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“Strong majorities trust that their hospital is working to fulfill its mission of care. When it comes to community benefit, people view their hospital far more positively than hospitals in general. People consistently rate their preferred hospital better than the amorphous healthcare system.”

– Jarrard National Consumer Survey of 1,670 US Adults

Download Survey Results

Providers’ grassroots strength and what keeps us from growing it

By: David Jarrard
3-minute read

Imagine you’re running a national political campaign to win broad, loyal and vigorous public support for a candidate whose service is essential to the health of our country and each person in it.

It’s going to be a rough-and-tumble campaign with well-funded opponents who are less enamored of the truth and quite happy to say outrageous things to advance their cause. You need every advantage you can muster and, as the old adage goes, all politics is local.

Good news is, your candidate has some ideal attributes.

  • Reach. An expansive, physical geographic reach that extends into every community, everywhere.
  • Supporter interaction. Direct, physical, daily interaction with millions of people, each a potential supporter.
  • Economic impact. Massive, community-life-blood-level economic impact through its payroll, taxes and ancillary businesses.
  • Grassroots army. A workforce of nearly 15 million, each of whom could be a passionate advocate for your candidate.
  • Trusted name recognition. Unequalled brand recognition, decades in the making, deeply trusted by consumers and voters. People trust your candidate’s voice far more than competing candidates.
  • Essential service. Your candidate’s service is the stuff of life-and-death for communities. It’s a pillar.
  • Relational connections. The experiences people have with this candidate are, quite often, unforgettable. A child is born, a grandfather passes, a life is saved, or isn’t. It’s a passionate, emotional relationship that connects this candidate to its people like no other.

Who is this compelling, resource-rich candidate?

It’s your healthcare system, of course. And the provider industry, together.

Individually – market by market, system by system – provider organizations have the enviable elements for significant grassroots strength, unmatched by any other player in healthcare.

As one, US healthcare providers have all the ingredients of a formidable, national political grassroots powerhouse. A force with which to be reckoned. It’s the candidate to win a campaign… if it can unlock the potential of combined strengths.

The local strength of hospitals and health systems has proven resilient, time and again. Grounded in the aforementioned “ideal attributes,” it’s endured years of pounding media coverage, tough questions from Congress, from labor and academia and relentless entanglements with payers. And despite that national bashing, local healthcare providers in particular (physicians, nurses and hospitals) remain the most trusted voices in healthcare.

In fact, in our latest national consumer survey (released today, with key takeaways in the sidebar), consumers say local providers of care are not only the most trusted voice in healthcare, they’re far more trusted than insurance companies, than pharma, than elected officials or policy makers or business leaders. It’s not even close.

Are most people frustrated with healthcare in general? Of course. Who isn’t? Has there been an erosion of trust in healthcare as an institution? Yes, echoing a general erosion of trust in all institutions. Is the grinding scrutiny of healthcare providers poisoning the reputation of providers with consumers? Yes.

But, despite all that, consumers say “their” hospital in “their community” cares for them and is serving them well. “Strong majorities trust that their hospital is working to fulfill its mission of care,” notes just one of our findings.

The bounding grassroots support providers need today lives today in the zip codes we serve

There are two challenges to growing our industry’s grassroots power:

Nationally? Fragmentation.

Despite being part of a $3 trillion industry, hospitals and health systems – even the big ones – are fragmented, relatively isolated enterprises bound by geography, sometimes competing with each other and most often focused on the issues impacting their “stores” in their markets.

By comparison, even the biggest health systems – with operating revenues of several billion dollars – are dwarfed by the size of U.S. pharma companies, the largest of which broke $100 billion in operating revenue, and health insurance, with behemoths realizing annual revenues of more than $280 billion (and that’s only the insurance side of one company).

These giant, national healthcare companies run giant, national persuasion campaigns with disciplined messages across all markets, promoted with marketing and lobbying investments exponentially larger than individual health systems can ever match.

To leverage their grassroots power at a national scale, providers must become allies across markets and brands in singularly focused outreach and messages. Yes, there are some efforts well underway in this direction. There is a need and opportunity for more.

Locally? Tending to grassroots is often slow and quiet.

But that’s where the all-important ground game is won. Building and mobilizing grassroots support – and grasstops advocates – is deliberate, trust-building work. You can’t purchase it with a Google ad buy or a billboard. It’s not flashy. You earn it through the relationships you create and maintain over time.

It’s week-after-week, through one-on-one coffee conversations with 100 local opinion leaders, through the regular rounding, the town hall meetings, the Rotary breakfasts. It’s telling the same story about your organization, its value to the community and its needs, so often and consistently that you get tired of hearing yourself talk about it.

This does not mean grassroots building is easy. The cost of doing it well is the investment of leadership time and message discipline. In today’s quick-step, monthly ROI environment, grassroots growing can seem like a marathon not worth the race.

But when an organization is deeply, healthily rooted, it benefits from broad support when any number of issues come knocking on their door – whether payer entanglements, labor issues, legislation or regulatory challenges. Good grassroots also offers a cushion of grace for your organization when mistakes are made or patience is needed. It can create for you the benefit of the doubt. Grassroots is the political gold providers need.

While our survey continues to find trust in local hospitals, that support has eroded in recent years. The bigger, national trends troubling the industry are trickling down to your front doors:

  • Most think healthcare delivery in our country is not a good value nor equitably delivered,
  • Most think hospitals are more focused on making money than caring for patients, and,
  • Most support increased regulation of hospitals.

The hidden strength of providers is today’s opportunity, and cultivating it can’t be left to tomorrow. Join the political fray and seed your grassroots strength today.

Key Survey Takeaways

  • Finances still shape the conversation. Like last year, economic considerations still loom large in the public’s mind. Nearly half say they or someone close to them has delayed medical care due to cost. And nearly six in 10 say healthcare in the U.S. is not a good value for what it costs.
  • Awareness hasn’t yet become blame. About half of the U.S. public has recently seen news stories about hospitals, and three quarters of those report seeing some negative stories. Yet, only about one fifth say their trust in providers declined as a result. Moreover, only 13 percent blame hospitals for the high cost of care.
  • But skepticism abounds. Asked whether hospitals are mostly focused on “patients” or “profits,” a rising majority – now nearly 70 percent – say profits. Between 69 and 76 percent find various messages critical of hospitals believable, while only 41 percent say hospitals in general provide substantial community benefit.
  • And local affinity is a strength to leverage. People consistently rate their preferred hospital better than the amorphous healthcare system. Sixty percent say their preferred hospital provides substantial community benefit, and the same number say hospitals are meeting their and their family’s needs.
Download Survey Results