When the former Hendricks Community Hospital underwent a name change in 2003, executives embarked on an ambitious advertising campaign to promote the new moniker.
Two years later, the modified Hendricks Regional Health has yet to abandon its marketing blitz, although the message has changed. The hospital is wrapping up a year-long promotional push, mainly to alert newcomers to fast-growing Hendricks County of the center's existence, and will launch a follow-up campaign in the summer.
Its efforts to muster additional name recognition are becoming more necessary as hospitals no longer can rely on their presence alone to attract patients, especially in Marion County and the surrounding area. That's because new construction is bringing with it more competition.
Until last year, Hendricks Regional Health in Danville, for instance, had served the county independently for more than 40 years. That changed in December when Clarian Health Partners opened Clarian West Medical Center, a $125 million, 76-bed hospital, a few miles away in Avon.
Clarian also is planning to open Clarian North, a $235 million hospital and medical complex, just north of 116th Street in September. The facility will give Hamilton County residents an option beyond Riverview Hospital in Noblesville or St. Vincent Hospital to the south on 86th Street.
And then there are the heart hospitals. The Heart Center of Indiana became the city's first stand-alone heart hospital when it opened in December 2002 at 106th and Meridian streets. The Indiana Heart Hospital, on Community Health Network's North campus, followed two months later.
With the additional choices, hospital owners want to differentiate themselves from the other players, said Jeff Williams, a director and health care consultant at the local office of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.
"Definitely, the Indianapolis market is more competitive," he said. "And with the specialty hospital providers, that can create confusion in the eye of the patients. How they learn about them is through advertising programs."
In the case of Hendricks Regional Health, the hospital is attempting to distinguish its services by highlighting the personalized care it offers, said Becky Wardzala, the hospital's public relations manager.
Two hospitalists were brought on staff in early 2004 to focus on the treatment of hospital patients. Because hospitalists work in the hospital, they are available to re-evaluate patients as often as needed.
Hendricks County's growth spurt hit full tilt during the mid '90s. Projections provided by Health Evolutions Inc. of Indianapolis predict the county's population will increase 27 percent this decade. That puts it in the same ballpark as Hamilton County, for which 32-percent growth is projected. Hendricks County has about half the population of Hamilton.
"There are a lot of new people in Hendricks County, and because the county is growing so dramatically, we need to let them know what we offer," Wardzala said. "We're not advertising because of Clarian West; we're advertising for ourselves."
Laurie Kowalevsky, executive vice president and director of client services at the local office of the Publicis advertising agency, agreed. Kowalevsky, who has developed campaigns for the St. Vincent Health network, said hospitals promote themselves for many reasons.
But having a hospital move into your primary market area is going to affect marketing strategies, she noted.
"[Hendricks Regional is] trying to communicate to the community why [it] is a good choice for you, and Clarian West is doing something very similar," Kowalevsky said. "With the proximity bias gone, those two facilities have to find ways to differentiate themselves to drive traffic."
Hendricks Regional Health has employed Russell & Herder in Brainerd, Minn., to promote the hospital through numerous outlets. Advertisements have run on broadcast and cable television channels, on radio stations, in newspapers and magazines, as well as on billboards. Wardzala declined to divulge how much the hospital spends on advertising.
Clarian West has targeted its marketing efforts to residents living west of Indianapolis. The hospital, for instance, runs advertisements in the Indianapolis Star's Hendricks County section rather than in any of the newspaper's main parts.
Cathy Stoll, marketing manager for the hospital, said the strategy makes sense, because it's doubtful residents from Fishers or Geist will travel to the county to seek medical attention.
But, Stoll said a study conducted by Clarian Health Partners showed some Hendricks County residents needing hospitalization travel to Clarian hospitals in Marion County.
"We already had a good base of patient awareness," Stoll said. "Add to that that Hendricks is one of the 100 fastest-growing counties in the nation, and it just makes sense to be here. We feel very strongly that there is more than enough population to go around."
Conversely, besides serving Hendricks County residents, Hendricks Regional Health draws patients from Marion, Boone, Morgan and Putnam counties, Wardzala said.
Advertising is a relatively new phenomenon for hospitals that began roughly 10 years ago when they began boasting to consumers about the care they provide, Kowalevsky said. Historically, people would visit a physician and go wherever a doctor instructed. The general population, however, is becoming less passive about its health care and becoming more involved, she said.
But there are skeptics who remain unconvinced hospital advertising has any effect on where patients receive care. Mike McCaslin, a principal in the health care group of the local Somerset CPAs PC, and Ed Abel, director in charge of health care services for the local Blue & Co., are wary of the practice. In most instances, insurance providers dictate where patients will be admitted, both said.
"I don't know that anybody can point to ad campaigns that have positively produced strong results," Abel said. "In other words, the jury's still out."
It's doubtful, though, the trend will end anytime soon, at least not in the metropolitan area. Clarian North's opening later this year, McCaslin said, most likely will prompt a volley of pitches from Clarian and St. Vincent.
"We haven't begun to see what will transpire there," he said, "in terms of a marketing, advertising or image-building campaign."
And as Wardzala at Hendricks Regional Health noted, smaller players need to promote their offerings, too.