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Promoting ER Wait Times: The Hospital Marketing & Advertising Bandwagon

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

We’ve seen a few questioning comments about promoting ER Wait Times, but they haven’t slowed down the hospital marketing & advertising bandwagon. It seems like everyone’s doing it, planning for it, or wishing they could.

Roll it out and local media coverage and hospital publicity and PR flows forth in torrents. There are obvious benefits to the non-life threatening emergency patient. Plus, the more expedient and efficient through-put is good business for the hospital.

Last week one of our posts [Texting Tales] put the spotlight on text messaging in health care—ER Wait Times via text or instant messaging is popping up in dozens of states. But hospitals are using several means to communicate Wait Times, generally some combination of two or more.

The hospital already has a website so ER times were quick to show-up online, where people often look for directions, services, etc. Medical systems with multiple locations, such as Inova Health System (Virgina) display 9 different locations on a single page. Do the math; time, distance and wait time—you might want to drive a bit further and be seen sooner. (Also, Inova offers a free iPhone app for ER times. Others have them too.)

Digital billboard messaging varies. Some simply announce, Current ER Wait Time with a digital display and hospital name. They may include disclaimer notes such as Average wait time to see a physician (or nurse), or Seen by a Register Nurse within 10 minutes, or Updated every 10 minutes.

Then there the billboard messages that snipe at the competition or promote other services:

ER Wait Times You Can Trust;

or We’re More Than Just Fast;

or Wait Less In Our ER;

or In An Emergency, What Matters Most: Faster or Better? How About Both?

Some others:

Accidents Happen Fast. Emergency Care Should Too.

Or Get Treated. Not Seated.

And our favorite: No one ever got well in a waiting room.

Then there’s the wanna-be group; hospitals that are using print and outdoor media to promote the idea of being fast (“FastER”) (“ShortER”) (“inQuickER”) emergency room service, promote a promise of 30 minutes or less, or advertise the number to text for the times. This seems to be the group that wants to be on the bandwagon, but isn't prepared, permitted, or technically equipped (yet) to present a specific amount of time. Out-of-Home advertising media is expensive, and Digital Outdoor carries a premium for the update capability.

What started this promotional fire storm? Could be a coincidence that hospitals will begin reporting ER times to Medicare in 2012. Or it could be that someone recognized the smart hospital marketing PR lemonade in what looked like a regulatory bag of lemons.

Tell us what you think. And if you have a marketing or promotional success story or creative marketing example please tell us about it.

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