Three Solutions for Navigating Market Changes in Healthcare

picture of boat on the oceanNo other industry has seen quite the magnitude of change as healthcare. Today, nearly every facet of the industry is radically transforming as our core business focus shifts from illness to prevention. Providers and vendors are forced to transform their practices as they secure a meaningful role in the industry.

As I recently shared in an interview with the Kansas City Business Journal, “It always used to be about healthcare, and now we’re seeing it morph into life care … being able to take care of patients beyond just when they’re ill, but keeping them healthy for a lifetime.”

To build a sustainable and adaptable healthcare company in the midst of this changing market, healthcare executives should focus on strategy in three core areas: leadership, culture and fully integrated, consumer-centric care models. Let’s examine each of these three areas in more detail:

1. Complementary and strategic leadership

The right mix of personalities in the right executive positions at the right stages of growth is critical, especially in an industry undergoing widespread disruption like healthcare. In the book, Rocket Fuel, authors Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters describe the explosive combination of two seemingly opposite roles: the Visionary and the Integrator.

The Visionary is the dreamer, the champion for innovation, the person who looks at the big picture and provides passion and inspiration to others. The Integrator is the complementary force to the Visionary, responsible for governing day-to-day issues, aligning the team with goals and engaging with clients. As the degree of market complexity increases, so too does the organization’s need to be a “visionary” in its approach and an “integrator” in its execution. By clearly defining these roles in your organization – and delegating responsibilities that take advantage of each individual’s strengths – will you be able to clear the obstacles keeping you from achieving your strategic goals.

2. Focus on culture

Chances are the vast majority of your employees come to work each day motivated by the good they can do in the lives of patients and those seeking information about healthcare. That mission to make a difference is a powerful ally because your culture is closely connected to your brand.

The rise and influence of the Millennial generation in the workforce is making the need for that cultural connection more prevalent than ever before. A 2015 Fast Company article reports that 50 percent of Millennials would take a pay cut to find a job and/or company that matches their values, and 90 percent of them want to use their skills for good.

The opportunity to use social responsibility as a brand platform is potentially very powerful, both externally and internally. Healthcare organizations can embrace corporate social engagement as a strategy for building brands, fostering loyalty and enhancing employee recruitment and retention. Your mission hasn’t changed despite the market transformation, but now is the time to truly integrate your mission with your culture and live your brand.

3. Emerging care models expand to focus on health and life

The visionary leader goes beyond the “sick care” model to establish a fully integrated, consumer-centric model of health and life services. Organizations must pivot to offering community-based services that encourage consumers to adopt new, healthy lifestyles. This means digitally connecting with consumers where they live, work and play using innovative telehealth options.

Think of it as putting a personal care provider in everyone’s pocket, extending care via smartphones to where it is most convenient for consumers. Or envision building a community -based continuum of healthcare and life services through public-private partnerships to emphasize access to healthy foods, fitness and health education—so much so that it becomes pervasive in people’s lives.

Virtual connectivity also encourages thinking beyond your immediate neighborhoods and examining the potential to directly contract or build referral agreements with specialty care centers across the U.S. for high acuity and complex chronic care conditions. As your organization embraces these and other new models of care, it is imperative that leaders adapt your organization’s culture and brand accordingly while empowering the whole team to skate to the new puck.

Look to the Future

Healthcare leaders must watch trends and study data to learn more about the market’s evolution—but they must also go further to find insights buried deep in the data and figure out what to do with them. In other words, you must be able to answer the age-old question, so what? Determine what matters amidst all the change and disruption. Take time to understand the transformation in the market and how best to adapt. Then, use that knowledge to drive results-oriented and future-focused change at your organization, and bring this new health model to life. The successful organization in the new healthcare world needs the vision to see the future, the flexibility to adapt to it, and a clear strategy to bring itself safely through it.

Carol Dobies is the CEO and Founder of Dobies Healthcare Group, where she has been bringing healthcare brands to life for more than 25 years. Share your thoughts with her by tweeting @DobiesGroup or by commenting on the Facebook page.

Taking the Guesswork out of Hospital Costs

The Role of the Marketing Team in Hospital Price Transparency

Picture of woman reviewing hospital pricingAfter attending a Kansas City Healthcare Communicators Society (KCHCS) educational session, I began to think more about the role of marketers in hospital price transparency initiatives. Participants at the session joined in a lively discussion about consumer expectations for comparative data on healthcare costs. With many providers supporting price transparency, marketers are seeking additional resources to successfully communicate consumer-friendly information about hospital costs.

