How Market Research Helped MedStar Maximize Benefits of a Heart Program Alliance

Co-branding with Cleveland Clinic adds value for a cardiac leader

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MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute is the largest heart program in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. It cares for one out of every four heart patients in Washington and suburban Maryland. It’s the only heart program in the region nationally recognized by U.S. News & World Report.  And it boasts one of the largest cardiac catheterization programs in the nation.

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To say MedStar is a leader in cardiovascular care is an understatement. Yet, in 2013, MedStar further elevated its heart program and positioned itself for future growth by aligning with Cleveland Clinic’s Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute.

It was one of the first health systems to join Cleveland Clinic’s Cardiovascular Specialty Network. This network shares best practices to help affiliated and allied provider organizations across the U.S. enhance their cardiovascular programs strategically, clinically and operationally.

Since then, Cleveland Clinic has helped MedStar implement a robust data and informatics program, shared marketing insights and provided other support.

RELATED: Revamping Processes Around Registry Data Can Boost Physician Trust — and CABG Outcomes

As part of the alliance agreement, MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute began co-branding with Cleveland Clinic — referencing both organizations and showing both logos in communications online, in print, on TV and elsewhere.

But just how valuable was the name “Cleveland Clinic” on MedStar marketing materials? That’s what MedStar intended to learn from a consumer awareness study.

What consumers think about MedStar

Studying Cleveland Clinic’s impact on MedStar marketing was anything but simple, says Donna L. Arbogast, Vice President of Public Affairs & Marketing at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

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“A year before we launched the alliance with Cleveland Clinic, all 10 hospitals in the MedStar system had discrete names,” says Arbogast. “Consumers tended to associate our top heart program with ‘Washington Hospital Center.’ But then we shifted to a unified branding strategy, and all hospital names began with ‘MedStar.’ For our heart program, we then created the new name ‘MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute’ and added ‘Cleveland Clinic’ to that. It was very important to us to determine how those changes affected our perception as a cardiovascular leader.”

Approximately 1,000 consumers across central and southern Maryland, Greater Washington and northern Virginia were surveyed online.

“We learned that while people weren’t as familiar with ‘MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute,’ they were connecting it with Washington Hospital Center and our region’s top heart care,” says Arbogast. “Using ‘MedStar’ was favorable.”

How Cleveland Clinic enhances consumer perception

Survey participants also favorably recognized the name “Cleveland Clinic.” When asked for their feedback on a simple advertisement with both the MedStar and Cleveland Clinic logos — and no explanation of the alliance — consumers’ verbatim comments included:

  • “Great combination”
  • “Local system and a national leader with a great reputation”
  • “Great choice”

“Later, we tested an ad that included a descriptor of Cleveland Clinic, ‘the nation’s #1 heart program,’” says Arbogast. “That simple addition was so effective with consumers that we decided to start using it as much as possible.”

When consumers were asked about the value of MedStar’s alliance with Cleveland Clinic, the following findings emerged:

  • 31 percent of respondents claimed they were more likely to seek cardiovascular care at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute because of the alliance (see first pie chart below).
  • 45 percent said that Cleveland Clinic provided some or a great deal of benefit to patients receiving care at MedStar (see second pie chart below).
  • Only 14 percent thought MedStar didn’t need to align with Cleveland Clinic because its position in heart care was strong enough.

MedStar Alliance with Cleveland Clinic Chart

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Next steps: Maintaining dominance

Research findings assured MedStar of its high regional brand equity in heart care and the added value of Cleveland Clinic. It learned that consumers needed more — yet simple — explanation of the MedStar/Cleveland Clinic alliance. Awareness could be increased, although the benefit of a Cleveland Clinic connection was already apparent.

RELATED: Tackling TAVR Together: Case Study in Building a TAVR Program

Awareness efforts are continuing in the Washington area, including building relationships with referring physicians, who have significant influence over heart care decisions. MedStar’s Cardiovascular Physician publication, which consistently promotes the alliance with Cleveland Clinic, is mailed quarterly to 16,000 physicians in the mid-Atlantic region.

“In a very, very competitive cardiovascular market, we have remained dominant,” says Arbogast of MedStar’s market share.

The next focus will be in central Maryland, including Baltimore, where MedStar Union Memorial Hospital’s heart program competes for awareness with nationally known healthcare brands.

“We will continue to leverage our relationship with Cleveland Clinic to help differentiate MedStar across Maryland and Greater Washington,” says Arbogast.

For information on forming an alliance or affiliation with Cleveland Clinic’s Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute, see