Saturday, October 25, 2014

How does a hospital or health system recover from a devastating reputation hit?

The Ebola scare that is rampant in communities driven in some cases inaccurate  media and social media reporting by  individuals, has had a significant toll on Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas, Texas. Its good reputation damaged has resulted in ER utilization, admissions and revenue declining significantly as reported by the Wall Street Journal on October 23, 2014, “Ebola Still Weighs on Texas Hospital”,  by Caitlin McCabe and Christopher Weaver. The CDC sure didn’t help either in this case.

A 26 percent revenue drop is nothing to sneeze at, and one that most healthcare organizations would have a hard time accommodating.

This isn’t a blog post slamming the mismanagement of the public relations during the crisis. It is well documented over three days, how badly the media and public was handled by the shifting inaccurate responses, lack of clear messaging, and strategy on the part of Texas Health Resources. 

The damage is already done and it could take years to regain a good reputation. Now comes the how does a healthcare provider accomplish this no small feat?

This isn’t only about recovering from Ebola; this is really about trust.  Recovering the trust of the doctors. The trust of the paints. The belief of the community. The confidence  of the healthcare consumer. This in my opinion is about rebuilding the solid reputation that the hospital can care for individuals without harming them.  Changing the perception of,  if they can’t take care of an Ebola patient correctly, how are they going to take care of me?

All the awards that Texas Health Resources Presbyterian has received from national organizations about quality of care mean nothing to patients and the healthcare consumer.   Maybe they never really did anyway?

Where to start?

1.       Commit the resources.  This is going to cost some money over a very long period of time. Understand it and get over it.

2.       Do the market research in terms of quantities surveys and focus groups.  The organization needs to understand the attitudes, perceptions  and choice preferences of the healthcare consumer, patient, community and doctors. Don’t assume one knows all of that already.

3.       From the results of the market research develop the strategy first, then build the key messages and plans. The hospital has one shot to get it right and that starts with the right strategy.  My favorite quote comes from Sun Tzu in the Art of War: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory; tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Strategy first; tactics second to be successful.

4.       Be prepared and budget for doing the research annually to measure the change in perceptions, attitudes and preference choice.  It’s a cost of doing business.

5.       Executive leadership leads and is in front of the community.  No sending the PR person out to answer the media and others. This is the responsibility of the CEO, and on special occasions when needed the Chief Medical Officer or CNO. All others stay away. Media days, community meetings, Q & As. All led by the CEO or CMO.

6.       Become the transparent organization regarding outcomes.  This is probably the most difficult part of this quest but it is absolutely essential. And I do not mean running ads with pretty third party logos bestowing an outcome ward.  I am talking about putting context around the content of the award for the healthcare consumer and patients to understand what it means and why it is important.

7.       Social media is everything here. The healthcare consumer is the new paparazzi. They can help reclaim the reputation of the hospital or they can destroy it in heart beat.  Twitter, facebook, LinkedIn, Tumbler, blogging, the web site, etal and more.  All are useful in the rebuild effort. One can reach more people and delivery more variable messages faster than anything else you can do. So can the hospitals customer evangelists.

8.       Enlist your employees. They are on social media. They are the ambassadors.  Their opinions carry weight.

9.       Events need to be meaningful and genuine. This moves beyond a bunch of employees standing in front of the hospital holding signs that they love their hospitals.  That is contrived, pejorative, and dismissed by the public.   This is all about meaningful action not words. Words and displays of affection at this point in time are empty promises.

10.   One step forward two steps back. Nothing goes smoothly or changes in a short period of time and will take years.  The effort to reclaim the reputation will be affected by everyday events and mistakes. Preventable medical errors when they become public, and they will, may negatively impact the reclamation effort and reinforce the perception that the hospital can’t get it right. 

This too shall pass, but only after some very hard detail work, careful planning and execution. If one messes around thinking one has the answers to fix this it will only get worse. Get professional  help.

Maybe it’s time for the acceptance of the idea that hospitals can't be all things to all people. There are just some diseases that should never even be considered for treatment in a community hospital setting. It is arrogant to think you can do what only a few can accomplish without harming the public safety or the patient. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Is story telling the new healthcare marketing?

