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Hospital Wars

August 8, 2010

Lately I have noticed an increased visibility of hospital brands in my part of town. For those that know the Seattle area, I live on the “East Side” — across Lake Washington. This is the Bellevue/Redmond/Kirkland area — the dreaded suburbs to many a city-dwelling person. The skewed perceptions of suburbia (and of the city) is another topic.

The area is dominated by a few named hospitals: Swedish and Seattle Children’s on the Seattle side of the lake; Overlake and Evergreen on the East side. Each of these stayed on their respective side of provided outstanding healthcare to the region (disclosure: Seattle Children’s is a wonderful client of my agency).

Recently, even in the midst of the Great Recession, all of these institutions have begun to expand. (I realize that the plans for these expansions were likely launched well before the current economic disaster and we are just now seeing the benefit. Seattle Children’s recently opened a facility in Bellevue. Swedish is expanding their small presence in Issaquah into a full hospital and building an ER/Outpatient center in Redmond. Evergreen is building a new facility with ER and primary care in Redmond. Overlake continues to add to its main location in Bellevue. I have gotten three different hospital flyers in the mail in the last month or so.

I am certainly not complaining about this increased availability of world-class medical care. Yay for more hospitals! What interests me is the brand fight going on. How am I supposed to elevaluate the relative value of a brand that is dedicated to health and well-being? What are the decision factors necessary to choose one over the other? Location seems to be everything, but there is a subtle battle here and it is about the placement of each brand along some continuum.

Seattle Children’s clearly is for “children” (well, under 21), but the others rely on a little bit of shared myth and memory about their relative strengths. I don’t have any facts, but Swedish has always been about surgery and babies in my mind. Evergreen, where my daughter was born, is my “local” hospital and gives me lots of glowing feelings. Overlake is where I go to get tests.

What does this all mean? Well, we have a surfeit of good choices in front of us. Everyone seems to win when hospitals exert their brand muscle. My colleague Henk Groenewald recently touched on a similar topic in his blog — How do you brand the invisible — check it out.

(The visit yesterday to the Evergreen Urgent Care because my daughter had a manicure stick pierce her foot contributed to the thinking about this post.)

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