Growing top-performing service lines can be an effective strategy for healthcare organizations to advance their business objectives.
How to Grow High-Value Service Lines Effectively
Data analytics and effective patient communication are key when healthcare organizations are working to grow service lines.
Customer expectations in the healthcare industry are undergoing a transformation. With the wide range of care options at their fingertips, from hospitals and private practices to urgent care centers, patients can afford to be selective and, as a result, are holding providers to a higher standard of care quality and customer experience than ever before.
This new focus on consumerism, coupled with other sweeping trends such as value-based care, is changing the way healthcare organizations attract and retain patients. To drive success in the current market, health systems must optimize growth by applying strong tactics to acquire and retain patients. One effective tactic is to develop and market their service lines.
Health systems can reap many benefits from expanding service line growth, including increased patient volumes, improved health outcomes, boosted market share, and improved physician loyalty. By focusing on developing high-value service lines, health systems have the opportunity to achieve significant ROI and financial growth.
High-Value Service Lines Defined
High-value service lines exemplify exceptional performance in many ways, including attracting the most patients and physicians, driving the most revenue, achieving the highest care success rates (e.g., because they have highly skilled providers who have built reputations for service excellence), and presenting the greatest growth potential. Healthcare organizations identify their high-value service lines by analyzing financial data, external market factors, and other relevant economic conditions. As a result, high-value service lines may differ among hospitals depending on the patients and markets they serve.
In the past, bringing together the disparate data sources necessary for this type of business analysis was time-intensive and difficult. Today, the technology exists to make the process more efficient for hospital and health systems. With the ability to access big data sets (both internal and external), these organizations can apply sophisticated data analytics to gain better visibility into their operations and the markets they serve, thereby enabling leadership to develop data-driven growth strategies.
The Case for Growing High-Value Service Lines
Growing high-value service lines is one of the most effective ways in which hospitals and health systems can add direct value to the nation’s healthcare system. Through this effort, they can achieve the following three important objectives.
Optimize limited resources. From a business perspective, generating revenue is the primary goal of any healthcare organization. By focusing on specific services lines that show the greatest growth potential, they can allocate limited resources to achieve the greatest effect in driving revenue. Leaders can leverage intelligent data to inform such business strategies from the top down. After using data to identify a service line with growth potential, leaders need to dig deeper into data and analytics to uncover specifically how best to improve and market the service line.
Consider this hypothetical example: a healthcare organization analyzes a combination of contributing factors (market data, physician utilization, payer mix, and revenue) to determine there is significant growth potential in its bariatric service line. The organization’s leaders set a goal to generate 400 new leads with a $100,000 budget. Demographic analytics of past patients in this service line help the organization identify the priority targets for this initiative as those ages 55 – 64 living in middle-density population urban environments, and further analysis more insights on the target consumer for the service line: preferred outreach channels, typical lead times, and type(s) of resources (pamphlets, webinars, PDFs, etc.) that engage prospects. These more complex analytics give the marketing team the insights necessary to build an effective campaign.
Drive patient satisfaction. More than ever, competition for patient loyalty is fierce; the American Hospital Association reports that there are currently more than 5,500 hospitals across the nation. That means, in almost every U.S. city there are multiple hospitals vying to be chosen as the healthcare provider of choice for the community. In this hypercompetitive environment, hospitals must have effective strategies for attracting the customers they want and providing those customer with an exemplary experience.
Meanwhile, available conveniences in other industries are raising patient expectations in health care; patients want prompt service tailored precisely to their specific needs, with personalized customer service. In health care, organizations that achieve high rates of patient satisfaction have been shown to reap benefits. A 2016 study found that hospitals whose patients rate their experience as “excellent” have higher profitability than those with lower ratings, and patient satisfaction accounts for a difference of $444 of net patient revenue. b
Keep patients for life. Consider this: Acquiring a new customer is six to seven times costlier than retaining an existing one, and the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60 to 70 percent, whereas the probability of selling to a new customer is 5 to 20 percent. c These numbers demonstrate the importance of patient retention from both a growth and revenue perspective. Patients who remain involved with a healthcare organization over long periods of time are for all intents and purposes repeat customers—whenever they need goods or services, they take their business and spend their money at their favorite, trusted organization.