Interesting question isn’t it?  The marketing department going from the tried and true traditional hospital and health system advertisements and pithy messages, to stories that market the hospital or health system brand.

I do believe that as an industry, that we need to move more fully into developing compelling content to engage and frame the experience of the healthcare consumer or patient. And that means storytelling assumes greater importance.

After all, when one looks at hospital and health system advertising, it’s still the shiny new building, panoramic views from the roof top terrace or lounge, smiling doctors, award logos or trophy’s and  new equipment.  But does that really meet the needs of the healthcare consumer or patient?  Those kinds of activities do not lend themselves to online or social media very much, where people are 41 percent of the time in looking for information on the healthcare provider. And with TiVo, cable online and all the myriad choices for viewing nowadays, does anyone really see them, or just surf through?

If that is the case and healthcare organizations for whatever reason are unwilling to build points of differentiation for the brand based on outcomes and price transparency, then why not tell a story?

Stories can provide rich content. Stories can engage. Stories can frame the experience.  Stories can allow one to impart critical information that a healthcare consumer or patient can use to make a choice.

This isn’t the story of “us”, or the story of the hospital as in “one hundred years ago, a visionary physician”, well you get the idea.  It would seem that given the lack of differentiation in the market place between hospitals and health systems that effective story telling can be the difference.

In a society that begs for compelling and meaningful content who better that the hospital or health system to frame what they do, how they do it and the outcome that is achieved around stories?  It does not mean that the traditional product, a place, price and promotion aspect of marketing goes away.  It is just that those four P's are told in a story.

Storytelling has a beginning, a middle and an end.

For your consideration, I submit, what works better, a story of the development of a new outpatient center that is the future of healthcare, or a full page four-color advertisement of a new building that simply says this is the future of outpatient care? Really, a picture of a glass and steel building multistory building?  Actually, it looks pretty cold and sterile. And I have no idea what is inside, what the hospital does, how it’s done or what it will cost me.

Now tell me a story of experience. Engage me with the story of the levels of treatment and what is done. Thrill me with the levels of care. Give me the reasons why this healthcare brand matters at this location at this time in my life.  Tell me a compelling story of why. 

Its healthcare.

Hospitals and health systems do good.  There are a millions of stories that can be woven into compelling content optimized for social media and mobile that makes a difference.  Not all the cold dry explanations a healthcare consumer sees today. Use storytelling to create the reasons why one should choose the hospital, or doctor, or whatever one is trying to sell.

Individuals are now paying one-third of the total cost of care.  They are gaining sophistication regarding making healthcare choices with outcomes and price data.  What they don’t have is the frame of reference to understand what it all really means.

In an age where compelling content matters more than at any time in the past, it’s time to change the paradigm for healthcare marketing. Time for creative story telling based on the traditional four P's of marketing.

Once upon a time……

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Are You Improving the Physician Experience?

It’s a tough world in healthcare and healthcare marketing in general.  Living in two worlds, hospitals and health systems still get paid for putting heads in the beds with the production of care, while at the same time needing to be cost efficient and medically effective in keeping the healthcare consumer out of the hospital, if it’s a value or risk-based payment model.  It’s really a push-pull.  Keeping the high admitter’s happy while identifying the most effective and cost effective physicians for risk contracts.

Sales staffs targeting physicians are popping up all over complete with goals and objectives, territories and quotas for specific docs along identified disease-states.  The first time the sales person comes back to the organization with, “this needs to change" request it all breaks down for a variety of reasons, most likely due to organizational inertia. Nobody ever really wants to change.

No matter that the healthcare consumer is in the beginning stages of learning how to be empowered. No matter that the payment model is changing from a production-based, to a quality-based. No matter that you are employing physicians.  

If you want to grow and growth is good, physician experience improvement is at the top of the too do list. It’s also one way to stop the out-of-network referrals and retain the patient and either save the cost or generate the income.

Even today nothing happens unless you have a physicians order.  It makes no difference what the payment model is that the patient is covered under. No order means no test, surgery, drugs, home health care etc.  No nothing.  Oh, and the physician experience is just as important if the doctor is employed. 

