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The Challenge of Marketing Skilled Nursing & Rehab Facilities Multiple Messages to Multiple Audiences

Marketing skilled nursing facilities and rehab providers is very different from other types of senior living.   When faced with the need for a skilled nursing or rehab stay, there are basically two types of inputs that will drive the decision:

  1. Personal investigation, possibly by the patient but more likely his/her caregivers;
  2. Referral source recommendations.

The decision process experienced by the patient/caregiver is generally short-term, and is informed by sales literature, websites and property visits.  Often the most important input is provided by referral sources that can include discharge planners, case workers, hospital administrators and physicians. 

Encouraging these referral sources to recommend a particular SNF or rehab provider requires a longer-term sales effort.  And it probably goes without saying that most hospital referral sources already have relationships with other SNFs and rehab providers.  Hence, the successful SNF must supplant those existing relationships by demonstrating why it is different and better, and worth the referral source’s consideration.

Competing Agendas

As Paul Flowers the President of Circa 46 a Senior Housing Forum partner looks at it, the whole process is complicated because these two referral sources do not necessarily have the same agendas, making the marketing to them even more complicated. 

Discharge planners and case workers want their discharged patients to convalesce in facilities where they will have a good experience – call it “quality-of-life.”  Hospital administrators, CFOs and physicians want their patients where they will receive the care necessary to ensure they do not require readmission to the hospital after they have been released to a SNF – we’ll call this “quality-of-care.”

As you can see, these two referral source groups have very different “problems” that a SNF needs to solve, in order to be at the top of the deck when they are dealing out referrals.

The "Quality of Life" Problem

The objective for case workers and discharge planners is to ensure a “happy placement” for their patients.  So, how can a SNF assure them the patients they refer there will be happy?  Here are three steps to get there:

  1. Determine what the SNF does that will make the patient smile when she thinks about it.  There must certainly be something about the facility or its operation that will give a patient joy or pleasure.  Make that the focal point of your marketing message.
  2. Paint a picture.  That is, help the discharge planner envision her patients enjoying whatever it is about the SNF that delivers that joy or pleasure.  And when you paint that picture, lead with right-brain messaging that evokes emotion, then you follow with a left-brain focus on rationale.
  3. Stay in contact. One of a SNF’s main goals when marketing to case workers and discharge planners is to establish and maintain top-of-mind awareness, so it is the first option they think of when referring facility options to patients.  This simply requires plain old hard work and commitment by the SNF’s marketing staff.

The Quality-of-Care Problem

A major goal for hospital administrators and CFOs is to minimize readmits.  Not only do fewer readmits reduce financial penalties on Medicare reimbursements as prescribed in the Affordable Care Act, they also free up hospital beds that can then be made available to more patients.  This requires serious tracking of outcomes, but it’s worth it! The SNF that can demonstrate fewer patients are readmitted into the hospital – especially if it can be demonstrated vis-à-vis competing SNFs – will rapidly become the hospital administrator’s SNF of choice. 

Another way to become the hospital administrator’s first choice is to become the “best” at something – whether that is the best rehab for hip replacement, the best Medicare/Medicaid processing, the best dining, etc.  In short, give them a clear reason to recommend you.

While case workers and discharge planners have the greater amount of contact with patients who are being released from the hospital, you can bet that the hospital administrator’s position on these things trickles down to them!

Where to Go from Here?

Start at the bottom of this article and work backwards.  Really!

Find that nugget where the SNF can claim its superiority.   Figure out how that superiority claim can be married with whatever it is about the SNF that brings joy to the patient.  Then present that unique claim in a manner that appeals to the hospital management, the case workers/discharge planners, and ultimately to the patient and her caregivers.

And do it in a way that brings a smile to everyone who receives the marketing message.

You can download a helpful two page document  marketing to Skilled Nursing Here

Paul Flowers, President Circa46

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