Campaigns: Community Relations

Customer satisfaction is an increasingly important variable for hospitals as they vie for 'customers' to ensure that they stay afloat.

Customer satisfaction is an increasingly important variable for hospitals as they vie for 'customers' to ensure that they stay afloat.

Customer satisfaction is an increasingly important variable for hospitals as they vie for 'customers' to ensure that they stay afloat.

Many patients voiced dissatisfaction about waiting times in the emergency room at Oakwood Hospital & Medical Center in Dearborn, MI. 'Twelve months ago we got a wake-up call from our customers saying that they were waiting too long,' says Corinne Victor, Oakwood's emergency services administrator.

In addition, Oakwood wants to increase the number of patients it treats from the current 68,000 per year to 75,000, according to Rochelle Brown, the medical center's marketing officer. But unless the hospital can shorten waiting times, patients will be unwilling to visit it.

So the hospital reengineered the way it delivers ER care: physician staff increased from three to six during peak times, job responsibilities were redefined and other departments' processes and turn-around times were changed.

Then it was time for Oakwood to get the word out about these improvements.


After a survey revealed that 30 minutes was the maximum time patients were willing to wait, the hospital instated an unusual guarantee, wherein ER patients were promised examination and treatment initiation within 30 minutes of arrival, regardless of the extent of the injury or severity of the illness. If the hospital failed to meet the deadline, patients were given free movie passes and a formal apology.

'With healthcare being the way it is, it was impossible to give discounts, but we wanted to give something that they could use to have a night out on us when they feel better,' says Amy Middleton, divisional marketing director, who adds that the hospital has a relationship with Star Theaters.

With the launch of this program, Oakwood had a great story to tell. But ironically, just as it was about to launch its main PR effort, the hospital discovered that it wasn't needed.


With limited funds, the in-house team decided that the best way to publicize the guarantee was to broadcast it on two billboards located within two to three miles from the ER. (In addition, the guarantee was mailed to 60,000 Dearborn-area residents in a five-mile radius of the hospital.)

The billboards went up on July 17, 2000, and media calls started coming in by August 2 - without so much as a press release being circulated.

'We were going to do a press release, but decided to wait a week to make sure the program was going OK,' Brown explains. 'As soon as we started to put one together, the media calls started coming in.'


The campaign received attention from national and international media, including mentions on the Canadian Broadcasting Company; The Ric Malbur Show, an Australian talk-radio program; the Health Channel, an English cable TV healthcare channel; the Live with Regis morning show; CNN and articles in USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. Other coverage included a front-page story in The Detroit News and local TV interviews with doctors at the hospital.

So far, the ER has given out only four movie passes. Two were doled out because a delay in filing complicated insurance claims; one was for a waiting period of just 36 minutes and one for 33 minutes.


Brown says that the new program will be implemented by September 30th in two more hospitals in the Oakwood Healthcare System and should be up and running by the end of the year in a fourth hospital.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in