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Sorry Works! Blog

Making Disclosure A Reality For Healthcare Organizations 

New Hospital Marketing Strategy: We Make Mistakes?

Recently I was driving on a lonely stretch of highway somewhere in the rural South, headed home from vacation, when I spied a billboard that proclaimed: “Hospital X has one of America’s Top 10 Heart Programs.”  I thought to myself, “Really?  The nation’s best cardiologists are passing up Johns Hopkins, Mayo, etc to practice in No Where, USA?  I don’t think so.”  Some hospital marketing stuff is really silly stuff – but everyone is doing it.  Seems that almost every hospital I visit is Top 10, Top 50, or Top 100 according to some survey I’ve never heard of before.   Just for once I would like to see a Top 200 Hospital….some facility has to be 4,999! What if we took a different approach to marketing, and used to disclosure to guide the way?  Two days ago I was on a Southwest Airlines Flight and I read an article in their in-flight magazine titled “We Did a Bad Thing.”   In short, the article describes how some companies, including Domino’s Pizza, have addressed quality problems head-on by admitting their shortcoming/mistakes in their commercials, promising to do better, and actually improving  – and the public responding in a positive manner.

What if we did the same with hospital marketing?  Think about it.  There is a quality/safety problem, the public and trial bar knows it, but our answer for the longest time is to say through our marketing efforts, “We’re GREAT!”    What if instead we said, “We love serving patients and families, but safety is a concern, when mistakes happen we’re going to say sorry and fix them, and make healthcare safer,” or something to that effect?  Last fall I shared with you the story of a long-term care company that had been targeted by the trial bar over quality issues, and, instead of doing a tit-for-tat with the trial bar or putting up billboards proclaiming their GREATNESS, they took out a candid, full-page ad in a local newspaper saying we do our best every day but mistakes do happen and will say sorry and fix our mistakes.  And the roof hasn’t fall in on this company.

Now, that strange sound you’re hearing is an army of defense lawyers stroking out and having nervous breakdowns.  “What??!!  Go on TV and say we make mistakes!?!  Patients and families will be swarming this place looking for money for known complications, and lawyers will be right there with them.”   Hey, again, the public and the trial lawyers already know there is a serious patient safety problem, and they are already all over your hospital looking for money anytime something goes wrong.   And running and hiding from the problem – including putting up billboards proclaiming “We’re GREAT” – have often made the problem worse and has also provided lots of GREAT ammo for the PI Bar: “Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, Hospital X likes to brag about a being a Top 10 Heart Hospital….but don’t tell that to my client, the grieving window, who lost her husband to a misdiagnosed heart attack in Hospital X’s Emergency Room.”

Disclosure is different.  We tackle problems head on and everyone wins.

We have often said in Sorry Works that the trial bar needs to be educated about your disclosure efforts, and successful disclosure program do just that.   We need to go one step further and also  educate the public about disclosure and its value.  This Spring when I launched the effort to reform state licensure board and the NPDB, I was taken aback by how many patient safety advocates had no idea about disclosure or its value.   Indeed, we not only to educate our docs, nurses, and staff, we need to educate the larger world.


Doug Wojcieszak, Sorry Works! Founder, 618-559-8168