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March 25, 2016

Behind a name change: What's in it for hospitals, health systems?

Daily Briefing

Why would one of the nation's largest health systems change its name? "Because in an era where patients are now consumers, brand matters in health care," Jeff Lagasse writes for Healthcare Finance News.

When North Shore-Long Island Jewish health system changed its name to Northwell Health in September, it was looking to send a message. Although it was already one of the largest health systems in the New York City area—and the 14th largest in the country—its Long Island roots came through a little too strongly for some system leaders.

"The old name localized us as being too Long Island-focused, when the bulk of our organization has expanded beyond Long Island," explains CEO Michael Dowling, who pushed for the rebranding. "We're the largest hospital system and largest private employer in New York state," he notes.

Need for change

Rebranding the 21-hospital system was a large undertaking. But as the health care market has become more consumer-oriented, the need for a name change became more important. "The consumers out there make choices based on what they believe you are," Dowling says.

And reimbursement changes that incentivize hospitals to keep patients within their network added to the urgency. "A name with some marketability was imperative," Lagasse writes.

Dowling says he looked to other large health systems that had rebranded as he guided Northwell through its name change. One was Dignity Health in California, formerly Catholic Healthcare West.

Mark Viden, Dignity's VP of brand marketing, says a name can be a powerful tool to focus an organization. "A name is something that I think carries an organization forward," he says. For instance, "Dignity" eludes to the system's Catholic roots—but doesn't specifically reference a religion, which Viden says can help with marketing its non-Catholic hospitals, Viden explains.

But a name change also needs to be paired with an effective marketing campaign to educate consumers and send the right message about the new name's meaning.

Why one hospital is rebranding—even when it means changing the name 'Roosevelt'

Just before it rebranded, Dignity launched an advertising campaign called "Hello Human Kindness"—a unified marketing effort across hospitals, which was a first for the system.

Northwell also used a targeted strategy, including airing a commercial during the Super Bowl in some regional markets that featured mothers embracing their newborns. Ramon Soto, Northwell's SVP and chief marketing and communications officer, says the ads were meant to differentiate the system with a positive message about health, rather than one that focused on battling disease.

Not just for big systems

Small hospitals and health systems can reap rewards from rebranding as well, Lagasse says. For instance, Fletcher Allen Health Care became University of Vermont Health Network several years ago after its leaders decided the "to focus more on operational and clinical integration," Lagasse writes.

The system also hoped that emphasizing its affiliation with the University of Vermont Medical Center would be received well, and it conducted polling to test that assumption. "What we found is if people knew their community hospital was tied to the university, there was a significantly higher tendency to recommend their local hospital," says President and CEO John Brumstead.

"That's what they were hoping to hear," Lagasse writes (Lagasse, Healthcare Finance News, 3/21).

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