Helix adding to ways it aids women Those facing labor offered a helper at 3 hospitals

Creating loyal customers

An expectant mother can engage a 'doula' for about $200

Health care

July 27, 1998|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

The five-hospital Helix Health system is gearing up for a major push into the highly competitive area of women's services.

On Saturday, Helix said it would provide free labor "doulas" (a Greek word loosely meaning "helper") for the next year to women giving birth at the three Helix hospitals with obstetric services.

The system also recently launched an "OB/TLC" phone service, providing support and referrals around the clock.

"We're trying to raise the bar in women's services," said Dr. Vicki Lucas, vice president of women's services for Helix.

She said the system wants to get beyond a "medical model" to an approach that "promotes personalized experiences."

Other hospitals in the area have been promoting women's services over the past few years. Obstetrics, say hospital administrators, is not particularly profitable, but it is a good way of attracting customers who return for other care.

"Women are the primary decision-makers for health care, not only for themselves but for their husbands, their children and, sometimes, Mom and Dad," said Gary Michael, vice president of marketing at Mercy Medical Center, which has expanded its women's services over the past five years, by adding programs and by aggressive marketing.

"Women are very loyal customers," Lucas agreed. "If you do a good job when you make that first connection, they'll be committed to you throughout their life span." In some markets, she said, obstetrics is viewed as a "loss leader."

Helix has offered labor doulas for about six months and has been charging about $200, Lucas said.

In addition, Helix also provides post-birth doulas who will help a new mother at home. The patient has to pay for the home service.

Vivienne Stearns-Elliott, director of community and media relations at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, said the free doula program was somewhat similar to one her hospital offered when it opened its obstetrics center in 1992.

Because many insurers were then covering only one-day hospital stays for births, GBMC offered a free home nursing visit the next day. The program continued until 1996, when the state required insurers to cover a two-day stay, she said.

Stearns-Elliott said GBMC had found that a marketing campaign can help attract patients, although she said GBMC's advertisements stress "educational themes" and "our belief is that people will come for excellence in services" rather than because of marketing.

GBMC leads the Baltimore area, and is second in the state to Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, in births, according to statistics from the Maryland Hospital Association. For a one-year period ending with the third quarter of 1997, GBMC had 4,917 births.

Among the Helix hospitals, Franklin Square ranked eighth with 2,594, Harbor 18th with 1,512 and Union Memorial 24th with 818. There are 36 hospitals in the state with obstetric services.

Mercy, which had about 1,500 births a year before launching its women's initiatives, had 2,739, ranking seventh in the state. Michael said Mercy's success had encouraged imitators. He said, "We watch everybody else take our recipe and try to bake the same cake."

Lucas, hired in March to the new position of coordinating women's services for Helix, said the goal is to build the programs at all three hospitals.

In addition, she said, Helix will beef up and "standardize across the system" a variety of other women's services, including breast screening, genetic counseling and well-woman exams targeted at "20-somethings." Its other hospitals are Church and Good Samaritan.

"Our goal," she said, "is to be the premier provider of women's services in the Baltimore region."

Pub Date: 7/27/98

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