Nursing homes and Assisted living centers did not need to be competitive or brand driven because the hospitals just sent all of the patients they needed. The most common method of attracting new patients was to send a fax and call local hospital discharge planners. You would simply announce that you now have available beds. They welcomed your notice and respond with new referrals.
Today most hospitals own home health care agencies and skilled nursing centers. The hospitals that used to send you all the patients you needed are now your most threatening competitors. They have a huge competitive advantage over your center because they have established a trusting relationship with your potential patients. They also have a relationship with most of the patient’s physicians. They are positioned to control the patients entire care path, leaving your center with fewer referrals.
Moreover, most hospitals no longer allow nursing home, assisted living center, and home health care representatives to visit prospective patients. Only when the patient has selected your center from a list of options and refused the hospital’s sales pitch will they allow you to visit the patient. You will likely not have an opportunity to win over potential patients if you have not established a relationship with them before they were hospitalized.
Most Long-term care centers are still tying to win referrals from hospitals as their census and revenues decline. Every day you wait to try a new marketing approach makes it harder to recover. If your competitors build a relationship with your prospective new patient and their support network first you will need over twice the effort to win them away. Waiting to respond to the new market environment could be devastating.
Your new approach needs to be smart and aggressive. The smart part includes:
• Strategic planning
• A big vision
• Creating a competitive advantage
• Reinventing your entire center
• Creating the next new thing
• Relationship building activities
• Affiliations and networking
• Targeted communication
• Establishing new sales paths
It’s going to be a real challenge for most centers to suddenly become aggressive, marketing driven organizations because most are incapable and unwilling to make the necessary changes. The process starts with upper management and works its way down. A new vision and management style is needed for future growth.
Your reconstructive effort should begin with two questions. First, why would a prospective new patient pick your center over all other options? Your center needs to develop a competitive advantage. Most nursing homes and assisted living centers are clones. They mistakenly believe offering good care and being compassionate is enough to win patients. Every center offers the same things.
Location becomes the only decision-making criteria when no distinct advantage is offered. Specializing and reinventing the entire care model is needed to really stand out as a best choice. It’s hard to win a new customer from your competitors when your center has nothing of unique value to offer. It will take time and a unified effort to implement real valuable changes in your organization. The time to start was a few years ago.
The second question after the first is completed is, how do we build a relationship with our target market and tell our new story before they need our services? It’s not enough to create an attractive product. You also need to build a relationship with prospective new patients before they need your services. They need to insist on using your center or they will likely slide into the hospital’s continuum of care.
When you look at the big picture of what you offer: recovery, health care, and life enrichment; you have many new opportunities to build relationships with future customers. The industry changes have already taken place. Now your only options are to change and thrive or remain on a steady census decline.