Archive | August, 2010

Grace, providence and my new job

10 Aug

“Providence.” That’s how Sister Mary Kieffer, OP, explained it.

The moment that word left her lips, I knew it was exactly the word I was seeking, had been struggling to put my finger on, but had yet to identify. The explanation. Providence.

Sister Mary is a member of the community of Dominican Sisters of San Rafael. She works in the Spiritual Care department of Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nev., where I just accepted the position of director of marketing. Saint Mary’s, now part of Catholic Healthcare West, was founded in 1908 by the Dominican Sisters.[tweetmeme source=”KateEGrey” only_single=false]

From the very beginning of my journey toward this specific job, which I begin Aug. 23, I had a sense that this was meant to be, that I was going to be at Saint Mary’s for a reason – a reason beyond my background and abilities.

One of those reasons is my connection to the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael. I am an alumna of one of their high schools, Saint Rose Academy, once the oldest private girls’ school in San Francisco. Saint Rose was a happy, formative place for me, although I had a different background from the typical girl there: I’m not Catholic, and had not progressed through the parochial elementary schools of San Francisco like just about every other student. Well, technically I did, but it was a Lutheran school, not Catholic.

Drawing of Saint Rose Academy

Saint Rose's building on the corner of Pierce and Pine was destroyed in the 1989 San Francisco earthquake.

My once-lovely high school was “killed” in the great Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco in 1989. The stately white building, which was located on the corner of Pierce and Pine streets, was damaged so severely it had to be closed. And sadly, the demographics and economics of San Francisco did not support the Sisters rebuilding or even continuing. The students were folded into the Jesuits’ St. Ignatius College Prep, formerly an all-boys school, and the site became a parking lot for St. Dominic’s Church next door.

I didn’t know until recently that there was anything left of Saint Rose, when I discovered this online trying to reconnect with classmates:

… a remnant of St. Rose Academy can still be found in Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto—but the beloved shrine barely survived the wrecking ball. Sitting amidst the rubble that surrounded St. Rose Academy following the 1989 earthquake, the grotto gradually became overgrown by the gnarly decorative vines that surrounded it. Crews that arrived to demolish the damaged school were about to bulldoze the overgrown mound when St. Dominic’s Father Martin Walsh realized what was happening and hurried to the site to throw himself in front of the bulldozers and save the shrine. Thanks to his rescue, it remains intact to provide a peaceful oasis rising amidst the asphalt of today’s parking lot.

When I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago, I felt drawn to visit the grotto, which indeed is a lovely oasis surrounded by small plantings.

As I sat in reflection among the lavender and roses, I noticed a hummingbird hovering nearby. At first, I purely marveled at its beauty, and at seeing one in the city in the middle of a parking lot. Several days later, though, I was hit with a realization that it really meant something else.

It was grace.


Two great quotes from healthTap

8 Aug

Two quotes from healthTap‘s blog caught my attention this week. Both Esther Dyson and Thomas Goetz are big names in their fields, obviously, and what they have to say speaks to my interests and purpose:[tweetmeme source=”KateEGrey” only_single=false]

It turns out that understanding and promoting health is a great application of information technology. Health increasingly involves numbers.
− Esther Dyson

The editor of Wired sees possibility:

The potential for individuals, armed with good information and clear advice, to act a little smarter and live a little better.
Thomas Goetz

Next up: Reading their Ron Gutman entries.

p.s. Oh, and healthTap, noticed you on #hcsm tonight too. Welcome.

Delivering happiness in health care

7 Aug

“Envision, create and believe in your own universe.”

