How Healthcare Systems Get Their Names – and Why it Matters

How Healthcare Systems Get Their Names - and Why it Matters

Famed Roman Physician Galen anticipated the rise of the Scientific Method in medicine centuries in advance. And he warned against it. He cautioned against excessive logic in medicine. Instead, he advocated for a balance between what the patients’ experience and what the providers’ know.

Today, that balance has all but tilted in favor of data and evidence based guidelines. But there is one arena in which the patient experience remains paramount – the naming of healthcare systems.

Shakespeare famously wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet”. But in healthcare, a name means so much more than a title. Just look at the many hospital rankings that flood our smart phones. No one truly knows how accurate or objective these rankings are, but more than the metrics of ranking, the name recognition is all that matters. Usually, our first encounter with a healthcare system is its name. And as the saying goes, the first impressions are the most important.

While few will dispute that names matter in healthcare, why they matter is more important. Marketers would have you believe they understand the art of medicine. In reality, they are simply referring to the patient experience – more specifically, the experience of internalizing new medical information, which is more intimate than we realize and heavily susceptible to familiarity biases.

Healthcare is a personal experience. Our bodies are literally the closest thing to us. To evoke a certain familiarity in light of such intimacy, marketers identify names or associations that local patients can relate with. This is why you see names like Ohio Health for patients in Ohio – or Northwestern Medicine for patients in the greater Chicago land.

Marketers understand the importance of associations in names. It is why so many healthcare names sound like combinations of words or a spin on an existing word. They consider the ideal name to be a crisp sounding – two to three syllables preferably – blend of sounds to create the ideal mix of familiarity and intimacy.

DermOne, One Medical, Dignity Health, LifePoint Health – and on it goes. Names matter in healthcare, because the experience of the patient journey matters. It is that simple. And perhaps – also that interesting – since healthcare is morphing into its latest post-pandemic manifestation, and we have yet to fully understand how it will change.

Perhaps the changing names might provide some clues. Healthcare has changed since the pandemic. It accelerated the trend of mergers but also saw some notable partitions as the whims and fortunes of health systems changed over the last two years. Some grew and expanded, while some withered and dissolved. And as the industry changes, so will the names.

Clinical medicine is a narrative of the collective experience of patients. Industry trends that change the patient experience will alter the way patients look at healthcare, and consequently, the way health systems are named.

The biggest trend is toward decentralized, virtual models of care. Healthcare is shifting away from centralized conglomerates that all seemed to have some variant of the word ‘health’ in their name. It is more virtual, more ‘tela’ – which seems to be the trending, word, and what ‘health’ was in the heyday of hospital corporate conglomerates merging over and over.

But that is not what patients see. They do not see the industry trends. They see the individual interactions. And for patients, this new variant of healthcare is more abstract, more emblematic of their own individual journey.

This is decidedly less ‘health’ in the traditional sense, and more conceptual in a uniquely personal sense. So you will see health systems with names that evoke trust. But not trust toward a large system, but trust in the aspirational sense – in abstract terms.

Names like Duly Health or Array Behavioral Care, which emphasize an aspirational element of healthcare that is more abstract and individualized than concrete or centralized. The terms are more than descriptors to catch the attention of prospective patients. They describe the trends in post-pandemic healthcare, which actually matter to patients because they are the ones who are living the post-pandemic patient experience.

The more we see such names proliferating as rebranded health systems or unicorn startups, the more immersed we will find ourselves in this new world of healthcare.

So what is in a name? – the future of healthcare.

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