Having a reputation for service-line excellence is one of the best ways to foster patient loyalty. An organization’s expertise in high-value fields often is the initial draw for patients. It creates the critical opportunity for the organization to engage the patients throughout their interactions with the organization and, through service excellence, creating high satisfaction that ensure they will continue to bring business into the organization.
How to Grow High-Value Service Lines
Growing high-value service lines requires careful strategic planning, and success hinges on the organization’s proficiency in five tactical areas in particular.
Understanding (and predicting) patient needs. Using data analytics to gain insight on where services are needed (and desired) within the hospital’s or health system’s specific market and patient community helps focus service line growth. Healthcare organizations should use the following tactics in accessing and applying data to obtain such insight:
- Leverage propensity models
- Create personalized educational content
- Deploy outreach
Propensity models derive insights from patterns and relationships in analytical data to determine the best targets for outreach efforts. For example, if an organization has identified orthopedics as a high-value service line, marketing departments can develop propensity models based on data markers that indicate a higher probability that a person might need orthopedic care. Through this process, teams identify target groups and consumers to whom the teams can perform outreach for further engagement. Such front-end analytics increase the effectiveness of an overall campaign.
Healthcare organizations also should craft individualized, education-focused marketing outreach for the groups identified with propensity models. They should use patients’ names, specify services near their locations, and tell the prospective patients exactly how high-value service lines can meet their specific needs. Content should be tailored to the platforms it will appear on (e.g., landing pages, social media posts, direct mail, or emails), but on all platforms, it should feature consistent brand messaging across channels.
When reaching out to patients, organizations should show they understand and value patients as individuals by using the patients’ preferred channels. Outreach should occur regularly so the hospital or health system remains top of mind for patients. Messages should include strong calls to action to make it simple for patients to further engage.
Propensity models and targeted, personalized outreach can provide a hospital with effective means to appeal to patients and provide them with information on how the organization’s high-value service lines can meet their needs, thereby bringing more patients into high-value service lines and maximizing outreach dollars on those most likely to remain within the hospital’s care network.
Acquiring commercial health plans. It’s important that high-value service lines have a balanced mix of payers to ensure financial stability. Hospitals and health systems can leverage data analytics to identify, segment, and engage those patients who have commercial insurance. The data can help an organization determine which patients are using commercial insurers by leveraging a healthcare customer relationship management (HCRM) platform that collects and stores patient payment information.
With insurer information in hand, the organizations can refine target groups, develop journey maps to outline when it is best to contact these groups, and then design personalized marketing outreach to directly appeal to patients using commercial insurance with focused engagement opportunities.
Using an omnichannel approach. Today’s patients interact with hospitals and health systems across many digital platforms, including email, social media, and mobile apps. An omnichannel outreach approach—i.e., one that encompasses all of these platforms—is critical to growing high-value service lines because it brings together all of patient’s interactions with the service line to create a streamlined, continuous patient journey.
It’s important to note, however, that although patients are on multiple platforms, the most used contact platform invariably will be the call center, which has been shown to account for around 68 percent of all health communications. d As a primary channel of patient interaction, the call center should be an integral (and integrated) part of marketing and growth strategies.
When laying the groundwork for omnichannel patient journeys, it’s critical that health systems prioritize call interactions to properly connect patient experiences within high-value service lines. Health systems can deliver connected and personalized call center interactions by using tools to collect data about callers’ previous engagements; the agent can build on the outreach the caller has already received, creating a continuous journey for the patient.
For example, a patient calls to find out about upcoming flu clinics. Looking at the caller’s profile, the agent sees that he or she previously requested information on knee replacement surgery via the organization’s website. Since orthopedics is a high-value service line, the agent knows to engage this caller further with the goal of retaining them within the organization’s orthopedic patient journey. Thus, after answering the caller’s flu clinic query, the agent directs the caller to additional resources that fit into the orthopedic service line, such as an upcoming webinar on maintaining bone density. The agent also can offer to provide a referral for an orthopedic physician.
