MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Managers of a Memphis hospital have borrowed an idea from kitchenware manufacturers and cosmetics salesmen in making their pitch to prospective customers.
"If they can use home parties to sell their products, why can't we?" asked Bill Billingsley, associate administrator of Eastwood Hospital.
"We're an awfully little frog in an awfully big pond," he said. "Being a small hospital, we have to scratch and bite for everything we get."
Eastwood, a 243-bed general hospital owned by Healthcare International of Austin, Tex., sponsors small get-togethers at private homes as a marketing tool and health education forum.
Billingsley says the parties, geared mostly for women, put the hospital's name in front of people who may have to make decisions where their families will go for treatment.
"A national survey last year said that 75% of the health care decisions are made by women," Billingsley said. "I don't think it's that high here in Memphis yet, but people are more and more telling their doctors where they want to go when they have to be hospitalized."
The marketing program began last fall when Ann McCall, the hospital's director of nursing, volunteered to host the first gathering.
Dr. Lisa Fara, a family practice physician, was sent to talk to the guests about premenstrual syndrome.
Later, three of the women who attended the party agreed to host seminars in their homes, Billingsley said.
The hospital's only expense was for refreshments and postage for invitations, he said.
Barbara Lanphere, who works in Eastwood's marketing department, said other topics for the meetings included such things as health problems of middle-aged women, managing family health problems and dealing with stress.
"We leave it up to the hostess to pick a subject," Lanphere said. "It depends on the group. If you have a group of older women, they might want to hear about problems of aging, or if it's a younger group, they might want to discuss dealing with teen-agers."
Hospital employees prepare invitations, find a physician to lead the discussion and arrange for refreshments. Each program takes about two hours.
The gatherings began in September and half a dozen have been held so far, Lanphere said.
Billingsley says the home health parties are an inexpensive and efficient way to reach the public.
"We don't plug the hospital, but what we hope to do is by getting people interested in the women's health program, they will remember Eastwood Hospital," he said.
Memphis' health care industry is dominated by the county-owned Regional Medical Center; Methodist Health Systems, which has three hospitals here, and Baptist Hospital, which has two.
'Have to Be Innovative'
"They have the money to just bury us with an advertising program," Billingsley said. "So we have to be innovative."
He says Eastwood has offered cash rebates to emergency room patients who are not examined within one minute, and a current promotion offers a discount to surgical patients who are caused unnecessary delays in being admitted to the hospital.
"We feel like we can compete with anybody in town in what we do," Billingsley said. "But we have to let people know that we are here."