How to market a hospice program

The market for hospice services in the United States is set to grow over the next few years. In fact, the market had a value of $37.9 billion in 2023, and researchers expect it to grow at a compound annual rate of 8 percent until 2030. This steep increase is due to a growing elderly population as well as an increase in chronic and age-related illnesses.

If you’re thinking about opening a hospice or you currently run a hospice program, it’s crucial to understand how to continuously attract patients and families to your business.

Be aware, too, that marketing a hospice program can be challenging because it requires you to engage in emotional and difficult conversations with your target market.

In this article, we’ll help you navigate these challenges and market your hospice program to grow your business.

Key aspects of hospice program marketing

Marketing a hospice program is similar to marketing in any other industry — it involves engaging in carefully planned activities designed to boost interest in your hospice, usually with the goal of attracting new patients. 

Hospice marketing has many components, including these high-level tasks:

  • Identifying your target audience
  • Determining your core messaging
  • Figuring out which media channels to use for communication
  • Managing a marketing budget
  • Standing out from the competition

In some ways, however, marketing a hospice program is unlike marketing another kind of healthcare service, given the sensitive nature of hospice.

When death plays such a key role in the lives of your target audience, you must take great care with your approach to demonstrate sensitivity and avoid causing any additional discomfort to the people you want to serve.

How to market a hospice program: 7 essential tasks

1. Know your audience

In the hospice industry, there are two main audiences you’ll need to consider in your marketing: 1) patients and their families and 2) the medical professionals who provide care for them.

Hospice patients are terminally ill, and their medical team believes their illness will lead to death in six months or less. Understandably, this is an incredibly difficult time for these patients — as well as for their families.

They’ll be looking for physical, emotional, and spiritual support. A hospice business can provide much-needed guidance and assistance.

One way hospice businesses can narrow down their target patient and family audience is by looking at the demographics in their area. For example, how many seniors live within a certain radius of the hospice center?

The second target audience for hospice programs is medical professionals. In the United States, Medicare, Medicaid, or insurance cover most hospice services. For a patient to qualify for this coverage, a medical professional must refer them to a hospice based on their diagnosis. In many cases, a patient’s family physician makes this referral, though nurses, social workers, and others in the healthcare field sometimes do as well.

2. Have clear marketing goals

Before you start working on marketing activities for your hospice business, it’s important to clearly outline your goals. What do you want to achieve through your marketing efforts? While growing your hospice business is an overarching goal, it’s not specific enough to help you create a marketing strategy.

For example, a specific goal would be to increase your physician referrals by 10 percent. Once you’ve articulated this precise goal, it will be easier to focus your marketing efforts — in this case, you could focus on physician outreach, attending medical conferences, and creating print collateral to leave at physicians’ offices, for example.

have clear marketing goals
Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

It’s vital to tie your marketing actions back to your goals. For example, if you selected increasing physician referrals by 10 percent as your goal and your marketing actions involved building up your social media following, you won’t likely reach your goal with that approach alone. A better tactic would be to increase your networking and reach out to local referring physicians.

When you align your marketing to your specific goals, you make better use of your marketing budget and get results that help you grow your business.

3. Refine your messaging

Given the sensitive circumstances surrounding someone’s need for hospice services, hospice program staff need to carefully think through the messaging used in any type of marketing campaign.

Hospice businesses provide services to those nearing the end of their lives, which means that patients and their families are likely emotional, overwhelmed, and stressed.

First, consider how they must be feeling about making the decision to use hospice services — and how your program can assist them. Then include those details in your messaging, along with a clear outline of the services your hospice program offers.

Similarly, when you’re developing marketing materials for medical professionals, it’s important to present a comprehensive list of the services you provide as well as the expertise of the team members involved. 

A hospice business will need to collaborate with medical professionals should their patients require hospice services, so be sure to discuss your methods for facilitating collaboration to ensure everyone involved can provide a high quality of care.

4. Use a mix of marketing strategies

As you consider how to market a hospice program, it’s important not to limit yourself to just one tactic. There are different ways to reach the target audiences for a hospice program, and it’s likely your business will have more success if you use a multipronged strategy.

For example, attending networking events for medical professionals in your area is a good way to build rapport with those who may be sending referrals to hospice programs. Having a presence at local community centers and senior centers can help hospice businesses take part in their communities and build trust with potential patients and their families.

While in-person marketing is critical in the hospice industry, digital marketing is equally important. Your hospice program must have a comprehensive and engaging website that effectively describes your services, showcases your facility, and shares the expertise of the hospice team.

To help draw interested people to your site, publish blog posts regularly and employ search engine optimization techniques that will help your site rank higher in search results. Some hospice programs also have a social media presence that helps them build relationships online.

5. Test new approaches

As with marketing in any industry, it’s important to test the waters before you launch any major campaigns or make big changes. Testing your messaging, visual elements, and distribution media with a small segment of the target audience will give you insight into what works, what doesn’t, and what you’ll need to adjust in order to be successful.

