Friday, April 10, 2015

Population Health Analytics Showdown: Winner Take All?

In honor of #HIMSS15 starting the week of April 12 and the “look at me” craziness of the week from all of the vendors, some more successful than others, led to the question above.

I submit for your consideration, (my apologies to Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, for the use of his opening monologue statement in setting up the episodes), that there is a whole lot of marketing confusion  in the provider market by vendors in the population health, data and analytics space.

Now that being said, I am not taking shots at anyone or stating one solution is better than the other. (Though I would love to because some are just re-sellers of another companies solution. A few are powered by a third party vendor who does all the solution and development work. Others are unable to turn a profit. Then there are those vendors who are in a constant state of turmoil with reorganizations and reductions in force annually. With still more being sold every 4 or 5 years and launching a new brand.) But be that as it may, each vendor has strengths and weaknesses. What I am looking at is a global marketing view of the space and what vendors are saying.

Are they really differentiating?

And having looked at the crowded market place, I think all are struggling to find a competitive differentiate-able marketing message that truly separates one from the other and gets the attention of senior leadership.  It’s a lot like hospitals and health systems messaging. See one hospital and you pretty much have seen them all from the messaging they use.

Everybody is buying the same data.  Everybody claims to have the most comprehensive data sets. Everybody is claiming to be a market leader.  Everybody claims to impact the workflow of the hospital or health systems everybody harmonizes the data from across the healthcare ecosystem, etc.  We’re your partner.  We measure what matters to make meaningful change.  Well, one gets the point.

Each vendor has its data scientists, algorithms, weighted variables, statistical analyses, care alerts etc.  So who do you believe beyond case studies and "client" testimonials where they exist or vendor claims, sales presentations etc?

How about this idea?

I have found as a marketing executive, that it’s a challenge sometimes to get an organization past the enchantment of and “this is the best thing since sliced bread”, we have a better mouse trap organizational thinking that clouds marketing decisions.  And given the recent predictions that the hospital market will contract by 30 percent over the next five years through liquidation and acquisition, the stakes for all of the vendors old and new are high.

The Contest

How about the population health vendors all go head-to-head in a contest? That’s right. A winner takes all contest and see who has the best population health analytics platform and systems, and how they measure up against their claims.

I could see it now, all  the population health vendors going head-to-head  with the same data sets for population health analytics problem.  All the vendors who are making the claims of being the best and the brightest in this field all go head-to- head and prove it.  And since the data would be patient specific de-identified so that no HIPPA violations occurred, and the outcome of treatment is already known, their analytic results could be weighed against actual experience.

Isn't that a novel approach?

I bet hospitals and health systems would love this contest. I also bet the population health vendors would hate it.  I know that is not that simple as described and it would take a lot of work.  But it’s an interesting thought. Kind of like Klas on steroids.

And if I were the VP of Marketing in a population health environment, I’d challenge competitors in the market very publically about going head-to-head. Yep, put the internal opinions and beliefs of the senior leadership’s, client testimonials and statements regarding the capabilities of the population health solution on display.  Put your money, systems and claims on the line to separate from and dominate the competition. You want to create fear in a competitor going against you in this space in a shrinking market, than this is how you do it.

It’s called a Blue Ocean strategy.

Game on?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Is it time for hospitals to go back to the future with earned media & public relations?

Given the extraordinary competing needs in healthcare organizations to meet the new reality of the healthcare market place  shifting from volume to value, it appears that marketing still gets the short straw resource in allocation decisions. 

In a market evolving into semi-retail, consumer-centric model, and growing public relations issues of hospitals being seen increasingly as the bad guy, because of unjustifiably high prices and lack of transparency, short changing marketing can in the long run hurt the healthcare enterprise.

But when there are constrained marketing resources to shift healthcare consumer’s attitudes, preferences and choices, what are the options? One way is through a combination of earned media and active public relations.

Make no mistake about it, combining public relations and earned media is hard. It is much more than a press release or an event. You have to develop relationships with reporters. You have to plant and cultivate story ideas. You have to respond to reporters request for more information. It takes time. It takes patience in a period of time where we are all asked on a daily basis "What did marketing do for the healthcare enterprise today?"

That’s the value in earned media and public relations. It becomes your ability to establish a powerful continuous presence by focusing the talent in your marketing operation in a channel that is complimentary to the overall effort, is very measurable and has a high ROI.

Earned media and public relations have value.

Earned media and public relations can become viral in social media because it has so many different outlets.  When a news outlet or publication carries your brand messages, it makes what you are doing seem more believable.  Once the story runs about a topic and you're the first, it's much harder for your competitors to get out there with the same message.  Earned media and PR is a powerful way to differentiate which also has a considerable number of uses in social media.

There is a bigger payoff too.

Every organization will experience a communications crisis. Taking the time to develop positive relationships with reporters, blog writers, broadcast media and others has a big payoff in a media driven crisis. The development and cultivation of a relationship with media doesn't mean that the story won't run. But what it can mean is the difference between a story that is balanced and fairly reported, versus a story that is one-sided against you.  As we all know, negative news about travels farther and faster than positive news, which does more harm than good over the long haul.