Launching a price transparency initiative in a hospital can seem overwhelming. This is due in large part to the fact that each patient’s healthcare needs are different, and cost structures related to testing and treatment can be complex – often with one or more third party payers – making out-of-pocket costs hard to understand for consumers. Hospitals, in particular, struggle to find the best way to share this information on a public platform. Below are five key takeaways to help hospital marketers take an active role in creating successful communication strategies for price transparency.

Take a lead role in interpreting cost information for consumers. If that doesn’t sound like a marketing function to you, think again. Just as they plan service line communication plans, marketers should be catalysts for collaboratively developing and implementing communication strategies for hospital transparency initiatives. Marketers have a much better understanding than their financial counterparts of consumer wants and needs. In addition, most have an innate ability to distil data—in this case, financial data—into information that is easy for consumers to understand.

Fortunately, some hospital marketers have already begun paving the way by presenting case studies on what works best when communicating hospital and healthcare price transparency. For example, HealthLeaders recently featured the launch of a new online price transparency tool at St. Clair Hospital in Pittsburgh. The groundbreaking tool allows patients to compare the cost of more than 100 different tests and procedures based on their specific insurance information. This is helpful for patients, and it allows St. Clair to establish a position regionally as an innovator in cost transparency.

Know and use existing resources. The American Hospital Association (AHA) has developed a resource called Achieving Price Transparency for Consumers: A Toolkit for Hospitals. The guide is designed to help hospitals evaluate their current efforts and provide samples of price tools currently being used by other health organizations. The AHA toolkit includes a Self-Assessment Checklist, which is an excellent starting point to help you understand which departments/personnel have likely roles in price communications. While many items on the checklist may not be within the purview of the marketing team, some fit the scope of work, which leads us to our next point…

Research the current consumer experience related to price inquires. Ask employees on the front lines (administrators and providers) how they usually address price inquiries. Get to know how the entire process is addressed operationally, from point of initial inquiry to the moment the final answer is conveyed. Audit the financial communications they provide. AHA also recommends placing a few “secret shopper calls” to document and analyze current performance and identify opportunities for improvement. With this type of information on hand, you will be better positioned to assist your organization by mapping out an action plan for improved responses and processes.

Support the financial staff’s ability to be consumer-focused. For consumers, healthcare costs can be difficult to understand. For hospitals and healthcare providers, price transparency involves as much of a cultural shift as it does an operational one, so this is a key opportunity for your marketing team to lead the process as both coach and catalyst. Take a proactive role in ensuring that all communication related to price is helpful, easy to understand and easy to access. You’ll need to take many different forms of communication into account: scripts for people who respond to price inquiries both by phone and in person, written materials, web content and apps, email communication, patient forms, and even the invoices should be examined and reformatted for clarity, consistency and ease of use. Establish and maintain open communication between the marketing team and the financial department so you know when updates need to be made to these communications.

Make appropriate recommendations for how your hospital can make price information more accessible. For example, AHA recommends offering multilingual communications if your service area includes ESL (English as a second language) communities, posting price information on your website and/or providing a customer-facing cost estimator tool, providing information to individuals as soon as possible upon request, and sharing price information with community health organizations.

The Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) also offers a free resource specifically for consumers that you may wish to post on your hospital’s website. Understanding Healthcare Prices: A Consumer Guide educates patients about healthcare pricing in general (not specific to your hospital) so they understand how to obtain an accurate cost estimate. The guide is available in both English and Spanish.

The more transparent your hospital is – and the more helpful you are in providing clear, reliable price information – the more trusted your organization will be with consumers. As a marketer, you can help facilitate the delivery of cost information consumers want and need to make value-based decisions.

Mobile Health: Revolutionizing Technology at the Point of Care

Last week, we released a new white paper for one of our clients to highlight the growing use of mobile apps by specialty physicians. In tracking physician communication patterns over the past four years, we found mobile health technologies are steadily gaining ground as a preferred form of communication and information retrieval.

mHealth app usage among survey respondentsThe white paper explores a potential revolution in the application of technology to diagnosis and patient care. Of the 365 physicians who participated in our online survey, those who use mobile medical apps on a daily basis reported a difference in how they practice medicine – they use the apps to enhance at-the-bedside functionality, patient education, and even diagnostic capabilities. A breakdown of mHealth app usage among our survey respondents is shown to the right.

