How initiatives to understand customers can help businesses design services and marketing plans Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2010

Health care is about taking care of people, and this involves understanding the community’s needs and demographics. Hospitals must do their research to identify individual health care attitudes, beliefs and requirements. This knowledge provides insight that guides management decisions — decisions that build physician and patient loyalty, improve the quality of patient care, and deliver services to the community.

“Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center is a community hospital, and meeting the community’s health needs is our top priority,” says Mike Cowling, the CEO of Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center. “We regularly conduct surveys to ask for our customers’ input; we learn what services our hospital should offer and deliver with the best possible outcomes.”

Smart Business spoke to Cowling about Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center’s initiatives to understand its customers and design services and marketing plans to ensure that the organization continues to improve.

How has Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center come to value the power of understanding its target audience?

Consumers have a choice when it comes to health care. With several excellent local competing hospitals, we have to stand out as health care leaders in our community’s eyes. For the patient, it is important to experience a high level of customer service and clinical excellence. Based on input from the community groups and our medical staff, we continue to enhance and expand our hospital’s service lines to deliver what they need.

Can you explain how your community’s needs influenced your marketing strategy to rebrand the hospital’s cardiac service lines?

We have always been one of the leaders in providing cardiovascular care in Palm Beach Gardens and Palm Beach County. While reviewing our emergency room utilization and the demographics of our community, it was apparent that the community would continue to need treatment for cardiovascular-related illnesses in the foreseeable future. Many were not aware that our hospital is ranked in the top 5 percent in the nation for overall cardiac service. In fact, we performed the area’s first open heart surgery and have performed more than 15,000 open heart surgeries and 97,000 cardiac catheterizations since we began delivering heart care more than 25 years ago. In addition, we have 41 experienced cardiac specialists. This, in combination with our long history as a hospital in our community, supports our designation as one of the most experienced cardiovascular care hospitals in South Florida.

Over time, Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center had de-emphasized the Heart Institute and focused on promoting the broad scope of hospital services. As other hospitals in the community began start-up heart programs, we felt compelled to differentiate our program based on our years of service and extensive capabilities in cardiovascular care. We made the decision to refocus on developing and promoting the Heart Institute.

How has the knowledge you gained with the community survey benefited your hospital as a whole?

The survey addressed a broad range of topics from customer service to physician preference. With a more in-depth understanding of our community, we could understand how we needed to develop specific service lines, yet find innovative ways to integrate them. A good example of what the survey produced was the conversion of all of our inpatient rooms to private rooms. We also created a full-time patient advocate position. Both of these initiatives were supported by community survey data, which told us we needed to improve patient comfort and individualized service at our hospital. We now take great pride in our ability to help patients with any issues or concerns they have while hospitalized. This is a result of our customers’ growing expectations for enhanced personal service while receiving health care.

What is your advice for other businesses?

I would recommend that any business in any industry first understand their customer. This information can then be utilized to develop a business plan with goals and initiatives that will meet their needs and draw these customers to your organization.

Today’s health care market has very high demand for customer service and access to care. Customers have grown accustomed to unrestricted access to health care and want preference in where, with whom and when they access their care. They are also becoming increasingly savvy on quality of care issues and want to be consulted more in the decisions related to their care. These are all important issues that health care organizations must consider when developing and marketing their services to their customers.

Mike Cowling is the CEO of Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center.