Selling to the sick

Hospitals offer elegance and amenities in effort to draw affluent patients

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Nicole miller-designed robes. Concierges. In-room computers with high-speed Internet access. Manicures.

The latest hotel amenities? Try the newest marketing ploys at your local hospital.

In the increasingly competitive market for affluent patients, hospitals and medical centers are not only touting their proven record of success and top-notch doctors, but their restaurant-quality food, massages and rooms bigger than some hotel suites.

"Health care is competitive," said Tomi Galin, spokeswoman for Franklin, Tenn.-based IASIS Healthcare Corp., which operates 15 hospitals. "In order to be competitive with other hospitals in the community, new hospitals really have to step up the delivery of the environment."

And stepping up they are. Consider:

* At Scottsdale (Ariz.) Healthcare Shea hospital, patients-and the public-can get a massage from the a spa located within the facility.

* At Phillips House, a separate wing of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, amenities include specially prepared meals, interpreters, in-room refrigerators and international phone lines for guests who need them, among other things. The hospital's ads say, "For patients seeking the comfort and elegance characteristic of a fine hotel, the Phillips House is the ideal choice. Each of our spacious private rooms and suites features elegant mahogany appointments and a variety of first-class services."

* Roosevelt Hospital in New York City offers 17 luxury rooms that feature marble bathrooms and unrestricted visiting hours.

* Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey offers manicures for a fee. Each patient gets Nicole Miller-designed hospital-wear during their stay-gratis.

* Doctors Hospital of Sarasota (Fla.) has in-room refrigerators already stocked, as well as computers with Internet access. Said orthopedic surgeon Ronald White, whose practice is at Doctors Hospital: "I've always thought a hospital could be an extension of a fine hotel."

So who's paying for it all? Patients who want the extras, like flat-screen TVs and quilted bathrobes, and are willing to pony up the average extra of $150 to $350 a day for a concierge-level type of service. At Roosevelt Hospital, one of the luxury rooms is a deluxe suite that costs $700 a day more than what insurance pays for a typical room.But for the medical centers themselves, it's more about breaking even than making extra cash. Where doctor-owned medical centers are able to turn a tidy profit by picking and choosing patients and surgeries, most hospitals don't have that luxury. The concierge-level treatment and the upscale amenities help offset money-losers such as extended medical care and uncompensated medical care for those who receive treatment but are without insurance.

Rick Wade, senior VP of the Washington-based American Hospital Association, said a quarter of the nation's hospitals operate in the red, and another quarter break even. Of the remaining half, profit margins average 5%-8%.

first impression

"The [concierge-level services] don't add that much because burn centers lose money, drug and alcohol-treatment centers lose money, and a lot of other hospital services lose money," he said. "What the concierge-type services do is create an impression. These days, patients aren't necessarily going where their doctor tells them. You want to create an impression so that if they have to come back, or a loved one has to be hospitalized, you've created some goodwill there."

Still, the percentage of patients opting for the amenities is overwhelmingly less than those who take a traditional hospital room.

But as competition rises, so are marketing budgets. In Detroit, the famed Beaumont Hospital did no advertising until 1999. Since then, even Beaumont has entered the fray. It now has a $1 million yearly ad budget, and for the last few years has used a print, radio and outdoor campaign with the tagline, "Do you have a Beaumont doctor?"
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