According to, more than half of all U.S. physicians have downloaded mHealth apps to their smart devices. We found hospitals and health systems that promote the broad use of new technologies in the workplace show more rapid physician adoption among both the younger and older generations. Current industry articles and surveys indicate Epocrates (pictured below), Medscape and Micromedex typically top the list of most-used medical apps by physicians.

Epocrates screen shot

The survey respondents’ wish list for mHealth functionality is long and includes the following:

– Access to electronic medical records
– Medical illustrations and information for patient viewing at the point of care
– Evidence-based references and protocols with easy search and read
– Patient reminders
– Dictation, coding and billing assistance
– Calculators

We believe many opportunities exist to enhance the physician practice through future development of mobile health applications. At Dobies Healthcare Group, we look forward to further exploring the evolving use of medical apps among physicians as an efficient accessory to the power of the brain.

Medical professionals: Are you using mobile health apps at your practice? If so, tell us about your experiences and what you hope to see for the future of mHealth. We want to hear from you!

Healthcare Innovation Brings New Opportunities for Healthcare Marketers

Healthcare InnovationTechnology is rapidly changing healthcare. Mainstream devices can now go far beyond provider-patient communication and into specialized patient care, and things are just getting started.

In other words, what we’ve done so far with healthcare innovation pales in comparison to what we haven’t done…yet. For healthcare marketers, that means:

  1. You must understand and embrace healthcare innovation for success.
  2. Your health organization has the potential to be a vanguard in this space, either through early adoption or invention (or both).

Get your creative juices flowing by exploring some out-of-the-box thinkers who are doing big things now to further the gains made possible by health technology. For example:

Dr. Smartphone will see you now.

Okay so a phone can’t earn a medical degree, but it does have a big job to do in the exam room. As Dr. Eric Topol, cardiologist, points out in this clip from NBC News, smartphone technology has become a very effective, very efficient tool for patient care. Watch the video to hear Dr. Topol explain how “wireless medicine” made possible through affordable smartphone technology is clearing the path to that much-coveted holy grail: better, cheaper healthcare.

Among other things, Dr. Topol demonstrates how smartphones can substantially reduce waste in health care delivery and, at the same time, enhance the patient experience. He also says, “These days I’m actually prescribing a lot more apps than I am medications” – a noteworthy quote because it’s indicative of what’s now and what’s next in healthcare: the meteoric rise of mHealth.

To reduce costs while meeting increased demand for outpatient care and self-care, mobile technology is key. “Virtual visits” are surging in usage and usefulness as providers and patients embrace the power of remote patient care and monitoring. According to Sg2, the virtual site of care is expected to grow much more than any other point within the care continuum over the next 10 years. Differentiate your organization now by carving out a place on the leading edge of mHealth.

Have you seen the latest healthwear?

People love wearable fitness technology – apps you put on to track movements, calories, etc. are making big gains in popularity and sophistication. So what else is possible in healthcare you can wear? This line of technology is quickly evolving beyond wellness and into highly specialized healthcare, as featured in this Mobile Minute video: How Wearables are Changing Healthcare.

The video points out how wearable health technology can help people track their own health data and better manage their own health, potentially putting a significant dent in today’s $30 billion price tag of patient non-compliance. Wearables with smart and sensor technology are helping providers become more precise with meds and dosages, remote diagnostics, pain management and more. 3-D printing is making custom prosthetics more accessible. What wearable tech ideas can you or your providers dream up to add to the mix?

After all, your organization doesn’t have to make the technology – bright ideas and strategic investments will take you where you want to go. Stretch the limits of what you previously thought possible through partnerships, sponsorships, co-branding opportunities and licensing agreements with tech providers. If you’ve ever wanted to be a trailblazer in healthcare, the time is now, the stage is set, and the possibilities are endless.

Hospital Community Relations Directors Evolve to Chief Marketing Officers

With so many patient-facing changes in healthcare these days, it’s no surprise the role of the hospital community relations director is also changing. Once focused primarily on communications, advertising and outreach, today’s community relations directors now drive patient experience, hospital strategy and business development.

Maybe the person who manages community relations at your hospital has a new title, maybe not. Regardless, the purview of the position has expanded. At Dobies Healthcare Group, we see three core responsibilities for hospital marketing officers:

  • Drive the patient experience. Today’s hospital marketing officers own the patient experience. They take a lead role in creating loyalty and repositioning the patient at the center of the hospital’s delivery system.
  • Develop overall business strategy. In addition to increasing market share, hospital marketing officers are now responsible for new business and program development to enhance the hospital’s competitive advantage.
  • Nurture the system of care. Now more than ever, it’s important to be proactive rather than reactive in creating and nurturing an emerging system of care. Working with leadership on service line, physician engagement and system of care issues has become a routine function.

