My first experience with an emergency department happened when I was 18 years old. During a rush into the mall for a much-anticipated day of shopping and teenage gabbing, my younger sister somehow managed to slam the car door on her hand.
There were no urgent care centers back then. I wasn’t reminded of a particular location because of a cool Internet giveaway my family had received. We passed no billboards of ER ads depicting mothers with worried faces clutching their sick children. I simply rushed her to the hospital ER I knew and was most familiar with (I can’t even say that it was the closest, but in that moment where my sister was crying, that’s the only one I could think of). Her injury was, thankfully, not serious, but the wait to discover this was interminable. We emerged from the ER like worn out marathon runners who at long last have finally crossed the finish line.
Many hospitals today are undergoing profound changes to improve the patient’s ER experience. Spurred by the explosive growth of urgent care centers, the infamous long wait times and recognition of the critical role the ER plays in driving admissions and downstream revenue, hospitals have embraced marketing for their emergency rooms like never before. They are advertising shorter wait times, or online appointment making. They are also responding to the competitive challenges by launching their own branded urgent care centers.
My work in healthcare marketing has helped me become a more informed consumer and given the same circumstance today, I would likely choose an urgent care center over the ER for my sister. In the case of a true medical emergency, however, I’m encouraged that the overall patient experience is changing in the ER – and that the trend is expected to continue.
As a hospital marketer, how and where you market your ER is probably something you think about often. The lesson I was reminded of when thinking about my first ER experience is that in an emergency, I ended up picking the brand I knew and loved. And today, despite a more complex ER marketing environment, people continue to go to the first hospital that comes to mind during an emergency. That hospital is the brand they know best.
So is that your brand?