Mailers Sustain Hospital's Leadership

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A Michigan hospital's success with targeted postcards to increase its referrals for orthopedic services has spurred a shift in marketing strategy from mass media to direct mail.

Port Huron Hospital, in Port Huron, saw attendance at its orthopedic health seminars rise from an average of about 10 per session to more than 30 after it began its direct marketing strategy last year.

It also found that 15.93 percent of consumers who received postcards promoting a joint-pain seminar during a campaign from April to December 2003 subsequently came to the hospital for orthopedic services, compared with 7.52 percent among a control group.

The hospital is one of three in its service area. Though it is the most highly used in the area, Port Huron is the lone independent facing two hospitals owned by healthcare conglomerates.

Port Huron has long used seminars as a marketing tool, promoting them through radio and television ads. It also used an untargeted print newsletter to its customer base.

However, seminar attendance was flagging. In an effort to sustain Port Huron's leadership position, director of marketing Lori Mouton brought in Customer Potential Marketing Group, Middleton, WI, in January 2003 to build a database marketing strategy.

In April, Port Huron began mailing four-color, 8-by-5-inch postcards to consumers. The postcards offered a free hip- and knee-pain seminar or a free meeting with an orthopedic specialist.

From Port Huron's database of more than 300,000 area consumers, the hospital identified 15,720 households to receive the postcards. Consumers were selected based on age -- 45 and older -- as well as having been diagnosed with joint pain or arthritis and having household incomes greater than $25,000.

Port Huron also used Customer Potential Marketing's predictive segmentation model known as CHUI to determine prospects with the highest likelihood of using orthopedic services. It excluded patients it knew already had received knee or hip replacement surgery.

Of those who received postcards, 2,504 used orthopedic services at the hospital. These included 150 new patients, though the majority were existing patients, as always a key target for marketing efforts.

"Direct mail has given us better response rates," Mouton said. "More targeted direct mail and being able to do some segmentation seemed to help our efforts."

One result Port Huron still seeks to nail down is how much revenue the campaign generated for the hospital, Mouton said. Turnaround times on surgeries often take months, so it's hard to know when a particular mailer is responsible for a specific surgery.

Furthermore, some responses may be due to outside factors, such as accidents requiring surgery, rather than the postcard, Mouton said. Port Huron is sifting the numbers to determine a concrete ROI but so far is pleased with the response rates, she said.

Direct mail remains a focus for Port Huron's marketing. It has an ongoing mail program for newcomers to its service area -- a letter from the hospital CEO -- and a physician-referral mail program. It may use its database to revamp its newsletter program to include personalized information for consumers, Mouton said.

Port Huron also has begun online marketing. On its home page at, the hospital offers a free online heart health survey for women. Women who take the survey can receive a health assessment by a nurse and an appointment at the hospital's women's wellness center. The center is booked for appointments into August, Mouton said.

The next step in Port Huron's direct marketing strategy is to build outbound e-mail programs, she said.


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