Sorry, hospitals. Spending on brand promotion apparently doesn’t inspire patient loyalty

A blue hospital sign on the side of a building
Many patients are less than concerned about the brand name of the hospital they visit, according to a new report. (Getty/Manuel-F-O)

Being part of a big-name provider brand doesn’t necessarily inspire loyalty among patients, according to a new survey.

NRC Health, a consulting firm that focuses on the consumer experience, polled 300,000 patients for its annual Consumer Loyalty Award list. They found that patients don’t necessarily seek out large health networks or systems and will stick with a provider that has proven to offer a positive experience regardless of the size of its brand.

Of the awarded hospitals, 90% are part of larger systems, but just 40% of polled consumers said they consider whether a hospital is part of a bigger network when seeking care.

Brian Wynne, vice president and general manager at NRC Health, told FierceHealthcare that the hospitals or health systems that ranked highest were doing more to connect with patients outside the traditional care journey—through community projects, for example—which patients value more than a brand name.

“These are two-way interactions and being intentional about that is something healthcare has largely not invested a lot of time into,” Wynne said.

RELATED: America’s Essential Hospitals launches research project to identify ‘dimensions’ of patient trust

The top five hospital systems on the survey, out of 100 total, are:

  1. CHI Memorial Hospital Chattanooga
  2. NewYork-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center
  3. Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
  4. University of Utah Health
  5. McLeod Regional Medical Center

To rank the hospitals, NRC first polled the survey respondents on whether they recognized the brands, then dived into how often they engaged with the providers outside of the care setting and if they felt they had sufficient access to care.

McLeod, which scored highest for patient engagement among the award winners, is a prime example of how facilitating that “two-way” conversation can pay off, Wynne said.

In addition to offering healthcare, McLeod provides a number of community services such as safe driving, youth summer camps and scholarship programs. As hospitals are often community pillars—sometimes literally the largest building in town—consumers are starting to expect that kind of holistic experience, Wynne said.

RELATED: UCSF partners with Dignity Health on digital platform designed for frictionless engagement

Patients have more choice in healthcare than they ever have, Wynne said, which is why it’s crucial that hospitals and health systems connect with them in new ways instead of banking on brand loyalty.

“That’s traditionally an area where health systems have struggled,” he said.

The patient journey is often confusing and complicated, so meeting patients where they are can prevent people from falling through the gaps and skipping care altogether, Wynne said.

Wynne said providers that begin to dig into how they can improve the patient experience identify other issues that may be the true root cause, such as infection control. Starting conversations on these topics allows them to “peel back the onion” to get to the central issues, he said.