The rapid restructuring of the physician services sector and resulting physician alignment, integration and employment models are presenting new brand building challenges for health systems, hospitals and physician organizations. Assuming the average primary care physician sees about 5,000 patients visits a year, back of the napkin math shows us that a health system with 100 employed physicians brings in a half million visits or so annually – with 300 to 400 physicians that number can rise upwards of 2 million. Now assuming that brand impressions are shaped through familiarity and frequency of use, then it’s easy to see how a large employed physician practice can be the catalyst for building – or unraveling – brand reputation.
You see, what we’re still learning in healthcare is that brand is built more powerfully through the customer experience than through promotions. The most creative imagery and well-crafted messages of killer advertising will not survive poor or inconsistent customer service – physician offices that don’t return patient calls, or don’t answer calls over the lunch hour when it’s most convenient for patients to make them, or can’t make timely appointments or see patients on time, or the poorly trained and groomed front desk staff, or the torn upholstery of the waiting room chairs, or the rushed appointment, or the doctor or nurse that enters the exam room, eyes on the chart and not on the patient. Or even worse – the missed diagnosis, the wrong medication, the preventable error.
The significance and potential impact of these everyday irritants and sometimes serious missteps cannot be underestimated once aggregated under the brand umbrella of a large health system. Every physician practice is now a branded access point, perhaps even the most critical of those touch points capable of enhancing or destroying brand reputation.
Brands are about business – growth, customer loyalty, profitability. It just doesn’t make good business sense investing millions to effect a large scale physician integration strategy if only to lose that and more by not purposefully addressing how brand equity will be preserved and enhanced.
So how can brand be unleashed to drive growth and innovation for the health system-physician enterprise? Well, that’s Part II – coming soon.