Painless healthcare marketing from the dentist’s chair

A friend’s son faced what for many kids is almost like a dental rite of passage for teenagers: Braces.

Many of us weathered that ordeal, back in the day when braces gave a smile that looked for all the world like the grill of a ’59 Buick.

The memories are vivid: Elevator music from the speakers, a bland room that had a certain communist Bulgaria feel to it, drab brown and gray, metal and pain, lots of pain. Not to mention that before we even hit the orthodontist’s chair, there was the waiting room. Like expatriates in the movie Casablanca, it’s wait, and wait, and wait.

But the kid in this story had a different tale to tell. Instead of waiting in the waiting room, he was taken straight to the treatment room, where five dental stations were set up, filled with kids getting their treatments, including braces.

The first stop was a tour of the clinic, where staff answered the patient’s questions.

The next was a sink. In a nearby basket, wrapped in plastic were toothbrushes, their bristles covered with an invisible toothpaste. Each kid unwraps the magic tool, brushes his teeth, and tosses the used brush in the trash can.

“That was cool,” the teen said. That’s about as much enthusiasm as you’ll get from a 15-year-old anytime, but especially in dealing with dental matters.

The staff chatted with the teenager, about school, football, the World Series, the same stuff he chatted about with his pals in the cafeteria. Pop music from this decade rocked gently from the speakers.

When all was said and done, the teen was equipped with his new orthodontia. Some metal, some invisible, the new mouth gear still caused pain, and there would be a diet of soup and mac and cheese – soft stuff – for the next few days.

While dentists are much more hip these days in helping patients feel more relaxed, some things don’t change. Pain and braces are paired together like pepperoni and pizza.

The lesson here is that health professionals – doctors, dentists, hospitals, etc., — can make the patient experience more positive by making them feel comfortable and cared for.

Part of that is making the patient feel he or she is part of a team.

For example, one Mobile, Ala., dentist hands out green T-shirts to kids who have their wisdom teeth removed. “I Lost My Smart Mouth,” reads the shirt. A picture of the smiling patient in the shirt is posted on the practice’s Facebook page. A simple, witty shirt makes a tough experience bearable, and even fun.

Imagine your hospital handing out onesies for newborns or T-shirts for other patients, for example, reading “Team Community Hospital.” It’s a cool marketing tool that helps patients and their families feel not so alone.

One Mississippi hospital treats newborn parents to a steak dinner, complete with a rose for the new Mom and sparkling cider.

It’s our mantra when it comes to health care. If it’s good for the patient, it’s good for your practice.

The kid with the new braces, who down the road will have a sparkling new smile, learned that lesson first hand.


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Crank up the jam for your hospital’s “rock stars”

Close-up macro of microphone silhouetted against sun

In competitive health care markets, being a small community hospital has its disadvantages. But being small can also pack a powerful punch. Physicians and other hospital staffers have higher visibility in small communities. Hometown doctors and nurses are medical “rock stars:” in their communities, acknowledged in the grocery aisle, or the church pew or a youth soccer game.

They’re seen as “one of our own,” in the community and as an expert in their given field. From a marketing standpoint, this gives smaller hospitals a leg up on bigger competitors.

It’s time to, as the kids say, “crank up the jam” for the stars in your hospital or private practice.

In the spirit of the iconic Southern band Lynyrd Skynyrd, here are some ways to “turn it up:”

  • Create a directory of expert sources: Local media outlets –radio, television, print and online – are interested in health issues because their readers, viewers and listeners are. A media directory outlining each physician, administrator or nurse’s area of expertise can prove an invaluable way to get free exposure for the professional and the hospital.

Keep in mind, there are certain board certifications for nurses – such as a lactation consultant, that can also be invaluable sources for the media.

  • Don’t be afraid to make your pitch: If a critical health issue – like the Zika virus or opioid addiction – emerges on the state, national or global stage, make media outlets aware that you have experts on staff who can put a “local lens” on these issues. The same is true in the wake of new findings in the literature. Say new research emerges on cholesterol and heart disease emerges in a medical journal, your staff cardiologists and dieticians could be a great news source for reporters and talk shows.

We’ve made the point before, but it bears repeating: Community media outlets hunger for local content to fill their pages and air time. Make a story pitch to the outlets. The worst that can happen is they say “no.” But the best that can happen is free, positive exposure for the hospital. And better, you control the message and your brand gets a boost.

  • Create a speakers bureau: Civic, church and other community groups are constantly on the lookout for speakers. Your staffers can tell the story of new developments or programs at your hospital. Again, it economically and efficiently builds brand awareness and deepens the community connection.
  • Train personnel to deal with the media: Every hospital staffer should receive some training in how to deal with the media. Three points: Accentuate the positive. Don’t talk about the competition and keep it simple. Sometimes physicians may get too technical when explaining medicine. Remember, viewers, readers and listeners didn’t go to med school. Keep it at a level that encourages understanding of medical concepts.
  • The late Texas physician, Dr. “Red” Duke, was one of the earliest physicians to understand the power of television. Seek out a physician who may be willing to do a weekly health segment or Q and A column for local media. Collaboration – or call it “ghostwriting” if you must – can be invaluable in these situations.
  • Remember: You are the gatekeeper. As a marketing director, you want to communicate a clear, consistent, compelling message. Offer to collaborate with physicians on columns for print and digital publications and offer “talking points” for media interviews or podcasts. And make sure that all media requests, columns, etc. are vetted by the marketing department and higher up the chain of command. Without it, you run a real risk of losing control of the message, which can be dangerous, not only in terms of damaging the brand, but also legal liability.