A new report ranking health system brands gave the top three spots, in descending order, to Memorial Healthcare System, Hollywood , Fla., Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore.
The announcement comes in a report that features not one, but two photos of businessmen standing on tables trying to amp up their wide-eyed colleagues, whose mouths hang open in shock.
Branding consultancy Monigle says that kind of bold action—metaphorically at least; they're not trying to get anyone in trouble with HR—is what the healthcare industry needs in order to stand a chance of competing with the disrupters that constantly threaten them.
"It's time to leap out ahead and say 'Alright, we understand the consumers want different things than we're providing now, and we're going to start prioritizing them even if it's a little uncomfortable,' " said Justin Wartell, managing principal at Monigle and an author of the report.
Monigle's report, Humanizing Brand Experience, is the Denver firm's second to rank health systems' brands based on consumer surveys. The report ranks 118 health systems and also calls out top performers on what Monigle says are the two key components of an organization's brand: emotional motivators and functional drivers.
But even while praising the top performers, the report's authors are careful not to instill complacency. The report notes that if disrupters like Parsley Health, CVS-Aetna, Forward and Haven Healthcare had been included in the rankings, they would have beat every health system on every facet of experience. Wartell said his team also collected data on those brands and ran the comparisons behind the scenes.
"Everything that they're doing is to break down barriers that health systems typically wrestle with in terms of delivering a fantastic experience," he said.
The top health system brands were chosen based on surveys from more than 17,000 consumers. The top performers understand the unique context of their markets and scored highly in a number of functional and emotional areas, which are equally important aspects of an organization's brand, Wartell explained.
Health systems have a lot of "muscle memory" when it comes to the functional aspects of their brands: cornerstones like quality outcomes, personalizing care to patients' unique needs, convenience and innovation. In fact, about a decade ago, the only stories leaders told were about quality outcomes and bringing in new technology, Wartell said.
"Emotional motivators are a new frontier for many health system brands, because it's historically not an area where they've spent a ton of time," he said.
Memorial, whose representatives were not available for comment, took top spots in a number of the report's emotional categories, including individualization (making patients feel like they're the top priority); wellbeing (giving patients a stress-free experience); and freedom (making patients feel they have choices).
Wartell explained that Memorial's South Florida patient population is diverse in age, but the health system is adept at accommodating all generations. A great deal of Memorial's advertising is focused on humanizing the care experience, but the system actually follows through on that when people walk through the door, Wartell said.
"That ability to move from promise through to delivery in a very human way is truly what helps Memorial to stand out as maybe an unexpectedly strong and high-performing brand given the competition that surrounds them at the top of this list," he said.
More than half of survey respondents said convenient, easy access to care is the most important factor in their decisionmaking when it comes to getting healthcare, according to a recent report from NRC Health. In fact, NRC's respondents said convenience matters even more than brand reputation (39.8%) and quality of care (34.6%).
Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic took the top spot on four functional categories, including quality outcomes, innovation, best people and academic medicine. Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente won three functional categories: systemness, wellness and preventive care, and coordination (helping patients navigating care across facilities). Memorial did well in the functional section as well—nabbing top spots for convenience, empathy and transparency.
Thirteen of the systems listed in this year's rankings paid to participate, but Wartell said that had no weight on their rankings, which were 100% driven by consumers. In fact, he said none of the top 17 systems featured on the first page of the report's ranking section paid. Systems that are paid "subscribers" get to help define which markets would be evaluated and get data and analysis beyond what's released publicly.
Interestingly, HCA Healthcare was the only for-profit company to make the list, at 102. Wartell said that's because for-profits are back-office, holding company brands that not enough consumers surveyed recognized.
"It's not about their for-profit status, it's the fact that Tenet doesn't exist in the consumer mindset," he said.
New Orleans-based LCMC Health is among the systems that paid to participate in the report. Christine Albert, LCMC's senior vice president for marketing and communications, said being a relatively new system formed in 2009, LCMC is "pretty much an unknown" system that has long-standing, well-known hospitals under its umbrella.
Albert called LCMC's 105 ranking "a starting point." She said she's less interested in the number and more interested in learning. LCMC is currently working to craft its brand in partnership with Monigle. One aspect will be rolling out a clear definition of who LCMC is that will affect how employees behave—with room for customization.
"In our case, it's really wanting people to show up every day and just do a little something extra for your patients, for your coworkers, for our community and leaving it really open," she said.
When UChicago Medicine launched its rebranding in 2017, it did so knowing that many consumers do online research before deciding where to get care, said William "Skip" Hidlay, the system's senior vice president and chief communications and marketing officer. In response, the academic medical center, which ranked 17 on Monigle's report, built its own branded media enterprise to tell stories directly to consumers.
"We've been committed at the University of Chicago for probably the last decade really at working hard to create an ideal patient experience," Hidlay said, "so that patients feel like we're their partners helping them navigate through complex healthcare journeys."