Demographic and psychographic data also allow agents to integrate personalized details into conversations and determine whether callers are good candidates for high-value service lines. Here’s an example: a potential patient contacts the call center to ask a question about an upcoming wellness webinar. Using a connected technology platform with detailed caller profiles, the agent sees this caller has previously been targeted with a pre-diabetic campaign. Armed with this information, the agent can ask whether the caller is willing to answer a few health-related questions to see if they qualify for a new pre-diabetes program. Thus, the agent has re-engaged this caller with a high-value service line by using profile data to personalize.
To set call center agents up for success, marketing teams should provide agents with strategically crafted scripts that outline how to integrate patients’ past interactions and drive further engagement around high-value service lines. Healthcare organizations should develop scripts that create strategic omnichannel journeys, including unique ones for each high-value service line.
When training engagement center agents to use scripts, the organization should equip agents with detailed, easy-to-read layouts that populate key personalization notes based on collected data.
Focusing on physician referrals. To grow high-value service lines, health systems need physician buy-in. Physicians have the power to make or break service-line growth through referral practices. Simply put, if physicians refer in-network, they help to build high-value service lines.
In-network referrals have immense financial power. A health system with referral leakage averaging 55 to 65 percent, which is all too common, faces revenue losses amounting to $821,000 to $971,000 per physician per year. e Such staggering numbers underscore the critical importance of optimizing physician referral practices for hospitals aiming to grow service lines.
When tracking information about physician referrals, hospitals and health systems should address questions such as the following:
- Which physicians are referring in-network?
- Which physicians are consistently referring their patients out-of-network?
- Are the physicians who are referring out-of-network sending patients to a specific provider?
- What reasons might there be for physicians to prefer referring to specific out-of-network providers?
Ensuring the C-suite is fully committed to the service-line development strategy. If an organization is to grow high-value service lines effectively, its senior executives must give full support to the strategy to ensure that the involved departments, in particular the marketing department, can secure the necessary budget. Leaders can best remain engaged by setting the expectation that the teams charged with executing the strategy routinely communicate their plans, efforts, and successes with metrics that matter to the C-suite.
To ensure reporting is well-tailored to the C-suite interest, the teams should be educated to focus their presentations on the metrics such as the following:
- Revenue generated
- Campaign ROI
- Overall campaign conversion rate
- Cost per acquisition
- Number of generated leads
C-level executives should emphasize that the metrics reported to them demonstrate clear correlations between efforts to grow high-value service lines and financial performance. Marketers look at countless metrics each day, not all of which are necessary to present to the C-suite; using cross-departmental cooperation and coordination, health systems can build a report with the metrics that matter to the C-suite, helping paint a clear picture of how service lines are performing.
Health systems and hospitals aiming to grow their high-value service lines successfully must make use of data management and marketing tools, physician relationship management software, and analytics platforms. When integrated and used together, these technologies help healthcare organizations convey the value individual patients can get from high-value service lines.
As healthcare markets continue to shift away from volume and toward value, appealing to patients by building high-value service lines designed to meet patients’ unique needs will become increasingly important. When data and healthcare technologies are used in combination with these strategies, health systems will see high-value service line growth and subsequent financial reward.
Gary Druckenmiller, Jr., is vice president at Evariant, Farmington, Conn.
a. American Hospital Association, “Fast Facts on U.S. Hospitals, 2018,” updated Feb. 2018.
b. Deloitte, Engaging with Tomorrow’s Patients: The New Health Care Customer , 2016.
c. Farris, P.W., Bendle, N., Pfeifer, P., and Reibstein, D., Marketing Metrics , Pearson FT Press, Feb. 13, 2010; Snow, A., Robertson, C., Ramos, L., Wizdo, L., and Camuso, M., Metrics That Matter for B2B Marketers , Forrester, Nov. 16, 2017.
d. Pickard, T., “10 Customer Service Stats and What They Mean for Your Contact Center,” Salesforce, Jan. 14, 2015.
e. Office of Massachusetts Attorney General, “ Examination of Health Care Trends and Cost Drivers,” June 22, 2011; referralmd, “ 30 Healthcare Statistics that Keep Hospital Executives Up at Night.”