Paul Spiegelman

Hospitals can use their call centers to determine the success of marketing projects aimed at attracting patients to the organization.

At a Glance 

Accurate measurements of marketing ROI can highlight which marketing projects are most effective in enhancing revenue. 

  • Calls to call centers can be documented and matched with patient records. 
  • Extensive record-keeping and reporting capabilities are available with call center software packages. 
  • Callers to call centers tend to be more engaged than other healthcare consumers. 

Hospital CFOs have been challenged for years to find a credible method for measuring return on marketing investments. Because of the amorphous nature of many marketing projects and the numerous variables that go into defining success of these projects, determining a return on investment for marketing endeavors has been considered virtually impossible

But as hospitals strive to be more accountable to their boards of directors, community, and other stakeholders, measuring marketing return on investment (ROI) is no longer a luxury-it's a necessity. By capturing information from patients who call hospital call centers, hospitals can justify dollars spent on marketing efforts and channel financial support to the marketing activities that have been shown to enhance revenue.

A hospital call center, in the context of this article, is an inbound or outbound telemarketing function that provides consumers with information regarding the sponsoring hospital, its programs, and its affiliated physicians. Most calls received fall into one of three categories: requests for physician and service referrals, requests for health-related information, or requests to register for education classes and seminars. Most of the calls are generated as a result of the hospital's marketing efforts, thus making the call center a central point of access into the sponsoring organization. Many call centers today are expanding their service and technological capabilities to also support customer interactions via the Web.

Call centers have long been considered little more than "cost centers," because of their staffing and technology needs. But a well-designed call center that has accountability built into its core can propel a healthcare organization toward revenue enhancement and greater market share. Hospitals are beginning to use their call centers to measure income generated by targeted marketing campaigns. That income can then be overlaid on related expenses to create a measure for return on marketing investment.

A four-year study conducted by Solucient entitled The Call Center as a Marketing Channel (February 2003) concluded that "call centers generate an ROI of at least three to one and are an essential driver of hospital revenue, profitability, and patient loyalty."

Solucient's research resulted in some positive findings for hospital call centers:

  • On average, 20 percent of a hospital's customers will call the call center in any given year.
  • These customers tend to be more engaged consumers than the overall patient population, spending more time making healthcare decisions, using the Internet for healthcare information more often than noncallers, and amegflan more questions of their physicians.
  • The average call-center caller is estimated to generate $13,848 in hospital charges within 12 months after calling the call center versus $5,524 generated by hospital patients overall.
  • Each telephone call represents more than $4,000 in downstream charges (inpatient or outpatient charges that occur within 12 months subsequent to the call center interaction).
  • One in four callers contacting the call center will have an inpatient discharge or outpatient visit within the 12 months following his or her call.

The Measurement Process

Here's how the measurement process works (using a physician-referral program as an example). A person calls the hospital to request a physician referral. An operator provides the information the caller is seeking and collects important data such as where the caller heard about the hospital's physician-referral program. This information can help the marketing department determine which advertising or other efforts promoting the hospital are most effective, and allows the hospital to steer its funding toward marketing avenues that provide the greatest return and the most profitable customers.

After a reasonable period of time has elapsed-usually 18 months-callers' names and other pertinent information can be matched to actual hospital inpatient and outpatient data. Using a payer mix that matches the specific hospital's profile, healthcare financial managers can determine an average ROI for money spent to generate those patients.

To determine ROI for marketing efforts that lead patients to call a call center, the organization could take the average dollars per call received (income) and subtract the cost of three elements:

  • The cost to reach a patient. (How much was spent on the marketing/advertising effort that generated the call to the call center in the first place?)
  • An appropriate allocated cost for operating the call center.
  • The cost of providing care to the patient once he or she is hospitalized. Every hospital has its own formula, but typically revenue can range from 35 percent to 80 percent of gross charges.

After financial managers have arrived at an ROI, they can see whether the marketing campaign is effective in attracting profitable business or needs to be redesigned. By factoring in the "how heard" information, they can begin to get a clear picture of where to spend their organization's dollars. In many instances, consumers became affiliated with a specific hospital through a prostate-screening or breast-cancer campaign sponsored by the hospital.

By tracking information, hospitals can determine how many respondents to such campaigns became patients at the facility. (For the ROI figures to be credible, it is critical to delete a predetermined percentage of new patients who most likely would have come to the hospital without being driven by marketing efforts. That number generally is determined using the hospital's share of market as determined by the most recent market studies available.)

Call-Center Requirements

Call-center software packages can make record-keeping and reporting possible. The key is to have a system in place for consistent reporting and then to ensure that that system is under-stood and routinely used. In addition, hospital leaders should read the reports regularly and be able to interpret them correctly so they can adjust investments appropriately to enhance revenue.

A handful of call center software packages are available that elect to maintain this function internally. Collecting and interpreting ROI data typically is a collaborative effort between the call center and IT department. The IT department usually collects patient data, which the call center matches against caller information. The call center concludes the reconciliation process and produces ROI reports.

Hospitals that outsource the call-center function should request these reports from their call center vendor. When choosing a firm as a call-center partner, hospitals should demand the ability to provide these data in an understandable and actionable format.

Wise Investment

The process of tracking ROI to determine the best investment of marketing dollars needn't be difficult. It can be as simple as finding out how to use the data-matching function included with current in-house call-center software or amegflan an outsourced call center to track the information. But that ability to determine marketing ROI allows hospitals to more wisely spend their dollars and more intelligently execute their marketing programs in support of revenue enhancement.

Call center tracking not only can demonstrate ROI for marketing efforts, but through a revenue-reconciliation program can show how many callers become patients and what revenue those patients bring to the institution.

Given that the Solucient study reported that the retention rate of call center callers over three years is 70 percent, compared with 46 percent for noncallers, a strong argument can be made that customers who come to the hospital via the call center have greater long-term value for the organization.

Paul Spiegelman is cofounder and CEO, The Beryl Companies, Dallas.

Questions or comments regarding this article may be sent to the author at

Publication Date: Friday, August 01, 2003

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