I received an advance blogger copy of Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose in June. Hsieh is best known as CEO of, the online shoe source he grew from nothing to more than $1 billion in gross sales, now owned by Amazon. Originally, I planned to review as a general business book. Now that I’ve repurposed and refocused, I’m re-reviewing in light of the lessons it holds for health care marketers.

book cover image

Delivering Happiness is perhaps the most charming business book ever – at least of those I’ve read. Hsieh’s strength as an author is his storytelling, beginning with the worm-farm yarn in Chapter 1. Unlike most business writers, by the end of the book we know about Hsieh’s childhood entrepreneurial ventures (and failures), how he took advantage of crowdsourcing as a Harvard student to get good grades with little effort on his part and his one-time love of serious poker. It’s probably the only book that’s turned the PLUR principle Hsieh learned at raves – Peace, Love, Unity, Respect – into a business mantra.

[tweetmeme source=”KateEGrey” only_single=false]And the stories he tells in the first portion of the book make the final third sing. Quite frankly, if Hsieh had just regurgitated his business vision, and thoughts on culture and customer service, in book form there would be no reason to listen. I mean, come on, who would pay just to read about another company’s vision? But because the reader knows Zappos’, and Hsieh’s, story by the time we get to that part of the book, his talk about the importance of brand and culture hits some high notes.

Hsieh’s biggest point isn’t about business, but life: There has to be meaning behind what you do.  Money alone isn’t enough – as he discovered after he walked away with $30 million in his pocket at age 24 after selling a company he co-founded, LinkExchange, to Microsoft. Without passion, there’s no satisfaction. Hsieh’s underlying message: What companies should be doing is implementing core values, focusing more on customer service, company culture and employee happiness. Those companies that do, according to Hsieh, actually improve their financial performance as well.

Health care is perfectly enabled to deliver the kind of passion Hsieh refers to. Like Hsieh, I’m also a sometime student of the burgeoning science of happiness. According to Hsieh, research from the field is confirming that the combination of physical synchrony with other humans and being part of something bigger than oneself leads to a greater sense of happiness. Isn’t that what health care is all about?

In the final chapter of the book, Hsieh turns his efforts personally to the reader and outlines what is known about the science of happiness. Happiness is really about four things: perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness and being part of something bigger than yourself. One of health care’s weaknesses, at least in the acute care environment, is perceived control. I think that’s behind a lot of nurse, allied health professional and caregiver burnout.

One could say Delivering Happiness is completely choppy – the first third is really Hseih’s story, from Harvard to LinkExchange to venture capitalist and Zappos. The middle third, which is mostly about Zappos, is not really written by Hsieh – he includes segments from at least 12 guest contributors. And the very last chapter is about positive psychology and how to apply it to your life. However, given what we learn about Hsieh starting on page 1, it holds together. It makes sense. That’s who he is, what he stands for and what he believes in – the underlying message of the book. It’s the universe he wanted to create.

e-Patient Dave on HIE’s marketing implications

6 Aug

One of the joys of active social-media involvement is quickly and readily connecting with people – interesting, generous, accomplished people. Three days after I first noticed “e-Patient Dave” deBronkart’s tweets, and admired his perspective, knowledge and good humor, I was interviewing him on the phone.

e-Patient Dave deBronkart

Although my beloved AP Stylebook demands I refer to him as “deBronkart” on second reference, I can’t help but call him anything but e-Patient Dave.

After beating Stage IV kidney cancer, e-Patient Dave became a full-time activist, advocating for health care transformation through participatory medicine and personal health data rights. Earlier this summer, e-Patient Dave participated in the policy meetings in Washington which helped define “meaningful use” for the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, or HITECH. e-Patient Dave feels strongly that patients should be able to access their own medical data, check it for errors, question it, and take it with them to another care provider if necessary.
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I wanted to talk to e-Patient Dave about Health Information Exchange and Electronic Health Records, the changes they’ll bring to health care and, most of interest to me, the implications for marketers. He concurs: HIE and EHRs present a “terrific opportunity to transform health care marketing. If you resonate with this idea, you will be way ahead of people in your trade. People who understand will have an enormous advantage.”

