What is Mayo Clinic doing?

One of the more fascinating businessy elements of today’s modern healthcare landscape is the complete non-existence of a coast-to-coast healthcare brand with locations in numerous cities. Some of the for-profit chains come close in terms of physical locations, but their brands are (usually) missing from the localized health system name.

The most recognizable not-for-profits (Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, etc.) have nationwide notoriety, but only regional outposts in strategic markets. Recent news indicates that Mayo Clinic has set out to change that.


In a quiet, but possibly market-changing move, the Mayo Clinic affiliated itself with Altru Health System of Grand Forks, N.D., last Thursday. It’s not the affiliation itself that’s important, however. In fact, the partnership is relatively informal, allowing the two health organizations to share resources without combining assets or merging.

What is important is the idea behind it, says the Rochester Post-Bulletin. And that idea is a big one: The Mayo Clinic sharing its hefty brand with health facilities around the U.S. that it doesn’t own.

It’s an interesting strategy. Affiliations abound, though most occur in a strategic product line, not an entire health system. Undoubtedly what makes Mayo Clinic special is that there is only one Mayo Clinic. Proven or not, Mayo Clinic (and the handful of like national healthcare brands) represents the best of American healthcare. Part of what makes it a great brand is its scarcity. Not everyone has access to healthcare services from Mayo Clinic.

That scarcity is real. Any health system has access to the same technology and same treatments (more or less) as Mayo Clinic. What the regional health systems don’t have equal access to is physician talent. Mayo Clinic, I assume, would echo that sentiment. There are great physicians everywhere. But to ignore the “we have the best doctors” rhetoric is to undervalue the notion of the physician’s role in delivering treatment. This is America and our culture dictates that we must ascribe “the best” to someone–and it improves Mayo’s brand standing to have as many “the bests” as possible.

That is changing as we enter an era of standardized treatment plans and technology improves access to the best specialists. The reality is that we don’t know if Mayo Clinic truly is the best–the industry does not agree on how best to measure such a notion, let alone acknowledge the incomplete data available to corroborate such promises.

Currently, status of “the best” is industry-fueled perception. In the world of branding, that’s a strong position to be in. And that’s where this could be damaging to the Mayo Clinic brand. Putting the Mayo Clinic name on hospitals across the country now means Mayo Clinic is connected to the success, or failure, of healthcare delivered in those institutions. There is a lot that Mayo Clinic does well that can be replicated nationwide–strong branding is one of them, care protocols, guidelines and other elements of healthcare delivery are others–but attracting/employing “the best” physicians proves more difficult (not for the local physicians who have (fortuitously?) come across a new partner, but for the Mayo Clinic brand those physicians extend, or not).

This move isn’t the wrong move. It’s just perilous if not executed properly (Over-Branding Kills Profits And Scares Off Consumers). McDonald’s has executed well. But for every McDonald’s success story there is one like Burger King–a chain that has had successes but regularly struggles in its execution. I can’t tell you the last time I was in a bad McDonald’s, I can think of a BK example. A bad Mayo Clinic example would be bad for the stature of Mayo Clinic.

One of the other interesting businessy elements of healthcare is its delayed adoption of business trends–national growth and branding have been around for a while. True to form, healthcare seems to be getting around to them only recently. An emerging business trend is the importance of local. There is no other industry more local than healthcare. It seems an interesting time for healthcare to buck that trend.

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