The Beyoncés of healthcare: Why some health systems don't need a 'last name'

Ascension. Geisinger. Providence. Call them the health system versions of Beyoncé or Oprah.

For instance, the Danville, Pa.-based health system's legal name is Geisinger Health, but its "go-to-market" brand is Geisinger, said Don Stanziano, its senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer.

"It's sort of like celebrities who have a last name but they never use it," he said.

Some health systems are so famously identified with healthcare they don't need superfluous words like "health" or "medicine" at the end of their brands. No pesky terms like "care," "clinic," "hospital" or "system" are needed.

It suits Geisinger just fine. The organization is well-known in its region and across the industry, Mr. Stanziano said. The only confusion comes when Geisinger aims to move into new markets, but it's surmountable.

The health system is named after Abigail Geisinger, the widow of an iron magnate who funded her namesake hospital in 1915. Unlike many other famous benefactors, Geisinger's name is really only associated with healthcare.

Mr. Stanziano previously worked for San Diego-based Scripps Health, named after the late philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, whose name is attached to a variety of businesses and charitable contributions. So the "Health" is needed to distinguish the Scripps health system from, for example: Scripps College, Scripps Research Institute, Scripps Bank, E.W. Scripps Co., even the Scripps Spelling Bee.

"In the world we live in today, with all the complexity of our lives, keeping it simple works for us," Mr. Stanziano said. "As a marketer, the less I have to explain what I'm trying to do, the better. The name sort of does it for me. That takes a lot of pressure off helping consumers understand what you're trying to offer them.

"And truthfully, when you're going into a new market, no matter what the service is and how competitive it is, you're going to have to invest in name recognition. Whether we call ourselves Bob's Health System or Geisinger, we'd still have to introduce ourselves."

During a 2019 brand refresh, Geisinger officials discussed adding industry indicators to the name. "It didn't go very far," Mr. Stanziano said. "It doesn't come up anymore. It's not a question I get."

Geisinger even plans to keep its name after it is acquired by Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente, pending regulatory approval, as part of the new Risant Health.

"There's recognition that there's equity in that name, that there's value in that name and why mess with it? It's working," Mr. Stanziano said.

Health systems have been steadily shortening their names, reflecting shrinking attention spans and a noisy media environment, said Orest Holubec, executive vice president and chief communication officer of Renton, Wash.-based Providence.

He said these organizations have built strong brands that people attribute to healthcare, so they no longer need a category descriptor. Plus, he added, patients are looking for health systems to play a "broader, more proactive role" in their lives, including wellness. So words like "care" or "medicine" may no longer apply.

His health system went with the single moniker after merging with Irvine, Calif.-based St. Joseph Health in the late 2010s (it was Providence St. Joseph Health for a time). "Providence has grown as a brand in terms of awareness, preference and choice through our transition to Providence," he said.

When The Methodist Hospital System in Houston underwent a rebrand 10 years ago, it did consumer research about what elements to keep. Methodist was definitely in.

"We were also growing our system quickly and we learned that consumers did not relate to words like 'health care system' and we already had strong equity in our tagline, 'Leading Medicine,'" said Laura Lopez, senior vice president of marketing and communications at Houston Methodist.

Marriottsville, Md.-based Bon Secours, meanwhile, was founded in Baltimore more than 140 years ago by the Sisters of Bon Secours, which means "good help" in French.

"The naming is intentional to represent the history of caring, and research shows that communities have a very strong affinity for and attachment to the name Bon Secours," a health system spokesperson told Becker's.

Like some of the other "first-name-basis" systems, Bon Secours labels its facilities accordingly following the brand name (Hospital, Primary Care, Urgent Care, etc.)

Since 2018, Bon Secours has been part of a larger system — Cincinnati-based Bon Secours Mercy Health — whose name gives away what it does.

Other well-known health systems that don't use "last names" such as "Health" or "Health System" (at least in their marketing materials) include:

— Ascension (St. Louis).

— Cedars-Sinai (Los Angeles).

— Hoag (Newport Beach, Calif.).

— Inova (Falls Church, Va.).

— Kaiser Permanente (Oakland, Calif.).

— Lifespan (Providence, R.I.).

— Mass General Brigham (Somerville, Mass.).

— Mercy (Chesterfield, Mo.).

— MercyOne (Des Moines, Iowa).

— NewYork-Presbyterian (New York City).

— Piedmont (Atlanta).

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