Even from this quick summary, it’s easy to see how the role of hospital community relations has evolved far beyond its more traditional PR/promotional functions. That’s why many hospital leaders turn to healthcare marketing specialists who can help them navigate these complexities and grow into the next generation of healthcare.

Brand Promises in Healthcare: How to Deliver through Patient Touch Points

Healthcare consumers are more empowered than ever to choose according to their perceptions, and they know it. As health plans get more flexible in letting people pick providers – and online platforms enable word-of-mouth to cover more ground at faster speeds – the competition to be anyone’s provider of choice is fierce.

Which brings me to the importance of patient touch points—those many opportunities for healthcare providers to ‘live their brand’ by enhancing patient experiences. Every interaction counts, whether direct or indirect, clinical or non-clinical.

In a sea of how-to’s and must-do’s surrounding social media and health information technology, it’s important to keep more conventional methods in our strategies as well. With today’s patients empowered to think and act like retail consumers, providers are wise to take pages from consumer-oriented business models to elevate service levels and deliver fully satisfying experiences at the point of care. Think Disney, Zappos and Nordstrom.

Here are three great places to start:

  • Personalize Care. People love it when they feel camaraderie with their care team, and they respond with loyalty when they believe you know them as individuals. Introduce yourself, call patients by name and look them in the eye. Also, be mindful that your presence in the community is making impressions on people even before they become your patients, so find ways to customize every encounter.
  • Be Responsive. It goes without saying that patients are happier when healthcare providers eliminate wait times. Go beyond the obvious. Ask patients about their expectations and respond to their personal needs. Unanticipated opportunities to show extraordinary service go a long way toward improving the patient experience.
  • Keep Patients Informed. Whether it’s about medications or when the doctors are likely to make their rounds, keep patients informed. Explain tests, treatments and procedures; describe the technology you use. Include patients (and if appropriate, their families) in decision-making.

At Dobies Healthcare Group, we encourage healthcare marketers to champion the notion that brand is what you do. It is not a logo or tagline—a brand is something that lives in people’s hearts and minds. It’s defined by expectations developed over time through your communications and more importantly, your actions.

In other words, when you make a brand promise related to patient experience, you need to know you can keep it. You also need to continually strengthen the promise by identifying and translating consumer expectations into touch points that matter most to patients.

SHSMD Word Cloud Finds the Focus of Today’s Hospital Strategists and Marketers

In our last post, we talked about word clouds and their practical uses beyond the blog. This week, we’ll continue that discussion in lieu of our recent discoveries at SHSMD Connections 2011, an annual conference hosted by the Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development. The event was a meeting of the minds from all levels of hospital communications, and the word cloud was our way of learning more about what’s on their minds.

SHSMD attendees participated by entering today’s hot topics into our word cloud app. You can view the results here. But what do the results tell us about the directions and challenges hospital marketers face as we head into 2012?

The most commonly used phrase was “physician strategies,” with “social media” coming in close behind. Many hospital strategists are looking for effective ways to engage with physicians and patients. While social media continues to grow as a cost-effective way to expand reach and frequency, strategists are struggling with how to reconcile professional relationships with online social platforms—and even how to get people to “Like” or “Follow” their hospitals in the first place, let alone leverage that affinity. It’s a challenge many of today’s healthcare marketers must untangle, and clearly engagement is the name of the game.

Other issues taking center stage for healthcare marketers include:

Direct marketing – promoting what works to grow market share.

Brand building – on-target messaging in the midst of health reform and ACO debates.

Market-driven plans (and plans that drives markets) – thinking strategically and delivering creatively.

• Better returns – demonstrating improved ROI and ROE as direct results of marketing efforts.

If your marketing initiatives don’t include solid strategic planning in the areas described above, you’re missing opportunities to enhance relationships, grow in volume, improve your brand and more.

What about you—what’s on your mind in healthcare marketing today? If you didn’t share with us at SHSMD, feel free to do so in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

Healthcare Pros Explore Patient-Centered Care

Healthcare Marketing Tip #28Last year we developed a deck of 52 marketing tips and collected more from our peers at SHSMD. A big “thank you” goes to Lisa Crockett, Manager of Strategy and Business Development at Providence Health & Services for this month’s Healthcare Marketing Tip:

“Before starting any marketing effort, think about what patients will experience.”

