9:22am

Tue January 24, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Hospitals Take Page From Frequent Traveler Programs

These days, as hospitals elbow each other to attract your business, they're offering patients — and those who might become patients — a whole range of perks.

These loyalty programs can be as straightforward as free valet parking and discounts at the hospital gift shop. There are also educational sessions showcasing surgeons' prowess, just in case you're ever in the market for a new hip or a knee.

Take, for instance, Baystate Health, a health care system based in Springfield, Mass., which has been running Senior Class, a loyalty program for people 55 and older for 25 years. "Seniors are our most loyal population," says Tracy Whitley, manager of Baystate's loyalty programs. "They love learning about new technologies, and as they age they want to know more."

The free program offers a range of benefits to this group who, let's face it, are more likely to use hospital services than other age groups.

Benefits include free or low-cost health screenings and educational sessions on diet and exercise, among other things. Members are also automatically enrolled in Rx Senior Class, a discount drug program that lets them save up to 50 percent on prescriptions at area drug stores.

Sometimes they look to appeal to potential patients, such as the elderly, with pitches that aren't necessarily focused on hospital services. There are social events, including picnics, luncheons and gala holiday balls.

Did we mention trips and cruises? Yep, those too.

The other major loyalty program offered at Baystate is Spirit of Women.

The free program offers monthly seminars on women's health and other topics, a newsletter and discounts from area merchants, including yoga and pilates studios, jewelers and even bookstores and restaurants.

Every year, the hospital sponsors a popular Spirit of Women conference, which is attended by up to 400 people, says Whitley. A nationally recognized motivational speaker often keynotes the event, at which the hospital also sets up tables where healthcare providers are on hand to discuss hospital services.

Women, of course, may be in the market for obstetrical services at some point, in addition to other healthcare needs. But apart from that, there's a very good reason to try to appeal to women through a loyalty program, says Whitley.

"Women make the decisions about healthcare in their households," says Whitley. "They'll come to the programs, talk to providers, and then make a decision about where the family will go for healthcare."

Copyright 2013 Kaiser Health News. To see more, visit http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/.