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On the mend: Indiana's rehabilitation hospitals and clinics are getting the message out.

Indiana's rehabilitation hospitals and services have a story to tell. It's a pretty happy story, really. It's all about healing, gaining independence and saving money, all at the same time.

The rehab hospitals and services want patients, families, doctors, insurance companies and everyone else involved in dealing with severe injuries and illnesses to know just how much rehabilitation therapy can help. They want people to know that their patients are getting better, becoming more mobile, going home faster and even returning to work, when before their prognoses might not have been so great.

How do Indiana's rehabilitation providers get their message out? Sometimes through advertising, but just as often through networking and personal contact. And they're doing a lot of education, making people in their various communities aware of what rehab hospitals can do as well as how people can reduce the chance that they'll ever have to enter a rehab hospital in the first place.

"We're looking at different ways to get the message out," says Kevin DeBraal, administrative director of physical medicine and rehabilitation at St. Anthony Medical Center in Crown Point. "It's a perplexing problem, but we need to market this somehow."

"We're not really into sales, per se," says Barbara Gebhardt, team leader for rehabilitation services at Community Hospitals Indianapolis, home of Hook Rehabilitation Center and the Center for Neuropsychological Rehabilitation. "We let our outcomes speak for themselves, the successes we've had. We find that our past patients tend to be our best advocates."

So do the people who have made the decision to place these patients in rehab, referral sources such as case managers and insurance companies. Once they find that they've gotten good results cost-efficiently, they'll send more patients, Gebhardt says. "In the health-care environment today, outcomes are the name of the game."

"The key to the future of these types of places is to talk to everyone about outcomes," DeBraal says. "The higher their level of functioning, the less the cost of care."

Doctors represent another important referral source, and it's important for them to understand the benefits of rehabilitation therapy, says Jim Pethis, CEO of the Continental Rehabilitation Hospital of Terre Haute.

"We have some well-established links with hospitals and providers," says Jim Vento, president of Crossroads Rehabilitation Center in Indianapolis. "We participate in meetings and forums involving them. We utilize a networking process rather than sophisticated marketing."

"Everything in health care is leaning toward prevention," says Karen Frye of the Northeast Indiana Rehabilitation Institute in Fort Wayne, a facility operated by St. Joseph Medical Center. As a result, some of the success stories the facility tries to share have to do with prevention, including the prevention of big bills. "A lot of times you can do things that prevent surgeries, by helping people make adjustments and strengthen different muscles. It can reduce expenses by preventing surgeries."

Industrial Rehabilitation Associates in Indianapolis also focuses part of its message on prevention, through its occupational ergonomics consultation as well as its acute-care physical therapy. The firm provides services to businesses as well as hospitals, nursing homes and home-health-care agencies.

Successful outcomes truly are the cornerstone of rehab providers' message. And while nearly everyone in the business tries to share those outcomes with doctors and other referral sources, don't expect to see very many success stories splash across the television set in the form of slick advertising. Rehabilitation hospitals often steer away from such a direct approach to delivering their message. "In today's cost-conscious environment, we try to promote ourselves through education rather than glitzy presentations and mass mailings," Gebhardt says.

According to Gebhardt, there is some debate within the industry about the effectiveness of marketing to the general public. The argument against this approach is that people who don't encounter serious illnesses and injuries in their lives or within their families don't care to think about them. "Most people view rehabilitation as they do hypertension," she says. "They don't think a lot about it until they need to."

Still, says Pethis, a lot of good can come from being known among members of the general public. "We just opened our hospital in late July, and one of the phenomena we've noticed here is we've had a lot of referrals from home, from the general public. Someone says their neighbor had a stroke or someone has M.S."

"We're trying to increase the general public awareness" about rehabilitation therapy, Frye says. "We've done talks at nursing homes. We've done seminars on strokes."

"We do a lot of grassroots efforts," Pethis says. "I speak to various groups and organizations, anything from the Rotary to the Kiwanis to state legislators. I've spoken to groups of 200 and groups of one."

Meanwhile, Indianapolis-based Lifelines Rehabilitation Services, which has an outpatient clinic in the Women's Hospital of Indianapolis, has tried to reach the general public through informational health articles in local newspapers.

