Preamble: The 31,000 remarkable hot dogs article was based on the idea of giving something away, to build brand presence. When you give your time and service to the community, it usually comes back tenfold.
June – 2009 Many articles and news stories have described our troubled economic situation in graphic detail. Shrinking budgets and ever narrowing margins are forcing managers to make difficult choices about staffing levels, equipment purchases and even the care that is offered to their patients. Instead of focusing on the figures and numbers of the story, perhaps we need to look at this as an opportunity to do something remarkable for your community and increase the care offered to your patients, especially those who cannot afford the care they desperately require.
One of our local high schools has an open lunch policy and every day around 11:30 hungry kids head out to find a bite to eat. A church is located next to the school and after some discussion, decided that this was an opportunity to perform one of their basic missions: care for others without asking for anything in return. With a hot dog, bottled water and a cookie, students would be fed with no strings attached. Before the first meal was offered, the church members discussed how many students might show up; maybe twenty, possible thirty-five? No one really knew what to expect.
Almost instantly, their program was a hit. On a typical week over 800 meals are served to kids from the neighboring high school. Over the course of the school year, approximately 31,000 remarkable hot dogs were given away. The program that started out as an interesting idea has become an essential component of their ministry as they responded to a need in their community without hesitation.
In many ways health care serves a similar purpose. Rather than creating a religious ministry, health care providers can find opportunities daily to empathize with people’s physical frailties and needs. Our current economic situation has driven many people to reduce or even eliminate medical care. They are certainly making tough decisions regarding elective or non-emergent care and the expensive advanced imaging that is usually prescribed. This presents a unique opportunity for imaging center managers and hospital administrators.
The challenge is to set your business apart from others and refocus your mission to serve patients and communities in a remarkable way during this time of economic trials. By recognizing and responding to the needs of their communities, centers will further integrate their usefulness into daily life with those in their cities. Clients will recognize your value, and your giving may return ten-fold.
One bold and creative idea is to create a regular open slot in the patient schedule for hardship patients. This could be one per week or two per month, whatever your business can handle. Negotiate with your performing technologists and radiologists and have them agree to read and perform the exam done during this time slot for no compensation or salary. The center can write off the service as a donation for tax purposes, and add it to its un-collectible revenue. If the hardship slot is not filled with a patient needing this service, then the opening can be filled with a regularly insured or Medicare covered patient.
Share in the opportunity to assist other health-care providers to help their patients by offering a unique, highly technical, and otherwise expensive exam at no charge. To market this opportunity correctly, make it understood to the referring physicians that this appointment slot is valuable and special, but be certain to market it fully. Emphasize that your medical staff is offering their services free in the best interest of the community and that the hardship recipient will be treated with the same attention to detail and respect as would be afforded any patient.
The inherent value of this charitable mission alone and the secondary business it creates will initially be invisible. Eventually, your center’s business will grow from the referring physicians’ loyalty, and by example, more of the medical services will offer complimentary services for their communities. These outreach efforts will not go unnoticed as your center becomes more integrated into your larger community. Patients talk, and they will share with others the special care they received when it was most needed and least affordable. This positive word of mouth promotion is priceless.
We recognize that many managers are experiencing enormous stress when faced with shrinking patient numbers and revenues. However, these economic challenges might also present a not-to-be-missed opportunity to make your imaging service remarkable and to build a reputation as a health care provider who truly cares. Giving away a few metaphorical hot dogs may be exactly what turns a bad economy into a great opportunity to make money and make a difference.