Archive | July, 2010

Conversations about the good

30 Jul

Marketing is still an ever-so-slightly dirty word in health care. To some, marketing smacks of sleight of hand, subtle deception and self-interest.

When I began my career in the marketing and PR department of an acute-care hospital, there were still practitioners in the field – and my organization – who felt any advertising or marketing for health-care services was unseemly. Marketing departments dedicated to communicating services to consumers came late to health care compared with almost every other industry: They were almost non-existent until the mid-1980s.

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Much of this reluctance against marketing and its most-visible tactic, advertising, is historical. For decades, the American Medical Association prohibited its members from advertising, originally due to concerns about medical quackery. Since physicians normally play a significant role in guiding and leading hospitals, this marketing stigma bled over there as well. In 1979, the Federal Trade Commission ordered the AMA to rescind its rules banning advertising due to concerns about potential price-fixing, opening the door to the eventual creation over the next decade of hospital marketing, public relations and communications departments staffed with dedicated practitioners.

Some of that stigma remains in health care: Marketing is “bad.” Marketing is not in the patient’s best interest. Marketing is selling. However, I would argue that in acute health care, especially the not-for-profit realm, marketing serves a greater good, informing consumers about services to save and improve their lives.

Much of hospital and health system marketing – my preferred term is marketing communications – is focused on wellness, education and helping patients find essential services and resources. Marketing health care is different than marketing just about any other service.  No one wakes up in the morning and decides to have a cardiac cath. Certainly, letting a potential Type 2 diabetic know about a weight-loss program is “good.” Reminding mothers-to-be about the importance of prenatal care is “good.” A lot of what is labeled marketing in health care is really about communication and education: What are the signs of stroke? What types of cancer treatment options are available in my region? Where can I find a doctor?

Health information exchange will only broaden and deepen these communication opportunities. As health systems begin to use greater amounts of data to reach greater efficiency and promote evidence-based medicine, someone will need to communicate those changes to the people affected, the patients and community. Will it be marketers?

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Journey to the land of health information exchange

27 Jul

Doing means learning. Learning means mistakes.
— Jeffrey Pfeffer, Stanford Business School professor

When I first read that quote, long before I knew anything about Jeffrey Pfeffer, it sang to me. It perfectly describes my blog direction shift: I’m about to do something. I know it entails learning – that’s why I’m embarking on the project in the first place. And I know that learning necessitates mistakes.

Back in April, I read an appealing job description. I have 13 years of health care marketing experience, and I’m always looking to expand my knowledge and experience. The job title was “Manager, Health Information Exchange.” Since I didn’t know much about health information exchange at the time, I embarked on a journey to find out.

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By coincidence, three days later I received an email from my MBA program looking for students to work on an independent-study project for the State of Nevada’s Office of Health Information Technology, which is developing the state’s Health Information Exchange Cooperative Agreement, an initiative funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. I ended up assigned to lead a student team to explore communications planning for the state’s strategic and operational plan.

This led to reading other states’ plans, and webinars, and watching videos, and questions. I find the privacy aspects of health information exchange, or HIE, fascinating. How will consumers respond once an electronic health record that follows them everywhere is a reality? How will this data be used by marketers within individual organizations? CAN it be used by marketers, and under what parameters? What role will marketers play in communicating their organizations’ HIE policies? Will it give health care providers more time with patients, and perhaps a more personal experience? And perhaps most interesting of all, how will a shift to evidence-based medicine affect health care marketing?

So this is where the learning, and the mistakes, come in. So far, I’ve not been able to find much information on the marketing aspects of HIE – but given how much information is already out there about the policy, IT and operational issues, there’s a lot to comb through. Maybe it’s a non-issue – maybe this will have no impact on health care marketers.

But clues are emerging it might be of interest to healthcare marketers:

And what does the study have to say?

Referrals become an unexpected bonus
It turns out that the same time-saving benefit that brought
all of the EPSC physicians on-board the EHR transition was
also fulfilling an unknown need for referring physicians.
“We started getting a lot of referrals from new sources we’d
never even met,” says Herst. “Our referral base was growing
about 10 percent a year.”

Hmm. Let’s see what we find out.