Indeed, such public education is a big part of the marketing efforts of Indiana's rehabilitation providers. "We try to advocate for prevention and safety," says Gebhardt.

Lifelines Children's Rehabilitation Hospital in Indianapolis also markets itself with preventive education. "We have done projects on bicycle safety, water safety and pedestrian safety for kids," says Bill Schmidt, the hospital's administrator. "We've always been involved in kids' fairs and the YMCA. We've done some TV, sort of a softer sell."

Like Gebhardt, Schmidt doesn't believe rehabilitation hospitals are able to do the same kind of sales-oriented marketing that other businesses--including other types of health-care providers--can do. "Some health-care providers seem to take the approach of trying to create a need in the public, when there might not be that need. We don't think that's the right thing to do."

What Lifelines does instead really amounts to image advertising. "We want to make people aware that we're here, that there's a hospital for children who need rehabilitation. It's not a matter of do they need the service, but where can they get it if they do. When they need service, they can call us."

That's not to say there is no place for traditional marketing approaches in the rehab business. According to Gebhardt, one of the national associations for rehabilitation providers has embarked on a campaign to educate people about the benefits of rehabilitation. "It's a campaign similar to what the dairy association has done for milk," she says.

Pennsylvania-based Continental Medical Systems--which owns, among others, Continental Rehabilitation Hospital of Terre Haute, Kokomo Rehabilitation Hospital and the Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne--takes its grassroots educational effort to Washington, where it undertakes major lobbying efforts.

Besides such intentional efforts to get the message out, Pethis notes that some of his hospital's programs themselves have the ancillary benefit of spreading the word. "We provide a lot of support groups, say for people who have had bad injuries or an amputation or a head injury. They meet other people maybe once a month. This ends up being a very effective way for people to spread the word."

Pethis also finds what might seem unlikely allies among the local clergy. "We don't look at just the physical parts of the patient," he explains. "Rehabilitation is a holistic approach--physical, mental and emotional. It can tax one's spiritual beliefs and strengths, and so we talk to the clergy quite a bit. The clergy have been very helpful to us," he says.

Getting the message out is easier if one has a unique message, DeBraal notes. The rehabilitation unit at St. Anthony features an area known as "Easy Street," which basically is a replica of the real world in which patients may become accustomed to tasks they'll face when they leave the hospital. "It's a scaled-down version of a city, with a grocery, a garage, a bank, a restaurant, a car. We can take patients in there and put them through a real functional activity. 'Easy Street' gives us an advantage in rehabilitation training for the patient. The goal always is to get folks back home and to a higher level of functioning."

Testimonial-type marketing is part of the picture at St. Anthony, DeBraal says, "and we're talking about bringing some of the ex-patients back for a gathering, maybe have a 'Night on Easy Street' for the community."

At Crossroads Rehabilitation Center, the marketing dilemma is a bit different because the services are different. Rather than being a rehab hospital, it is an organization providing rehab programs helping people with disabilities to become more independent. "It's challenging because our organization is very multifaceted," Vento says. "We attempt to package or target our services that are appropriate for a given group, then send that message out. For example, we communicate with the public that for persons with disabilities, Crossroads is a resource that can help."

Meanwhile, Crossroads tries to communicate with the business community about its division known as AccessSolutions, which offers expertise to companies trying to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. One way Crossroads recently tried to reach the business world on this topic was an October seminar on the ADA.

The trend toward rehabilitation hospitals is so new that many find their marketing strategies still evolving. "We've been open six years, and as a fairly new hospital we've spent most of our time trying to get the word out to the medical community across the state," Schmidt of Lifelines says. "We've focused primarily on getting to the other hospitals, physicians, discharge planners, people who typically get involved with the people we end up seeing." The move toward marketing to the general public has come much more recently, he says.

Once the years do pass, time can be one of the best marketing tools of all, Gebhardt says. "There's something to be said for the fact that we are the oldest rehabilitation facility in this area," she says of Hook Rehabilitation Center. "People do hear about us, but that's not from a big sales and advertising pitch but because we've achieved these outcomes all of these years."
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Title Annotation:Hospitals & Clinics
Author:Kaelble, Steve
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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