What will bring the greatest Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI) or sales effort? Running ads that tell consumers are how great you are because you just got an award, or effectively and efficiently managing the physician experience?

Its about their experience in admitting, treating and referring patients  to your emergency room,  hospital, pharmacy, surgical center or home care agency that docs deal with on a daily basis.  How easy is it for them to practice medicine in your facility?  How many complaints do they get from their patients about the hospital? How do you lessen the hassle factor for physicians to allow them to be effective and efficient practitioners of the medical arts? Everyone is out there with the send to me, me, and me message. 

Be ready to make changes in how you do things.  When your physician liaison, account rep, or insert title here person comes back stating the physicians are encountering difficulties in practicing medicine in the hospital, be ready to make meaningful changes.  If not, one is just wasting time and money sending out people to manage the physician relationship.

To restate a common theme of mine, it is not at all about the hospital or health system any longer. It is all about the physician and healthcare consumer experience.

Have at it.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Left behind in the engagement of healthcare consumer’s and patients by Walgreens and Facebook?

Late this past week two announcements were made that received little notice, but will have significant effect on how the healthcare consumer and patients will be engaged.  Not only that, but these two market behemoths are once again taking the lead in being innovative, and setting new levels of engagement that will create an  enhanced  healthcare  consumer  experience and expectations for service that the hospital or health system will need to reach.

I think what was interesting about these two events, was how one was seen in two different lights. First comes along Walgreens announcing its partnership with WebMD, Walgreen, WebMD partnership awards discounts for exercise Chicago Tribune, Friday Oct 3, 2014 and Walgreens, WebMD Partner on Wellness Coaching, Information Week also on Friday Oct 3, 2014. The second event was a Reuter’s story Exclusive: Facebook plots first steps into healthcare, Reuters  Friday Oct 3, 2014.

Now I am not going to get into a discussion of the economic value to both these organizations for recognizing a market trend, seeing an opportunity in a consumer need, or for innovating with an appropriate response. I think that is pretty obvious for all to see, or at least think through.

What I am writing about through the lens of healthcare marketing for hospitals and health systems is what to do.  This should be a wakeup call on the rapid evolution of the healthcare market place that is becoming highly innovative and consumer centric. All of which is being driven by nontraditional healthcare providers. At this pace, hospitals and health systems who are desperately attempting to get back to the top of the food chain are only being further left behind.

This is about the business of health care, not about the business of being a hospital or a health system. Its taking advantage of the movement  to personal health responsibility and finding new ways of  engaging the healthcare consumer,  by  giving them the experience they want on their terms, not somebody else’s.

Here is some food for thought.

Step 1. Stop thinking in terms of providing hospital care. Broaden the focus and vision to the delivery of health care in whatever form that means.

Step 2. Do the market research about what the healthcare consumer and patient in the market want.  Remember all healthcare is ultimately local, so who better than the existing hospital or health system in the area to meet their health care needs.

Step 3. This is about ultimate convenience to the healthcare consumer or patient, not the hospital or health system.  With all the extensive healthcare talent available in a hospital or health system,  there is no reason why one can’t do what Walgreens is doing. The trick for the hospital  is making it convenient and accessible for the healthcare consumer or patient.

Step 4. Explore nontraditional ways of accomplishing this feat. Maybe its entering into partnership with Walgreens or some other healthcare consumer focused nontraditional provider.

Step 5. Get your social media house in order. In a recent study by Deloitte, 43 percent of adults are using social media and switching freely between mobile and online to find information in the decision making process. This isn’t about bulletin boards and nice pictures anymore; this is about engagement and experience.

Step 6.  Start thinking about mHealth application development and how that can assist the hospital  or health system in engaging locally patients, the healthcare consumer and using mHealth to improve the experience and manage expectations.

Step 7.  To develop the mHealth application for the hospital, call the local university or community college.  Talk to the computer science information technology program Dean. I am sure they would welcome the idea of having a real life opportunity to have their students develop a mHealth application for the hospital or health system.

Remember it’s all about the healthcare consumer and health care today and into the future,  not hospital care.