PR improves the healthcare industry's well-being

The constant feeling that you're helping people even when you're not the one holding the stethoscope makes healthcare PR so rewarding.

The constant feeling that you're helping people even when you're not the one holding the stethoscope makes healthcare PR so rewarding. After 20 years in the communications sector, I still marvel over a great story about a compelling patient or breakthrough medical treatment that reaches so many and can make a difference in just one person's life.
 
When I speak with doctors at the Cleveland Clinic and ask them what value PR brings to our organization, I get similar responses. One doctor captured it quite well in saying, “I could be the best in my field at baking cakes, but if it weren't for PR, no one would know about them.”
 
One of the most important attributes of healthcare PR is education. If someone learns about his or her disease, particularly to the point where they can ask better questions of their doctor, we've done a good thing. By default, people often consider coming to our hospital from what they have learned from our physicians.  
 
Last year we brought on a PR firm to help, in part, better understand how to more effectively evaluate our efforts. So far we've learned a great deal about our reputation, what our patients want from us, and how we can better measure PR impact.
 
We had a story on ABC News a while back about brain tumors. It was an innovative, yet still experimental treatment for patients who normally would have limited options to treat these terrible walnut-sized, often fatal tumors deep in the brain. The story, which ran four minutes long, featured an electric probe that “cooked” the tumor with the hopes of making it disappear.
 
Before the story aired, we alerted our call center and Neurological Institute staff to help us capture the calls that came in the following day or so. More than 1,000 phone calls resulted from the story. One person even said, “I don't have a brain tumor, but if you can do that, I'm coming to Cleveland.”
 
We've also looked at mixed-model metrics where we evaluate heart patients coming from a specific geographical location. We specifically looked for what media mix (ads, news, direct mail, etc.) was used in that market that most likely drove patient volume. In two pilots we conducted, PR was the driving source of patients coming to Cleveland. That was nice, but it is also too expensive to do this on an ongoing basis.
 
The other possible way to measure would include direct surveys with our patients who travel here. Although we haven't done that to my knowledge, we do have a fairly good sense that what we do as PR pros makes a substantial difference, with perhaps the most satisfying dividend being our ability to bring hope to those who face incredible odds to recovery.

Eileen Sheil is executive director of corporate communications at Cleveland Clinic, one of the country's top nonprofit academic medical centers. Her column will focus on the myriad challenges of healthcare PR and topics related to the management of the comms function. Sheil can be reached at sheile@ccf.org.

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