SHSMD Connects Us Together in a Time of Great Change

Another SHSMD Annual Conference has come and gone. The theme this year, “Connections 2012,” was appropriate, as we attempt as an industry to tie our rafts together to better weather the storm on the horizon.

What follows are my big take-aways from the meeting. Whether you were at the meeting in Philadelphia or just followed the conversation on Twitter, I hope you’ll share your thoughts on the conference in the comments section of this post.

Bring your experience to the table, but let go of your preconceptions.

There were a lot of disciplines represented at the conference, and from strategists to marketers to physician’s liaisons, we’re all trying to define what our industry and our own organizations will look like in just a few years’ time. What healthcare gets delivered, where it’s delivered, who does the delivery and, of course, the economics supporting it along the way are all in flux.

It’s the time of transition which promises to be most challenging for our organizations. Dr. Maulik Joshi, PhD, President of HRET, the American Hospital Association’s research foundation, said it best, “We stand with one foot on the dock and the other on the boat.” Healthcare organizations will be under strain as we seek to find new models and structures that work, effectively disassembling and reassembling the airplane while having to keep it in the air throughout the entire process.

As a result, the conference was full of sessions on physician engagement strategies, including ones focused on how to determine whether or not to acquire physician practices, how to deploy innovative primary care models, how to roll out bundled services and how to best the care continuum.

At the center of this conversation was Prof. Michael Useem’s general session on the need for decisive leadership during the period ahead. Inspiring, motivating and directing your staff, keeping them engaged through challenges, and making decisions with less information than you might want will be critical. Everything is changing, so trying to stay in your comfort zone, doing things the way you always have is a surefire way to fail.

Silos gotta go.

Healthcare seems particularly prone to operational silos.  Even the strategy disciplines are often chunked out in strange ways with planning, marketing, communications and public relations often separated with little interaction between the groups. And the connections with clinical and financial leadership are often little better.

Rethinking the system requires us to address the boundaries and interfaces between differing parts of our organizations. Be ready for reorganization within many health systems to address these challenges and allow for a meaningful re-engineering of the work that we do.

Data is your friend.

From ROI and operational dashboards to using data visualization and GIS to identify market opportunities – using data to guide our decisions and demonstrate our successes was a big topic at this year’s conference.

The tools have come a long way and richer data sets are more available than ever before, but that isn’t enough to change the way our organizations operate. As one planning colleague lamented, “We’ve put these tools in the hands of our people at all of our facilities including our CEOs, but our usage in the field is almost non-existent.”

Many health systems lack the analytical competency in their marketing, planning and executive teams to address strategic questions for which they have no direct experience. Look for many of our organizations to not only improve the tools at their disposal but to also train, hire or contract greater analytical expertise to guide their decision making.

Make it personal.

From marketing to pharmaceuticals, we’re seeing healthcare get more personalized. Many aspects of what we do can be more effective when tailored to the individual receiving it.

I was surprised, therefore, to hear Wired magazine editor and author of The Decision Tree: Taking Control of Your Health in the New Era of Personalized Medicine talk not about personalized medicine, but the power of A/B testing. While nothing can replace the act of seeing how people actually react, either to a message or a medicine, A/B testing is at odds with personalization.

Let’s look, for example, at a new hypothetical drug for treating a challenging cancer. If that drug helps 20% of patients suffering from that condition, but there is already a drug available that assists 30% of patients, the new drug has traditionally been rejected. That’s medicine A/B testing.

In personalized medicine, you seek to understand what is different about the people who respond or don’t respond to a treatment. What we’re learning now is that there may be little or no overlap between the 20% who respond to A and the 30% who respond to B. Just as importantly, we may learn the circumstances around when neither treatment will help. We can then use that information to save the patient from the discomfort of receiving a treatment when it won’t ultimately help them.

Accomplishing this requires three things – more data, integration across systems that don’t typically talk with one another (such as clinical systems connected to CRM systems) along with the ability to analyze and apply these insights.

Patient experience matters.

The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) has been successful in raising the awareness level of the need for good customer/patient experience. It’s hitting us in the pocketbook and there’s no faster way to get our attention.

In reality, new value-based pricing approaches merely surface financial benefits that have always come from exceptional patient experiences. Consumers have always said that they want quality healthcare, but they’re unable to determine the clinical competency of their physician. When you get right down to it, consumers view quality through the lens of their experiences. Create a great experience, and patients will come back again.

Executing on programs to improve the experience is no small undertaking, but organizations are working to stage great experiences, building employee satisfaction, and developing service recovery strategies.

And many of these programs fall under the umbrella of digital communications. More consumer touch points are occurring through digital channels every day and there is a push to engage patients and consumers more aggressively outside the walls of the hospital or clinic.

Great digital experiences can come through complex patient portal strategies, or though much simpler solutions such as making certain that your website presents well on mobile devices through the use of responsive Web design.

Despite all of this, a recent SHSMD survey indicates that relatively few marketing and planning professionals in healthcare are heavily involved in improving the patient experience. The experience is the brand, so it’s my hope that this changes in the future.

And there’s one thing that we didn’t talk about.

Whether or not health reform will happen. There was certainly some political discussions with general sessions featuring musical political satirists, the Capital Steps, and former republican Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, but there was no serious discussion of our industry avoiding significant payment reform.

Kudos to SHSMD for putting on another excellent conference, continuing to be the go-to educational resource for healthcare strategy professionals, and providing insights on dealing with the healthcare changes that are coming. Another year in the books, and looking forward to next year’s conference in Chicago!

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This entry was posted in eHealth, Industry Trends, Tradeshow/Conference by Ben Dillon. Bookmark the permalink.
Ben Dillon

About Ben Dillon

Ben’s a big picture type of guy. He loves sharing new ideas in digital marketing, keeping a watchful eye on healthcare industry trends and seeing how it all intersects. A sought-after speaker, writer, blogger and current SHSMD board member, Ben’s an influential voice in healthcare marketing, helping organizations across the country embrace online strategies to engage health consumers. Combine his industry savvy with his background in software development and you can see why he’s also an important member of Geonetric’s software team, ensuring our content management system stays a step ahead of market needs. Ben holds a master’s degree in eBusiness and strategic management from the University of Iowa and a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Michigan. When he’s not traveling and evangelizing, Ben enjoys cooking with his family and playing the Big House with the University of Michigan Alumni marching band.

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