Marketing Observations From the Hospital Bed

in Hospital

I suddenly ended up in the hospital a few weeks ago, dealing with a severe bout of pneumonia.

I'll spare you most of the details, but it basically all started with the trip to the Howard County General Hospital ER in Columbia, MD on a Saturday night after having a severe reaction to something I ate. In the process, gastric fluids got into the lungs. Ugh!

The digestive distress passed rather quickly, but an alert doctor observed that my vital signs were going downhill fast and determined that pneumonia was setting in quickly. He reversed my heading for discharge, and to my surprise, steered me toward the ICU unit.

Now we all are aware of the current national debate on health care reform. And I will not tread into that explosive political arena in this blog.

But as I was in the ER, the ICU and then the regular ward (total stay was 7 days), I did make a number of marketing observations -- both positive and negative, from the perspective of "the client."

Let me start by saying that I smile when people say to me, "Oh, I wouldn't be good in sales." In my mind, every employee is a salesperson, and we all should realize the importance of that role.

That's why I'm fond of saying that a receptionist should treat his or her job as "Vice President of First Impressions." (I didn't come up with that - I got that from a seminar I attended 10 years ago with marketer Keith Hatschek, who has since concentrated his work in the music field)

And the concept of "everyone is a salesperson" was so obvious to me during my hospital stay at Howard County General.

Think about it. How do we draw our general opinions about whether a hospital is a "good" patient-oriented hospital or "bad" one. Isn't it really based on a few stories you may have heard from others plus perhaps a personal or family experience or two?

So what hospital employee does a patient have the most contact with from which to conclude whether they have had a good or bad experience?

Doctors? - not really -- we think of them almost as "independents."

It's the nurses, right?

To prove the point, here's a common perception in my Ellicott City, Maryland neighborhood: "Go to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore for the best doctor care, but try to avoid staying over as an in-patient."

Now I was an in-patient at Johns Hopkins over 20 years ago, and I had an excellent experience. But that negative perception about Hopkins, whether accurate or not, still persists in my neighborhood. Dig down a bit, and one learns that it actually stems from conversations at gatherings based on the experiences of just a few of the neighbors. (Hint: bad news travels fast at neighborhood social events)

OK, given that my assumption about nurses carrying a lot of marketing power is accurate, I'd have to say my reaction to my experience at Howard General was mixed.

On one hand, I had exceptional care from a veteran nurse named Ellen in ICU (I'll detail more below).

But on the other hand, there were the ER nurses who got so confused with paperwork and bureaucracy that I was actually "lost" for two hours in a corridor waiting for an X-ray. My wife finally had to invoke something akin to "habeus corpus" to have me retrieved.

The confusion continued as bewilderment with internal procedures caused another ER nurse to delay my getting to the ICU for 90-minutes. We finally convinced him to just wheel us up to ICU, and we'd sort it all out there. When we arrived, the reception by the ICU staff was like, "Where have you been? We've been waiting for you!" Hmmmm . . .

Finally, what was I to make of the nurse who came in during the fifth day of my stay and asked me what I was in for. I thought to myself, "Perhaps you might want to glance at the paperwork at the station before coming in to see me?"

But let's end on a positive. Let me go back to that nurse, Ellen, in ICU. I don't know her last name (maybe their marketing dept will let me know).

You could tell from first introduction that Ellen enjoyed her job and was aware of the noble service her profession provides.

She was well-informed about my condition from the start.

She was friendly yet firm in making sure I stayed on course toward recovery.

And then one other thing -- she knew how to strike up a brief conversation with me at just the right moment (straight out of Dale Carnegie's classic book, "How to Win Friends and Influence Others"). We chatted about my daughter and her teenage kids.

Ellen was not the only example of positive nursing I experienced during my stay at Howard County General. There were certainly others who were top professionals as well. (For example there was the Asian-American nurse, down in the regular ward, whose name I think was "Yun?," who worked efficiently and adroitly, yet unobtrusively, while prepping me for discharge.)

But I think you get my point. The best overall "salesperson" for Howard County General Hospital during my experience was the nurse named Ellen in ICU.

Now, some of you may discount my assertion by replying, "Sure, in ICU, the nursing to patient ratio is 1:2 or even 1:1, . . . not true elsewhere in the hospital."

OK, I take the point. But I learned in our brief conversations that Ellen had worked in almost every other department during her tenure at the hospital. Something tells me she exhibited the same positive marketing qualities throughout her career.

What to take from all this?

When reviewing your business activities, are your front-line employees acting as top marketers and salespeople for your organization, as Ellen is for hers?

I welcome your thoughts.

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David C. Ryan has 1 articles online

David Ryan works with clients whose job is "to get the message out."

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Marketing Observations From the Hospital Bed

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This article was published on 2010/03/29