A Conceptual Approach to Community Health Screenings For Hospitals

The heart of a community’s care is at its most trusted hospitals. In the same way that blood flows into and out of the heart, your hospital’s message should flow out into the community with grass-roots marketing efforts in order to bring patients back into your hospital for care. By this I mean that a hospital’s marketing efforts should not only focus on drawing patients into their facilities with billboards and magazine ads, but go beyond basic marketing efforts and into the community by offering free health screening events. In my experience working with one of the best hospitals in the South, I came to discover an effective system for coordinating free community health screenings that significantly increased patient volume to the hospital. What I have discovered is a concept, and I will explain the most successful way to develop your own community screenings program so that it will become a consistent source of revenue to your hospital, and build long-term patient loyalty.

In my experience working with a hospital in the South, I coordinated a community outreach program that offered free EKG testing. These tests were taken at free community events and were later confirmed as normal, borderline, or abnormal in the hospital’s clinical database and were stored as baselines for each of the patients who attended the community events. In notifying the attendees of their results by mail, the attendees received a confirmed copy of their EKG which they could keep for their own records. The EKG program increased volume and accounted for $6M in hospital charges from June 2008 to August 2009. The EKG program brought in $2.5M in second quarter 2008, $1.6M in fourth quarter 2008, and $1.9M in first quarter 2009. This data was last updated in August of 2009.

There are many reasons why the EKG test is the most effective for driving volume for cardiac procedures, and generating revenue in total hospital admissions. These reasons include the nature of the EKG test itself, CRM and the process of event planning, and the follow-up that creates patient loyalty.

The first and most important reason why the EKG test is ideal for community events is because of the simple nature of the test itself. With the EKG test, the result can only be 1 of 3 things – abnormal, borderline, or normal. The EKG tests can be taken at the community event, the results can be processed at the hospital, and the confirmed results can be mailed to the attendee within 2 weeks of the community event. The fact that the EKG result comes in the form of a single paper report makes it easy to mail, and can be stored in a person’s medical file for their own records.

If an attendee receives abnormal or borderline test results in the mail, they are also likely to follow up if given a call to action. From my experience in coordinating this campaign for over a year, 9% of EKG tracings were found to be abnormal, 11% were borderline, and 80% were normal. Out of 875 guests that received EKG’s among 9 community events between February and April, there were 181 borderline or abnormal results. Among these 181 people, 162 people followed up with the hospital’s call center for either a physician referral, an inquiry about the result, or a request for information from agencies that help the uninsured.

With a screening such as a carotid ultrasound, the spectrum of abnormality is more diverse – it is more complex and too specific of a test for a community offering. Also, an ultrasound machine is usually costly, and if a hospital’s marketing department does not purchase its own equipment, there is a risk of damage in borrowing machinery from the hospital, if the event is held offsite. EKG machines are relatively inexpensive in comparison if they are being used for the purpose of offering free tests as a community outreach program. The hourly cost of an ultrasound technician in comparison to a medical assistant is also a factor to consider.

With a screening such as a full lipid panel, results are sensitive, so participants are advised to fast for the best results. An EKG test does not require fasting. EKG tests usually take less than five minutes on average. That means more EKG’s can be done at events with less staffing.

The idea of storing EKG’s as a baseline is also a marketable service – patients are made aware that if their EKG tracing is stored at your hospital, then heart care is readily available to them at your hospital too.

Another important step to creating a successful community EKG program is to advertise the events through direct mail and coordinate the process of booking appointments for these events. Research is performed to select the best zip codes in the community that have the highest household income to increase the likelihood of attracting a favorable payor mix to the events. A mailer should also be targeted for people who have the highest incidence of heart disease – those aged 45 and up. Once a direct mailer goes out, appointments can be booked for a full day. With 2 EKG technicians and 2 machines, over 100 people can receive EKG screenings in an 8 hour day.

In my experience, the appointments were successfully booked through the hospital’s call center once the direct mailer reached homes. The information obtained through the call center is requested by the hospital’s marketing department, and usually includes basic personal information such as first name, last name, date of birth, phone number, and address. Any basic information can be requested from the guest by the call center. This information can be used for a few purposes.

The first purpose is that it keeps an appointment log for the day of the event. The second is that this information is later used to process and send the results of the screenings to the person’s house. The action of following up with the guest is the most important part of gaining patient loyalty.

Finally, by holding community events several times per year, there will be a loyalty group that forms a customer relationship with your hospital. In my experience, I have seen the number of loyal patients who regularly attended the hospital’s community events. In the campaign of EKG screenings held between February and April of 2009, 71 guests had previously attended the hospital’s community EKG events several months prior.

Building patient loyalty is simple, and there are multiple ways in which a hospital can do this creatively. A hospital should always follow up with guests who attended community screening events. Make sure that the results of their testing arrive in a timely manner. Make sure that the content of their results letter emphasizes the availability of care at your hospital. Think of creative ways to send the message of trusted care to the audience, and ways to keep them connected to you. One simple way of doing this is printing a patient identification card that includes the attendee’s MRI number. If a person was to return to the hospital’s emergency department with chest pain and present their patient identification card, the hospital’s EKG department can quickly access their baseline EKG for a comparison.

Another way of building patient loyalty is through the use of a “patient care coordinator.” Many hospitals implement a “patient care coordinator” who follows up with patients receiving serious care. In my experience, a patient care coordinator was successfully implemented in a campaign of community EKG screenings between June and July of 2008. During this campaign, attendees of the events who had borderline and abnormal results were contacted for follow up by a registered nurse. Of the 242 people who had non-normal results, 144 received physician referrals to seek follow up care. The remaining attendees were under the care of a cardiologist already, or declined to take action.

You might be thinking, “So if my hospital develops a free EKG program, I will have both long term patient loyalty and significant admissions within 3 – 6 months following a campaign of screening events?” The answer is a flat, simple yes.

If a hospital is interested in pursuing a community program that offers free health screenings, I strongly recommend structuring the program to involve free EKG testing. In comparison to other screenings, such as cholesterol testing and carotid ultrasound, EKG testing stands to show the most consistent success, and proves to be the most conducive for a community offering. It is a simple test that is non-invasive, and its simplicity allows several avenues for patient follow up. These avenues include uploading the EKG in the hospital’s database as a baseline, mailing a copy of the report to the attendee’s house after the event, and following up with the patient through the use of a patient care coordinator.