In an increasingly competitive digital marketplace, hospice providers are embracing direct-to-consumer marketing tactics to include patients and families in their outreach. Among the drivers of this trend is the need to educate the public about the nature of hospice and palliative care.
Most people in the United States have a low level of awareness of these services, with more than 30% of participants agreeing with statements such as “hospice care is only about death” and “hospice care is seen as giving up,” a study in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine® found. Palliative and hospice care education initiatives are necessary to boost awareness of and reduce misperceptions about these services, the study concluded.
Breaking down public misperception has been a long-standing struggle in hospice and palliative care.
“There’s a tremendous need to get greater acceptance to hospice care and the value it brings,” said Michael Ferris, managing partner of Healthcare Strategica. “All kinds of myths and misperceptions exist about hospice, and the most active one is that it’s where your loved ones go to die. Families often say they aren’t ready to let go, or their loved ones aren’t ready yet for hospice.”
While Ferris’ observations will come as no surprise to hospice providers, public misperception is often the biggest barrier in direct-to-consumer marketing tactics.
While most providers in service industries can speak directly to their consumers’ interests, the very nature and complexity of hospice services makes marketing to prospective patients and their families a significant challenge to overcome and must be treated with a high degree of sensitivity.
Marketing in general involves building consumer trust and loyalty, but with a delicate subject matter and the obstacles of misinformation, this is easier said than done for hospices. Relying primarily on hospital and provider referrals isn’t enough to remain competitive and bust myths about end-of-life care, according to hospice marketing professionals. Hospices have an incentive to start the conversation with patients and families sooner rather than later.
“Historically, and to this day, a great number of referrals come from professional health care providers,” said Stan Massey, partner and lead consultant for Transcend Strategy Group. “There’s still a lot of room to educate communities and families and have them be confident to contact hospices directly — even if it’s just to talk about their loved ones’ situation. Educating the community about what’s available to help when caring for a loved one at home, that’s the big advantage. It gets earlier engagement, which leads to longer lengths of stay and allows the provider to give much better service, rather than giving someone the last few days of their lives. That’s the huge benefit.”
Having a compassionate and consistent voice is a vital key in direct-to-consumer marketing for hospices.
“One of the big strategic pieces is that we try to help consumers feel comfortable approaching hospice providers for help,” said Massey. “Every patient and every family faces a variety of different challenges and situations, but the common thread of humanity is the same. The quality of the last chapter in life matters the most to loved ones. Communicating directly on the significance of quality with marketing efforts can make all the difference for hospices.”
Hospice providers can start direct-to-consumer marketing from the inside out.
“It’s important to train all hospice staff on the ‘We’re not ready,’ objection. Training should focus on direct-to-consumer content that puts hospice care into understandable, personalized-touch care. This training lets providers reach families more delicately for the betterment of their loved ones’ care,” Ferris told Hospice News. “The goal is to connect them with a hospice care representative to make an educated decision when the time is right, with no pressure to decide, rather than a reactive choice. It’s a plan for their loved one. Almost always, their goals are the same goals of hospice care, and this often comes as a surprise to most family members and caregivers.”
In a world where information is at consumers’ fingertips, hospices can’t afford to miss out on the benefits of direct-to-consumer marketing. With earlier outreach and compassionate messaging, breaking down misinformation barriers is the first step of many to reaching prospective hospice patients and families that need it most.
“Hospices should look closely at their social media presence, as well as efforts in public speaking and community events,” said Ferris. “Focus on emphasizing hospice as a better quality end-of-life care and become an important member of their surrounding communities. A personal patient or family story of impact highlighted on social media is a way to better communicate and reach consumers with that human component of hospice as a next step in making end-of-life care decisions with quality in mind.”