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Satisfaction Scores: Online Trip Advisor for Selecting University of Utah Physicians

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer
Dennis Jolley

Dennis Jolley

[Podcast] Today’s installment in our continuing series of healthcare and hospital marketing interviews spotlights University of Utah Health Care, a leading academic medical center in Salt Lake City. Healthcare Success Co-Founder and Hospital Division Director Lonnie Hirsch discusses AMC marketing issues with Senior Director of Marketing Dennis Jolley.

When University of Utah Health Care began online posting of satisfaction scores—including “the good, the bad and the ugly” patient comments—website traffic skyrocketed. It turns out that both the scores and the comments are mainly “good,” and the pages have unexpectedly become a popular “Trip Advisor” for physician selection. And that's a healthy transparency that Senior Director of Marketing Dennis Jolley feels should be implemented industry-wide. 

Healthcare Success talked with Dennis about a range of topics including public perceptions and misperceptions about academic medical centers (AMC), the competitive environment, creating an annual plan and budget, and unexpected marketing successes.

You’ll want to listen to the full interview [available below], but here are a few excerpts from our recent conversation:

Lonnie Hirsch: What would you say is the most surprising and unexpected success that you’ve seen in marketing your AMC?

Dennis Jolley: The University of Utah Health Care was the first major healthcare system to put all of our patient satisfaction scores and comments on the website by physician. So we post every physician’s scores and public comments. We only pull comments that violate protected health information or that are vulgar. Other than that, the good, the bad and the ugly are up there.

It’s the “Trip Advisor” for physicians. We thought this would help people select a physician, and drive traffic to our website and physician profiles, but [what was surprising] is that we did not expect a 93 percent increase to our physician profiles. People are going to them, they are reading them and they are telling our physicians, “I chose you because I saw your scores.”

Also, the other unintended impact was that our patient satisfaction scores jumped significantly once we went live because the physicians knew that we were really serious about it.

I think it has something to do with transparency that we should do industry-wide. I’m glad we did it and that we were one of the first ones to do it. But I did not expect it to have the impact that it has.

LH: What is the single biggest misconception about academic medical centers (AMC)?

DJ: Some the ideas that AMCs would like to consider as misconceptions include some that we have earned. At times we can be viewed as an ivory tower or as dinosaurs that are slow to adapt. But I think the biggest misconception is that “you can’t get really great, personalized, high quality and high patient satisfaction care at a reasonable cost at an academic medical center.”

But the pressures of healthcare reform and general economic pressures are forcing AMCs to start doing that. People are beginning to figure that out. Perceptions are changing, but there is still an attitude that we’re expensive and we’re not going to treat people well. But that’s not necessarily true.

LH: In what ways to you try to feature and leverage your AMC status in your public marketing and advertising?

DJ: For us [University of Utah Health Care], when we’re talking to consumers and the public in general, we try to emphasize our expertise. We have smart doctors who are on the cutting edge, and that is, at times, a double-edge sword. Here at University of Utah Health Care, we struggle with the perception where the public says,  “I want to go there if I’m really sick,” but they don’t necessarily think of us for standard care, primary care or seeing a primary specialist. So we have to work hard to broaden the public perception of us.

LH: How do your competitors position themselves to compete with the reputation of an academic medical center?

DJ: [We are mainly] competing with community hospitals…some of which are really great. I’m proud to say that, for the last three years in a row, we are in the University HealthSystem Consortium’s Top 10 for quality and patient safety. And as we began promoting that, we saw a shift in our market where our competitors began promoting their quality using other quality rankings.

LH: What do you see as the biggest challenge that you face as an AMC that most people inside or outside of the provider community would be surprised to learn?

DJ: In academic medical centers—in our institution and also in other institutions where I’ve spoken to professional colleagues—the school of medicine side of an academic medical center is really an 18th or 19th century entity. It’s built around academic departments, specialties and divisions, which depending on the institution, may or may not play well with each other.

So breaking down silos is important because, as I say to our physicians all the time, [patients] don’t care if you are a facial and plastic reconstructive surgeon in the division of otolaryngology or if you are a plastic surgeon…they just want a “nose job.” Patients don’t care if you are a neurosurgeon or an orthopedic surgeon…they need their back taken care of.

And so one of the biggest challenges is breaking down those academic silos to make us more accessible to the public.

For more on these and other topics in this insightful discussion about academic medical center marketing with Dennis Jolley, listen to the entire podcast now.

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Dennis Jolley is Senior Director of Marketing at the University of Utah Health Care. He oversees the marketing efforts for four hospitals, 10 community clinics, a health plan and a growing network of affiliate hospitals and physicians throughout the Intermountain West. As the region’s only academic medical center, University of Utah Health Care serves a five-state area covering over 10 percent of the lower 48 states.

Dennis has been in his current role nearly a year. His previous experience includes work in communications and marketing roles at the office of the US Surgeon General and with two international foundations working to improve health in developing regions.

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