From healthcare marketer to secret shopper, I recently experienced the effects of brand “leakage” with my physician. What I witnessed was how easily my symptoms translated to the pain of lost market share in hospital marketing.

Brand “leakage” is the loss of revenue, volume and consumer engagement as a result of your patients being referred outside of your system – by your own referral sources.

Why is this brand leakage important in hospital marketing?

“Leakage” estimates range from 30-40% in many health systems. That means a $500 million system with 30% leakage sees $150 million walk out the door. Got your attention?

After discussing a persistent lower back issue with my primary care physician, he suggested I have an MRI. He thoughtfully explained the benefits of staying within the health system – let’s call it System X. I did so and appreciated the benefits of being able to discuss the results immediately with him.

That’s as far as we got in terms of system loyalty and when the brand “leakage” began to take place. Along with his evaluation of my MRI came the recommendation that I see a couple specialists. I requested he send me to “the best” – not wanting to settle for “convenience” or “cost”.

In my physician’s mind “the best” orthopedic surgeon for me was not in his System X, but at System Y. And “the best” neurosurgeon for me was at System Z. So much for keeping the business in the family!


How can hospital marketers help prevent this kind of brand “leakage?”

Marketers can help protect against brand “leakage” by building a strong and differentiated brand with both external and internal audiences through knowledge, education and operational considerations.


Patients who receive a referral to a specialist in your system need to feel confident that this is “the best” choice for them. After all, as many as 50% of patients never act on their physician’s referral to a specialist. Building knowledge and preference for your health system and key service lines to support referrals is key.


It’s imperative that you actively engage your internal referral sources at every level. Do the research, you may be surprised at how little these stakeholders actually know about your system and services. Provide them with the tools and educate them so they can make “the best” referral for their patient within your system and prevent brand “leakage.”


Making a referral must be easy for the provider – work with your business development team; they can be your eyes and ears on the ground and can provide valuable insight into the tools that will be most used by referral sources. And make it easy for patients – many need additional information about the facility or specialist to comply with their physician’s recommendation.

As a healthcare marketer, understand and embrace the fact that there’s real ROI potential in plugging brand “leakage.” If this is not on your radar, it should be. Take the steps to bridge the gaps and turn your system’s brand “leakage” into brand “keepage.”

Mike Chapman is Vice President and Account Director of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital branding located in the Chicagoland area. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Mike at 847.398.4920 or

Click here to learn more about Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy and the effects of brand leakage in hospital marketing.

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