June 13, 2018

Rock Star Physicians: How To Win Their Hearts

Health systems regularly spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a shiny new television spot. All done with the goal of attracting new patient revenue.

But in some ways as you consider your brand and advertising initiatives, you are really only playing to an audience of one.

Think about a struggling service line. Maybe it’s an area your health system has only recently decided to compete in. Maybe there has been a bad run of reputation-killing incidents that are seemingly beyond your control. Maybe the competition simply has better talent. Whatever the challenge, it’s nearly impossible to think that finding and keeping the best physicians isn’t part of the answer.

One of the best parts of my job is that I get to talk to hundreds of patients a year across the country. Sometimes I’m in their homes. I’ve met their kids. I pet their dogs. We’ve embraced when they cry and some have sent me updates years after we last spoke. In other words, I know the emotions that drive them.

And despite all of the inside-baseball talks that CEOs have about the importance of things like “brand strategy” and “ROI advertising tracking” and all of the rest of the marketing speak, for many patients, it’s the doctor that drives their decision of which health system to choose.

They’ve told me that on camera. They’ve told me on the phone. And they’ve said it in focus groups and surveys.

If that Rockstar Physician these patients are seeking happens to work for your competitor, I don’t care if Steven Spielberg directs your next ad…you simply won’t win this patient.

So in some respects, you are playing that ad for an audience of one. And what a crucial audience it can be.

Your ability to attract and keep that amazing surgeon is at stake. So, what should you say to these rock star physicians? Whatever you say, do not ignore the power of emotional storytelling. Here’s why.

A Quick Case Study

St. Vincent Charity Medical System is small faith-based hospital tucked into the hyper-competitive market of Cleveland, Ohio. While never looking to unseat such giants as The Cleveland Clinic, the small but mighty hospital did need to compete in select service lines…simply to survive. Their orthopedic programming was a strong service line, but they needed to keep refreshing talent and penetrate the suburbs to find a healthier payor mix to continue their mission.

Enter Dr. Michael Canales.

This former All-American Gymnast (and husband of Olympic gold medalist Dominique Moceanu) had star power. Literally.

Not only was he tapped into the elite sports medicine scene due to his background, but the passionate young surgeon was also trained in the superior techniques of STAR ankle replacement. His reputation was forged by working with elite athletes and solidified when this reputation spread to weekend warriors…his history of treating All-American competitors translated to a halo effect, convincing everyday knee patients to trust him with their more simple surgical needs.

But why did Dr. Canales, a surgeon who could probably practice anywhere, ultimately choose to practice at this tiny health system?

When we spoke, it was obvious that it was the emotional stories that came out of St. Vincent Charity that made the difference. He was attracted to how the system positioned itself in the marketplace. And I’m not talking about marketing and financial mumbo-jumbo positioning…I’m talking about the emotional case that St. Vincent’s presented to prospective patients.

“The mission is certainly important. And I looked at how that mission impacts patients and I could see that that St. Vincent Charity had actual emotional value to the community. It was certainly part of my decision in coming here,” Dr. Canales said.

And that’s why when working together on a campaign, Dr. Canales fully supported our emotional storytelling approach. He understood that it is emotional storytelling that opens the door to action. Not only did he know this from his relationships with patients, he knew this because it was emotional storytelling that attracted HIM to the health system.

And his evaluation of the system through brand didn’t stop there. It is the especially younger, more media savvy surgeons who know that things like brand strategy and the patient experience will also contribute to the factors of his success.

There was never much mention of clinical capabilities or research opportunities over the course of several conversations we had. Certainly, many physicians will weigh these more heavily. But Dr. Canales didn’t…and he’s been a key factor in the service line’s success and ultimately contributed heavily to the health system remaining viable and independent.

An Underrated Recruiting Tool

Emotional storytelling is how you show value to the community but it also brings an often-underrated benefit to you as a CEO: It tells physicians the specific values that drive your organization.

The emotion might be protective instincts. It might be compassion or collaboration or all three…but if it isn’t emotional…is it really a story? What stories are you really telling that Rockstar Physician who just received your recruiting package? What values will they see on your YouTube channel when they Google you?

When you are messaging to the community and thinking about how you position yourself, never forget the power of emotional storytelling. Not only is this approach the most memorable to your prospective patients, it could be the tipping point to finding a Dr. Canales of your own. And I’ve spoken with his patients. Trust me. You want more doctors like this. And emotional storytelling might just be what helps you court them. If not, there’s always that hospital down the street…I’m sure they can make space for him.

Watch Dr. Canales help us build an emotional story here.