One of the advantages he foresees is message targeting. According to e-Patient Dave, marketers and organizations that target messages to different patient segments will have a tremendous head start. e-Patients – shorthand for empowered, engaged, equipped and enabled patients – demand and need different information than patients like his dying father, who didn’t want to know anything about his condition, medications or treatments.

e-Patient Dave’s major concern about the HIE opportunity for marketers, not surprisingly, is privacy. In the view of the strictest privacy advocates, the arrival of an email or postcard could disclose to someone, maybe even your mail carrier, that you might have a particular condition. As HITECH rolls out, more discussions are going on in Washington about exactly what marketers will be allowed to do. Obviously, it’s clear that marketers should not, and will not, have access to a patient’s medical history solely for the purpose of marketing.

However, e-Patient Dave acknowledges there are borderline cases where a pharmacy knows you have particular condition, or take a particular medicine, and there are some gray areas in privacy regulations about whether an organization could then offer you something that’s reasonably related. This is exactly why I’m interested. Marketers, believe or not, have a role in fostering health, and an important role to play in America’s health care system: Helping patients find health resources, treatments, providers and technology.

IT: The Holy Grail of health care marketing?

3 Aug

Marketing health care is marketing a service – quite different than product marketing. Radically different, in fact, especially when it comes to health care.

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Services marketing is about delivering great service and then telling the story. To deliver on the promise, marketers need to manage the tangibles and elusive intangibles of the brand. This service delivery extends to just about every interaction with the organization – from how a patient was greeted at registration to how easy it is to follow the bill once the patient receives it. Great service in health care starts with the mission and vision, and works its way down.

Leonard Berry, author of Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic: Inside One of the World’s Most Admired Service Organizations, says:

When a company’s service is excellent, customers are more likely to perceive value in transactions, spread favorable word-of-mouth impressions, and respond positively to employee-cross-selling efforts.

Cover, Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic: Inside One of the World's Most Admired Service Organizations

So in health care, a marketer’s role becomes helping to manage those tangible and intangible elements. Websites and advertising are relatively easy – those are tangible. But just one hospital admission for one patient could result in hundreds of intangible interactions – with a person who is sick or injured. How sympathetic was the tech when he drew blood? How quickly did a staff member answer the call button? Was the food hot? Not so easy to manage.

That’s where healthcare IT, and health information exchange and electronic health records, could be the Holy Grail. By allowing greater automation of clinical processes, and less duplication, it can help health care providers deliver better service with greater accuracy. Greater data availability and tighter key performance indicators mean easier-to-spot, easier-to-fix problems.

The whole goal of HITECH, according to Dr. David Blumenthal, is “‘meaningful use’ of EHRs — that is, their use by providers to achieve significant improvements in care.” If a provider can report, in aggregate, better outcomes — fewer infections, fewer falls, fewer drug interactions — that’s better marketing.

Dr. Denis Cortese, retired Mayo Clinic president and CEO, alludes to the role health IT can play:

The best physicians and healthcare providers are part engineers and part artists. The engineer sees the problem and applies technology to fix it. … The artist knows when the patient needs a warm smile, reassuring words, or a gentle hug. It’s the artists who make every patient feel welcome, comfortable, secure, hopeful.

Keeping a cool head about HIE and HITECH

1 Aug

Use Emotion to Drive Adoption, Not Rejection, of Health IT, a recent post by Lygeia Ricciardi on The Health Care Blog, demonstrates why I am so intrigued with health information exchange in the first place: consumer perception.

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I’m not just a marketer, I’m also an armchair sociologist. This quote from Ricciardi is exactly why I am interested:

The struggle to control public perception will grow more intense as health IT becomes more mainstream via implementation of HITECH. It’s important to get the infrastructure, the policy, and the MESSAGING right if the public is going to participate.

There are many, many potential benefits to health information exchange, as Ricciardi enumerates in her post. And there are downsides too. Some of them may be ugly. All of this will impact health care marketers. We’ll be key in shaping and responding to the messaging that Ricciardi refers to.

That’s why I’m here: to follow along and see how this implemention is shaped for the public, and how consumers respond.