NRC Health released its 2017-18 consumer loyalty awards Monday, which the company said is the first of its kind in recognizing U.S. hospitals for success at garnering — and retaining — patient loyalty. Top of the list was Catholic Health Initiatives' Memorial Hospital Chattanooga, with NewYork-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center as the runner-up and Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania coming in third.
The Lincoln, Nebraska-based consultancy collected survey data from more than 300,000 U.S. consumers spread across the country from mid-2017 to mid-2018, measuring seven metrics of brand loyalty: access, brand score, engagement, need, motivation, experience and net promoter score (a standard tool across multiple industries used to gauge customer loyalty).
The University of California and Kaiser Permanente healthcare systems both had three facilities snag spots on the list, and were the only large provider systems to do so. This is an indicator of "consistency, brand promise" and delivery, according to NRC Health VP and general manager Brian Wynne.
As the twin agents of consumerism and competition continue to hover over the provider sphere, hospital systems are scrambling to differentiate their facilities to retain an increasingly picky patient population. Many are investing heavily in outpatient services to offset their losses from shrinking admissions.
Recently, patients have come to expect more from their caregivers, such as a strong online presence, convenience, flexibility, transparency and a focus on customer service. In a recent survey, more than 80% of respondents reported that customer experience was the most important factor "influencing their loyalty" to a hospital except for quality of care.
Millennials are especially fickle, with 28% willing to switch to a different physician if their needs remain unmet (compared to just 16% of tried-and-true baby boomers). More telling, 44% reported they would b likely to switch in the next year.
"Consumers have more choice than they've ever had," Wynne said in the press release. "Those hospitals that are proactive about cultivating and maintaining consumer loyalty will ultimately be the ones who will dominate the market."
A June Kaufman Hall survey of 200 hospitals and healthcare executives saw 90% of respondents say improving customer experience was a high priority, up from just 30% a year prior. Yet only 8% were rated tier 1 performers for aggressively pursuing consumer-centric strategies, with the rest lagging behind in initial or adolescent stages of a consumerist agenda.
A similar study a month later from Chicago-based Prophet agreed, finding little progress in the consumerism efforts of providers, payers and pharmaceutical companies.
The NRC Health rankings are an early effort to quantify the ripple effects of such efforts on providers. While the top-scoring hospitals all excelled in categories like access (customer awareness) and motivation (willingness to choose one brand over another), scores on consumer engagement with providers were comparatively low.
The 37-year-old NRC Health was "looking at loyalty zoomed out," Wynne told Healthcare Dive. "An increase in advocacy to a brand is what's going to position an organization to succeed going forward" and getting hospitals "meaningful data to support that is certainly the first step."
Wynne noted that location, size of network and a focus on holistic care were all factors in the results.
Though hospitals in competitive urban settings boasted more leading facilities (Chicago and Los Angeles both had four hospitals in the top 100), brand-successful hospitals were found all across the country. With mounting popularity of telemedicine and increased facility specialization, competition may not be limited geographically in the future.
Similarly, although 90% of the ranking hospitals are part of a larger network, the majority of the winners had customers who experienced a brand without being aware of it, according to NRC. Basically, people didn't care about a hospital's affiliation or its system's size as long as it didn't detrimentally impact their quality of care.
Finally, NRC found that hospitals both big and small are increasingly putting a focus on wellness and eschewed the traditional locus of episodic care. The report called out McLeod Regional Medical Center in South Carolina, which earned the top honor for patient engagement due to its community programming.
The list builds of NRC Health's Loyalty Index, which was launched last year from decades of research on healthcare consumer preference, behavior and motivation and is part of the organization's focus on helping providers transition to a consumerist strategy.
"We see customer-centered organizations win in all industries," Wynne said. "I think the time of reckoning for that in healthcare is upon us."