For example, if you want to try search engine marketing (running paid ads on search results pages), first test the content and images on a small group of people to ensure your marketing is effective and delivers the kind of response you’re looking for.

This way, you could use just a small portion of your ad budget to figure out the most effective way to engage people, as opposed to using the entire budget from the outset.

6. Track key performance indicators

Gathering the right data is essential to successfully marketing a hospice program. If you set and measure key performance indicators (KPIs), you’ll be able to see which marketing campaigns are working and which ones aren’t.

The KPIs you track will depend on the type of marketing media you use. For example, if you primarily focus on digital ad campaigns, your KPIs may include unique site visitors and site engagements.

If you do a lot of community outreach, your KPIs may include the referrals you’ve gathered. It’s important to set up a tracking frequency for key performance indicators, such as weekly, monthly, or quarterly.

Once you’ve gathered several cycles of data, you’ll be able to see trends in the numbers and correlate them to your marketing activities. For example, you might see that every time you publish a new blog post on your website, the number of unique visitors to your site gets a bump.

Use the data to make decisions about the direction of the marketing strategy. If the number of unique site visitors is trending downward even though you’re publishing new blog posts each week, it could mean you’re using the wrong keywords in your content.

track key peformance indicators
Photo by on Unsplash

7. Rework the strategy as needed

Times, markets, and people change. So don’t be surprised if the things that worked in a marketing strategy last year aren’t very relevant this year. That’s the nature of marketing, and why it’s important to continually refine your strategies to ensure they’re still working to attract and engage your target audience.

Rely on key performance indicators to see how your marketing campaigns are faring. Then be sure to pivot and adjust the messaging, visuals, or tactics as necessary when performance starts to falter.

Using KPI data to refine the marketing strategy ensures that you’re making changes based on evidence and not just on gut feelings.

What to avoid in hospice program marketing

To ensure your marketing strategy is a success, be sure to avoid these common pitfalls:

  • Using hard sell tactics. Above all, your marketing and sales tactics should begin with empathy. Avoid pushing prospects to make decisions in your favor. Give them time and guidance, and always remember they’re in a very difficult position.
  • Ignoring patient and family feedback. Carefully reviewing feedback from those you serve is crucial to ensuring that you can continue to improve your services. Plus, patients and their families provide valuable word-of-mouth references. If they feel you’re ignoring their feedback, they may choose not to recommend your business to their friends.
  • Forgetting about digital channels. While a lot of hospice marketing happens in person and in print, online marketing channels — such as websites, social media, blogs, and online ads — are still viable marketing channels for this industry.

How to overcome the challenges of marketing a hospice program

One of the main challenges of marketing a hospice program is striking the right tone. Messaging should be sensitive yet compelling, empathetic yet urgent, comforting yet strong. The tone is foundational to your marketing strategy and will affect every other aspect of the program.

Another marketing challenge hospice businesses face is building trust with their prospects — which include medical professionals as well as patients and their families.

Hard-sell tactics don’t work in these high-stress situations. Prospects are looking for an end-of-life medical partner they can trust. As a result, the marketing needs to focus on relationship building and credibility as opposed to the various products and services the hospice offers.

In addition, many hospice businesses struggle to choose the right marketing channels.

While traditional channels such as in-person medical conferences and print marketing materials are still valid, digital marketing channels such as email marketing and pay-per-click advertising are also effective ways to reach your target audience.

The trick is to identify the right channels for your hospice business and determine the right spread of resources for each channel.

How to advertise your hospice program: 3 marketing ideas

The following real-life examples could come in handy for developing your own hospice marketing ideas:

  1. Provide communities with hospice care education. Consider working with local media and community organizations to dispel common hospice myths, explain hospice processes, and provide overall guidance on hospice care. St. Croix Hospice used this strategy and won a marketing award for it. It’s an effective way to make your hospice stand out from others in the community.
  2. Support people with hospice planning and end-of-life decisions. Deciding whether and when to use a hospice is challenging for family members and patients. An effective and compassionate marketing strategy aims to help make those types of decisions easier. For example, Coordinated Care Washington offers free classes to the public on end-of-life care planning. Activities like this can show your level of commitment not only to patients but also to their families during a difficult time.
  3. Build relationships with referral partners. Understand the priorities of referral partners, such as quality of care and business performance, and use that messaging in your referral partner marketing efforts. This messaging differs greatly from the messaging you use with patients and their families. Referral partners want to see the tangible benefits of working with your hospice, such as a reduction in Medicare payments.

How Jotform can support your hospice marketing efforts

Jotform is form-building software that hospice providers use for various business processes, such as patient intake and referrals. You can easily customize one of our 20-plus hospice form templates to meet your needs in marketing, operations, and other business functions, or you can build the perfect form from scratch. 

Most important, Jotform offers HIPAA features to ensure you remain in compliance.

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