Service Launch: Hospitals ensure there's no waiting for latest initiative

Waiting for the emergency room is rarely a pleasant experience, to say the least.

Waiting for the emergency room is rarely a pleasant experience, to say the least.

Things were no different at St. Charles Mercy of Oregon, OH, and St. Anne Mercy of Toledo, OH, the two hospitals owned by Mercy Health Partners.

To alleviate the wait and differentiate them from other hospitals, Mercy Health Partners talked to their AOR, Roman/Peshoff, about a plan they'd heard that other hospitals outside of Ohio were trying: promising an emergency room wait of 30 minutes or less.

"They came to us saying, 'We're thinking about doing this,'" says Dan Tischler, a copywriter for Roman/Peshoff. "'What would be the best way to implement it, promote it, help with execution, both internally and externally.'"

Strategy

Emergency rooms accept everyone, regardless of insurance coverage, meaning that people are able to choose which hospitals they want to go to - and wait for. Tischler says that the team decided on a strategy that would draw more people to St. Anne and St. Charles by making it known to them that the wait from sign-in to admission into the emergency room would be less than half an hour. If people had to wait longer than 30 minutes, they would receive a free gift.

Roman/Peshoff based this strategy for the 30 Minute ER Promise on creating a buzz before the campaign's launch. The PR firm met with employees and executives at Mercy, and set about planning a creative launch that would spread the word among the public.

Tactics

To familiarize the hospitals' staff with the new campaign before it started, Roman/Peshoff organized what it called "planning parties" at the hospitals to introduce the new television spots, newspaper advertisements, and billboards.

"Probably the biggest hurdle was selling the marketing program, the PR, and also the advertising internally," Tischler says. "[The hospitals'] biggest concern was they didn't want the public to perceive the emergency care as just rushing people through."

The public got its first glimpse of the campaign through billboards and newspaper advertisements touting the teaser: "The wait is almost over - we promise."

On July 31, the day before the launch, media outlets received launch kits that read, "The wait is over." Mercy executives did interviews for morning TV shows on August 1, and evening news shows reported the results of the launch day.

Results

On the campaign's launch day, 100% of patients were seen in 30 minutes or less, according to Roman/Peshoff. And the hospitals' admittance numbers began to increase.

The census in the ER increased by 28% the first weekend after the launch. The hospitals' average daily census was 80 people each. But during that first weekend, the emergency room census rose to 102, and 97% of those patients were seen in 30 minutes or less.

"As a health system, we are very interested in and want to enhance our commitment to customer service and patient satisfaction," says Megan Manahan, VP of marketing and communications at Mercy. "So for us, the 30 Minute ER Promise was a real opportunity to put that philosophy and commitment into action."

Good Morning America covered the launch in its "Around the Water Cooler" segment, and local television picked up the story, as well. The Toledo Blade gave the launch positive coverage, and daily papers throughout the state - including those in Cincinnati, Fremont, Columbus, and Sandusky - also mentioned the program. Many of the stories were picked up by the newspapers via the AP.

Admissions to the emergency rooms of St. Anne and St. Charles rose steadily over the first three months since the campaign's launch - up 24% and 11%, respectively.

Future

The 30 Minute ER Promise continues to run in Toledo with an ongoing advertising campaign, Tischler says, and other hospitals in the surrounding region are using it as a model.

PR team: Mercy Health Partners and Roman/Peshoff (Toledo, OH)

Campaign: 30 Minute ER Promise

Time frame: August 1, 2003, to present

Budget: $80,000 for the three-week launch

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