating problem-solving or researching inquiries. Then follow up accordingly.
Ask about callers experiences when calling for a transport. If you receive a negative response, always ask more questions to determine why the experience was not successful and to prevent a recurrence. Use this time to educate your audience about your company’s internal guidelines, Medicare regulations and requirements and any other upcoming issues that may affect patient transports.
The fourth and final challenge involves sustaining long-term business relationships. Treat your business colleagues as friends and as a valued member of your community. Always be courteous, friendly and respectful of staffs time. Example; plan to make your marketing calls in the afternoon to avoid the usual rigors of morning routine and unforeseen emergencies. Consistently revisit all local hospitals, not just those that give you less business. Remember, marketing involves both presenting the services you offer and ensuring the ongoing quality of services you provide.
Marketing ambulance services to local hospital and skilled nursing facilities means more than simply selling a product. You must also offer reliability, integrity and honesty, along with consistent service at cost-effective rates. By understanding your market, knowing your community’s needs and acknowledging your competition, you can develop a winning strategy for increasing your call volume and maximizing your revenue stream.
Healthcents is a full-service consulting group that specializes in provider contracting and reimbursement analysis. Susan Charkin can be reached at Healthcents, (800) 497-4970; fax (831) 455-2695; email: firstname.lastname@example.org