Marketing Palliative Care: Do you need a separate brand?

One doesn’t drop one’s cherished branding on a whim. There are clearly pluses and minuses to setting up a separate brand for your palliative care program. But research reveals some pretty compelling pluses!

What’s in a name?

Let’s start with these data from a study done at MC Anderson and published in The Oncologist. As a result of changing the name of their program from “Palliative Care” to “Supportive Care” here is what they found:


41% increase in referrals
30% decrease in lag time to referral






I would have expected an increase in referrals, but not this much. These are certainly persuasive data supporting a name change and separate branding. Let’s look at the pros and cons.

The disadvantages of a separate brand

  • Not leveraging the reputation and goodwill your hospice has cultivated. Very likely your hospice is a well-loved and respected organization in your community. If you are considering a separate brand for your palliative care program, it may feel like leaving money on the table to not rely on that good community juice to give the program a strong shot at success.
  • Potential confusion about program ownership. The concern of administrators is that the public may wonder who is behind this “new” company, and when they learn it’s you, that may be confusing. Frankly—distressing as it may be to marketers—studies by Transcend Hospice Marketing show that less than 10% of the general public can correctly name one hospice in their community. The public is not tracking brands as much as we might hope. And the people who are most likely to track—your referrers—will totally understand the concept of a separate program, especially if you learn to describe palliative care without comparing it to hospice. Referrers may even be relieved to send patients to a program with a non-hospice name! (More on that in the advantages.)
  • Perceived difficulty transitioning from palliative care to your hospice program. Your palliative care program is most likely a “loss leader” with the thought that it will promote earlier referrals to your hospice program, if and when a hospice referral is appropriate. Some administrators are concerned that a separate brand will raise questions. At the time of transfer, patients and families might worry that they are starting anew with an unknown entity. Explanations about the close relationship will have to be made that would not need to be made if the palliative care program was overtly branded as a part of your hospice. But first and foremost, you want them to start working with your team as opposed to someone else’s. Get them in the door with your palliative program. Quite honestly, when the goals of care shift to the end-of-life conversation and comfort care, that’s when you can make the explanations. If they have developed a trusting relationship with your palliative care team, and your admission process has been designed to make the transition as seamless as possible, they will likely accept the recommendation of those professionals. At that tender point in the patient’s journey, it’s the relationships that come to the fore, not the logo on the badge or concerns over a smooth transfer of records.
  • Creation of a new brand and new collateral. This is a concrete disadvantage. There are costs involved in developing a new name, logo, stationery and business cards. To get the most out of your separate branding, you will also need a website that describes your palliative care program with no reference to end-of-life, hospice, or terminal illness.

The advantages of a separate brand

  • “Palliative” is a strange word. National studies by the Center to Advance Palliative Care indicate 70% of non-professionals had not heard of “palliative care” and did not know what it encompassed. Why start out with a name you have to explain?
  • Avoid the stigma and fear surrounding hospice. After 35 years, the general public has at least an inkling that hospice is end-of-life care. They may inaccurately interpret that as care for the last 2-3 days, but they do understand hospice as the experts on death and dying. Since palliative care very specifically is care available much earlier on, with no need for a terminal condition and no 6-month prognosis, why conflate the two and inherit inaccurate perceptions, and unfounded barriers?
  • No explanation needed. No matter how much you say “palliative care is not hospice,” people do not hear/see the “not.” It’s unrealistic to expect people to see your hospice brand and name and then read/listen/remember an explanation of how it is different. In a focus group of physicians—a profession that should have a better understanding of the nuances— Transcend Marketing reported the majority of doctors said they associate palliative care with hospice and don’t really understand the distinction. If you keep your hospice brand and logo attached to your palliative care program, you have automatically created a “guilt by association” relationship that will be difficult to overcome. If you pick a different name, one that is more expressive of what you do, no explanation is needed.
  • Easier for doctors to refer. Imagine a doctor gives a referral for radiation and chemo, and concurrently gives a referral to a hospice with a palliative care program. This is hardly the message of hope a treating physician is intending to convey! It would be quite logical for a patient to ask, “Hey, doc, is there something you aren’t telling me? Is this treatment that unlikely to succeed?” If, on the other hand, a more expressive name is used, then there is no question. The doctor can give a palliative care referral at the same time as a treatment referral (or even upon diagnosis, as recommended by the American Cancer Society) and a patient will be grateful for the added layer of support.

A rose by any other name…? 

According to the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC), you ideally want a name that will convey the caring, supportive role of the palliative care team. For instance, many palliative programs are adopting the name “Supportive Care of [YourCommunity]”.

If you chose to do so, you would be in good company (e.g., Stanford Health Care, Cedars-Sinai, MC Anderson). And, as quoted above, MC Anderson experienced a 41% increase in referrals and referrals that came in 30% earlier. That speaks volumes!

“Supportive Care” is not the only option. You may have a competitor that has snagged the name already. Whatever name you choose, make sure it expresses the benefit or feeling of the program.

“Transitions” or “Bridge”, for instance, are not recommended names. They may accurately reflect your program’s role within the care continuum of providers. But as program names they do not have significant meaning to the public. In fact, neither one engenders a feeling of reliable care and support. Instead, the names seem to emphasize transporting the patient from one place to another rather than supporting them where they are. Hardly the image you want to convey!

Graphic tips for distinguishing your palliative brand

In a previous post I talked about ideal ways to describe your palliative care program without referencing hospice. If you extrapolate out from CAPC’s market research, you’ll find your website and brochures will need very different visuals and tone from the branding of your hospice materials.

For instance:

  • Improving quality of life: Palliative care is much more than comfort care. It really is about removing the pain and distress so patients can get back to doing he things they enjoy. Sweet family photos are great, but so are more physically demanding activities. With palliative care it can be realistic to think about fishing again, or gardening. So ditch the younger hand holding a frail, elderly hand. That type of support is evocative of hospice. Look for more active engagement as you depict the hope and vitality that palliative care can deliver.
  • For patients AND families: CAPC tested out several types of photos, and those showing a loving dynamic between the patient and a family member tested out very well with key family decision-makers.
  • “At any age and any stage”: This palliative care mantra means you want to be sure to include at least some photos of young and middle-aged patients enjoying life in at least moderate health.
  • Concurrent curative care: Be sure you show people in active treatment. This is a fine way to visually make the distinction between palliative care and hospice without having to say “unlike hospice…”

Ways to leverage the hospice connection

For those who are concerned about not including their hospice logo or name in their palliative care branding, there are still ways to suggest the connection.

  • Graphic elements – If there is a heart or a dove in your hospice logo, you might wish to create a variant for the palliative care program.
  • Color set – Look at the color palette for hospice and pick a similar or related set for palliative care.
  • Font – If your hospice logo uses Open Sans, or Garamond, have your style sheet for the palliative care program utilize the same typeface.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to distinguishing your palliative care program from hospice. Each company needs to decide for itself. It depends on the goals and concerns of your business, and what your local competition is doing. But this will at least give you some food for thought. Certainly that 41% increase in referrals is hard to ignore!

Want to explore a separate brand for palliative care?

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