Disruptive Innovations in Patient Engagement
“What happens to a frog's car when it breaks down? It gets toad away.” Perhaps not the kind of comedy you’d expect when a comic takes center stage, but it’s just right for paying the price of admission to the Laugh Café at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington DC. And as far as patient engagement strategies go, the Café is no laughing matter. It’s said that laughter is the best medicine — and members of Sibley Memorial Hospital’s Senior Association agree.
Each month, they meet up at a room next to the hospital’s café, not because they’re sick, but because they enjoy the camaraderie and more-than-occasionally corny joke that the Laugh Café offers. The fun doesn’t stop there, either. For a one-time $40 membership fee, the seniors can take advantage of a host of activities, from museum trips and foreign language classes to tango lessons. As Marti Bailey, the senior association’s director, told KHN, “Health-care transformation requires we do everything we can to increase people’s health, rather than waiting for them to get ill. Health care doesn’t stop when you leave the hospital.”
Smart Marketing and Engaged Healthcare are not Mutually Exclusive
More than 10,000 seniors have taken part in activities through Sibley Memorial’s senior association. That’s a pretty impressive figure, and other hospitals around the country have rolled out similar programs to develop relationships with older consumers outside of the patient-care provider role. Certainly, it’s a smart marketing strategy. Said Gerard Anderson, director of the Center for Hospital Finance and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, “If they get you in the door and you have a pleasant experience, then the next time you need to go to the hospital, you have a place you’ve been to and where you feel comfortable.”
Building the hospital brand, especially among a segment whose need for healthcare services will only grow and is covered by a consistently reliable payer makes perfect sense. Moreover, the Medicare payment incentives and penalties mean that improving patient engagement — even if that means keeping people healthier and out of the hospital — is good business.
A New Way to View Patient Engagement
It’s also good for consumers. The Alzheimer’s Association® reports that a study of 800 men and women aged 75 and older found that leisure activities that combine physical, mental and social activity reduce the risk for developing dementia, and hospitals are stepping up with their senior-focused programs.
- The Senior Health Department at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington also has an outreach program for seniors. In addition to offering fall risk and memory assessments, the hospital sponsors a mall-walking group and free lectures on healthy aging, as well as age-appropriate exercise classes for an additional fee. The hospital’s director of health promotion and senior health notes that it’s a great solution for seniors who don’t like to cook for themselves because they can get a meal at the hospital when they come for a lecture, and the environment is less intimidating than a fitness club.
- In Silver Springs, Maryland, Holy Cross Hospital’s Senior Source programs ranging from low-impact exercise and dance classes to a tech-friendly class called “Are You Smarter than Your Smartphone?” attracted 4,800 participants ages 55 and older.
- George Washington University Hospital’s Senior Advantage program offers its 9,000 members hearing tests, health insurance counseling and discounts at the cafeteria and gift shop for a lifetime fee of $10 for an individual or $15 for a couple ages 65 and up.
Many hospital invest in such programs because they consider it to be an important part of community outreach. While such efforts may not reach all of the geriatric consumers in a hospital’s vicinity, the return on engagement — healthier, happier patients who have a positive impression of the hospital — is well-worth the effort.
As Fredda Vladeck, director of the Aging in Place Initiative at the United Hospital Fund told KHN, “Hospitals are trying to promote the notion of the health and wellness of aging and trying to change their image from places of sickness and death to ones of health and wellness.” If it takes a well-worn joke like, “Why did the house go to the doctor? It was having window pains,” it’s still well worth the effort.