Hospitals and other healthcare providers that differentiate themselves by building a brand identity around a patient-centered approach to care are poised to thrive in this era of healthcare consumerism. But the brand promise must meet healthcare consumers’ increasingly high expectations.

“It’s easy to be comfortable with how we’ve delivered healthcare in the past, but change is necessary if we want loyal patients,” said Crockett. “It’s important to continue to advance patient experience beyond acute care to patient’s lives post-discharge to ultimately improve outcomes and lower costs.” According to numerous studies, patient-centered care can lower operating costs and ultimately save hospitals time and money.

Other Benefits of Improved Patient Experience:

  • Shorter patient stays
  • Lower cost per case
  • Reduced staff costs
  • Low cost improvements can make the same impact as expensive ones
  • Higher employee retention rates
  • Decreased malpractice claims

Opponents of patient-centric care argue it won’t provide enough financial return to justify the cost associated with staff training and patient volume disruptions that can occur while programs and facilities are updated. Supporters of improved patient experience maintain that the benefits outweigh the costs; in addition, they say it is a moral obligation to provide a better experience. “It’s the right thing to do,” said Crockett. “If we’re not here to help people, then we’re in the wrong business.”

Patients have increasingly high expectations for the way care is delivered. Hospitals need to meet this demand by embedding the concepts of improved patient experience into the fabric of the hospital’s core values and culture. According to Crockett, most hospitals are already intent on improving patient satisfaction and they can make gains in improved patient experience by monitoring and quickly responding suggestions and complaints. “Thank you notes and complaint letters tell you a lot about gaps in service. Once you involve everyone on the healthcare team in the changes that are made, you’ll start to see the benefits of patient-centric care.”

What ways has your hospital or practice implemented patient-centered care? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @DobiesGroup.

i-Devices Help Docs Deliver Better Care

After I purchased my first smartphone more than a year ago, it wasn’t long before it became an invaluable part of my daily life. So when I ran across an article asking how healthcare workers ever lived without their iPhones, iPads and other portable, “smart” technologies, I was far from surprised.  But while I mostly use my smart phone for news updates, Google searches and social media, many healthcare providers are using mobile devices to improve their practice.

A recent survey found:

  • Among physicians currently using mobile devices in their practice, 56 percent said the devices expedite decision making.
  • Nearly 40 percent said the use of mobile devices decreases time spent on administration.
  • Forty percent of physicians said they could reduce the number of office visits by 11 to 30 percent by using mobile health technologies like remote monitoring, email or text messaging with patients.

The study also found patients are eager for mobile healthcare as well:

  • Thirty-one percent of consumers are willing to incorporate an application into their existing mobile phones to be able track and monitor their personal health information.
  • Forty percent of consumers are willing to pay for a device and a monthly subscription fee for a mobile phone application that would send text and e-mail reminders to take their medications, refill prescriptions, or to access their medical records and track their health.

As a healthcare marketer, I welcome this trend as it provides yet another vehicle to help physicians reach patients where they live, work and play.  As a patient, it seems it’s only a matter of time before I’m using my smartphone to manage my health in addition to my social life.

The Internet Says I Have WHAT?!

We’ve all done it:

We suffer from a sniffle that lasts a bit longer than usual and we’re off to a search engine to self-diagnose our mystery illness. Depending on the search results (and our levels of persistence and paranoia), either we are comforted that we’ve simply contracted the common cold…or we’re convinced that we’ve developed a CSF leak and the fluid that surrounds our brain is escaping through our nose!

Those of us who believe the second diagnosis are likely falling victim to cyberchondria:

“… the unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptomatology, based on the review of search results and literature on the Web.”

And as health content on the Web continues to grow, we risk becoming cyberchondriacs with every Google or Bing search query.

To help curb cases of cyberchondria, some believe it is the responsibility of the search engines to provide results the public can trust. While I agree the search engines play a role, I believe the solution begins with healthcare marketers and Web writers. We have the responsibility to work with physicians, nurses and other medical professionals to produce complete, accurate and understandable information for the search engines to deliver to the online community. Studies show this kind of quality information is not always available for certain conditions, which leads medical experts to warn against relying too much on the Internet for education.

Ultimately, however, it falls to healthcare consumers to do their part.  While it is important to be vigilant advocates for our health and make an effort to educate ourselves, we must be prudent in our research, both online and off, and remember to balance our findings with the first-hand opinions of medical professionals.