So, maybe it's time to rethink in an era of declining healthcare marketing resources and traditional marketing activities, to changing your markets with earned media and public relations again. Especially as hospitals are being increasingly seen the bad guy in healthcare along with insurers and pharma.

What’s old is new.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Are hospitals on the hot seat now, replacing pharma and insurers?

Whoa there now. Hospitals starting to be cast as the villains in the healthcare debate, after flying under the public radar  for so long as the bastions of fairness, and taking care of the communities and all who come to their doors? 

Maybe so.

In a Becker’s Hospital Review article on March 25, 2105 by Molly Gamble,  Hospitals: The new villains in the story of American healthcare? (What Slate has to say), posed some interesting thoughts based on a Slate article.


Predatory monopolies?


Bleeding us dry?

Just because its Slate doesn't means it’s not a growing public sentiment. Pharma has had its time in the penalty box.  So have the insurers. And in a society and culture that thrives on the sensational and taking pot shots at celebrates and companies, it’s not a surprise really. 

There is after all a growing public scrutiny of hospitals prices and profits by nationally respected publications like Time magazine. Then there is the ever growing list of preventable deaths in a hospital killing 160,000 people a year.

Name one place in the nation after a merger or hospital acquisition that decreased competition in a market, where the price and cost of healthcare actually went down, or duplicative clinical services and technology were eliminated?  I can’t either.

And with an election coming up in 2016, at the first sniff of a major public issue, the politicians will be falling over themselves to be cast as the reformer protecting “the little guy” from the big bad greedy hospitals.

It’s early in the game, but the signs of a growing and potentially lethal public relations nightmare are in the offing. And the AHA won’t be able to save the hospital in the local market or major urban areas from inquisitive reporters, consumers with a story to tell, big headlines or negative TV news coverage.

What to do? Dust off that PR campaign!

Sometimes it’s back to the future and some good old public relations work that should be in the marking.  Dust off those old PR and communications plans by investing and building relationships with reporters.  Become the price and outcomes transparent hospital. Do the market research to completely understand what the brand image and reputation of the hospital is in the market.  The time is now for the development and crisp tactical execution of a long term and sustainable public relations campaign.  

There are no guarantees that it will work, but if the hospital starts now and gets ahead of the potential PR nightmare, then the hospital may just have a chance.

Or, one can ignore the growing hospital as a villain noise, and then wonder why everyone is so angry.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Are hospital marketing campaigns aligned with the culture?

Here’s one for you.  Has the healthcare enterprise ever done a reality check of marketing campaign messaging with the real culture of the hospital before launching?  For example, I saw one campaign courtesy of Jake Poore founder of Integrated Loyalty Systems, in his seminar on Aligning Inpatient and Outpatient Experience Across the Continuum of Care at #ACHE2015.  (My thanks to Jake for the blog topic from one photo he had in the presentation.)

It seemed harmless enough with the usual hospital marketing campaign and meaningless fluff around “we specialize in smiles”.  I won’t start on a tangent about this kind of hospital marketing because it drives me crazy, and the industry isn't really interested in providing useful information for consumer decision making at this point anyway. But I digress.

As I was saying, it seemed harmless enough until you encountered the culture and found a wide experiential disconnect for the healthcare consumer and patient, because it wasn't true.  When one creates a campaign it affects three things: the brand; the creation of the expectation of something to happen; and the actual experience. So when the reality of the culture in which smiling to the healthcare consumer or patient doesn't take place all of the time, it’s a disconnect.  It is a failure of the brand promise.  It is a failure in the experience.  It is a failure by not fulfilling the already established expectation.

That is why it is so dangerous to run these types of brand campaigns.

No doubt about the creativity of the campaign. I am sure everyone loved it from the marketing team to physicians, senior management, the Board of Directors and beyond.  But in the end because no one did a culture check to see if smiles where happening, it’s a busted brand promise, experience and expectation.

Today in our social media driven world, culture impacts marketing because it is always on.  The culture of the hospital or health system is 24/7. It’s always, I mean always on. Culture impacts the brand, the brand promise, the expectations of the healthcare consumer or patient and the experience. And when going out to market with these types of fluff campaigns a new reality check is needed.
It’s not hard and is asking only one question, is the brand promise being made in the campaign supported by the reality of the culture of the hospital or health system? If the hospital marketing campaign is not aligned with the reality of the hospital culture, it is a prescription for disaster in the making. Pun intended. Walgreens and other medical retail giants figured this out a long time ago.
Now the challenge is for hospitals and health systems to learn the same lessons.

Healthcare is becoming a consumer driven retail operation. So while everyone’s focus is on reducing cost, improving quality and figuring out how to survive in a world shifting from volume to value, marketing becomes far more important than cute catchy phrases and seemingly harmless brand promises.

The easy way around this is to go to market with campaigns that differentiate the hospital or health system. A campaign that is based on providing meaningful and understandable information along the dimensions of price, outcomes, and experience that defines the brand, and establishes reasonable consumer experience expectations.  It focuses on a brand promise can be delivered on always by everyone, no exceptions to that statement, in the healthcare enterprise  24/7.

Like Jake states in aligning the inpatient and outpatient experience, “It’s really simple, but really hard”.