For years, doctors and hospitals throughout the US have talked to us about a familiar and reoccurring theme in healthcare. That is, there is a common perception that people leave home and head off to the big city for medical services that are available in their own local community.
Prospective patients are either unaware that services are available close to home, or they assume the quality of care is better in “the big city.”
Are rural hospitals losing patients to more distant and metropolitan facilities? The answer, as we knew intuitively, is yes. Now there’s documentation from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Institute. But what’s shocking is the size of the “voluntary migration.”
“In simple terms, almost half of the people in rural areas are not using the hospital closest to them, preferring to go to a larger, non-rural hospital to get care, even if the same services are available locally.” [Patterns of Care in Tennessee. Use of rural vs. non-rural facilities.]
And, to complicate the issue, the report observes: “Distance may not be a barrier in today’s mobile culture. When most of the state’s rural hospitals were established, transportation was much more difficult than it is today, particularly when transporting severely ill patients.
"Transportation capability has changed from a family member with a station wagon, who sped to the closest emergency room, to a rapid-response helicopter that can travel any direction, begin effective treatment in-flight, and evacuate the patient to larger, more distant facilities in mere minutes.”
This report did not address the reasons why local people go elsewhere for healthcare. That would be fodder for another study. But if “the same services are available locally,” and the local audience presumes that “larger-means-better,” then experience tells us that the following marketing issues should be explored:
Addressing this issue may be a critical business necessity for some facilities. The report observes, “it may be difficult for these rural hospitals to remain solvent.”
A similar study for your area would produce different numbers, but by this report, a “migration” approaching 50 percent suggests that most, if not all, local or community hospitals have an untapped opportunity to communicate, convince and attract a significant, pre-qualified audience that’s driving past the front door to get to the competition.
Related reading: Creating a Powerful, Differentiating Brand.