Counting on New Technology to Deliver Results
As Bob Dylan wisely observed, “The times they are a-changin’.”
For hospitals and practices trying to compete for patients and revenue in today’s environment, the answer seems to be either adapt to meet the times or expect to be left far behind.
While the use of social media and new technology as a marketing tool is still in its infancy, the ever-increasing dependence of society on handheld devices and a continuing fascination with everything digital signals a need for healthcare entities to find meaningful ways to incorporate these communications tools into their marketing strategy.
As with electronic health records, the emphasis is on “meaningful use.” Once the initial novelty has worn off, consumers quickly become sophisticated in their preferences. In fact, the use of new media has the potential to annoy your target audience by filling an inbox with ‘junk’ or not answering basic questions on an upload. Worse still is playing dinosaur and simply ignoring the marketing evolution. If you thought patients were annoyed by information deemed “unworthy,” imagine the reaction to no information at all.
There are many outstanding examples across the state of hospitals, healthcare service companies and medical practices using technology to improve customer service, enhance efficiency, increase awareness and build brand loyalty. The popularity of Facebook hasn’t been lost on savvy marketers. From St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis to the multiple Vanderbilt University Medical Center affiliates in Nashville to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville to Wellmont Health System in the Tri-Cities, Facebook has become a viable tool to allow people to proactively “like” your page and allow for interactive communication.
Following are other examples of innovative marketing approaches in a digital world.
Multi-Platform Approach: BCBST
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is so serious about adapting their marketing program to capitalize on the latest technology that the Chattanooga-based insurer has created a New Media department. Jennifer Tedeschi stepped into the new position of social media strategist in February 2010. Already, there has been enough growth that by December, a second person was hired to monitor social media, respond to requests and help develop content.
BCBST launched most of the company’s social networking platforms last June. “We’re seeing more interaction,” Tedeschi noted. “It allows us to humanize the brand and have a more informal dialogue.” The ability to have two-way communications without the frustration of sitting on hold might be one of the best features of social media. Tedeschi said the company uses its Twitter account to address a number of questions and solve problems that don’t pertain to protected personal health information. “We’re trying to proactively address those types of issues. That helps us form stronger and more mutually beneficial relationships within the community.”
The interaction also offers marketing research insights. “The beauty is you can see which types of posts get the most interaction, and you can tailor around that,” she continued. “At the end of the day, we want to engage members in our community and give them information they can use.”
BCBST has also made an effort to maximize new media as a ‘value added’ option and is actively using the Internet to dispense preventative medicine in a fun way by encouraging physical activity. In October of last year, BlueCross launched the first insurer-sponsored Pandora music channel. The online radio station features listening options for three different energy levels when working out — mellow beats, music for moving, and 100 percent exertion. “I think it really inspires people to move,” noted Tedeschi, “and I think it provides a really unique experience for our members. They’re engaging with our brand in a very fun and interactive way.”
Similarly, BlueCross has sponsored a number of MeetUp.com activities. “We’re leveraging MeetUp, which is a social network platform. We saw this as a terrific way to tap into that existing user base and not re-invent the wheel,” Tedeshi said. The concept is to connect people with similar interests such as biking, walking, playing tennis or preparing nutritional meals. The first group sponsored by BCBST was Scenic Cycling in Chattanooga, which now has more than 60 members who have participated in rides ranging from recreational jaunts to treks logging serious miles. The second group was recently launched in Middle Tennessee. The Nashville/West End Runners meet during the lunch hour to run.
“We are sponsoring health and wellness,” Tedeschi said. “It’s open to anyone … member of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee or not.” She added the goal is to have several interest groups across the state by early this year.
The integration across platforms is constantly expanding and evolving. “This month we’re going to launch our mobile web that is putting all the key functionality of our site at our members’ fingertips,” Tedeschi said of the next big launch.
Innovative Advertising: STHS Incorporates QR Codes
“In October, the new Middle Tennessee Medical Center (MTMC) opened, and we developed a campaign where we really wanted to speak to the patient and tell them the campaign theme … ‘built around you,’” said Steve Castle, vice president of DS Tombras, a full-service agency headquartered in Knoxville with offices in Nashville, Johnson City and Washington, D.C. “We saw QR as an opportunity to extend the traditional print campaign.
“QR stands for quick response,” he continued. Castle explained a QR code looks like a barcode and can be built into billboards, print ads, brochures and even television commercials. Owners of smartphones simply scan the code and are immediately directed to additional content such as a text message or URL.
“From my standpoint, it takes a print ad and greatly increases the value,” said Rebecca Climer, chief communications officer for Saint Thomas Health Services in Nashville, the parent organization of MTMC. “The bar codes are easy to access, easy to produce. With the incorporation of a QR code, it gives the ad more life and gives the ad more interactivity.”
Castle noted QR codes were developed in Japan about a decade ago and are just now starting to pop up regularly in the United States. The value added information is formatted to fit handheld devices without being too ponderous.
“I think it’s really a reaction to a coming reality,” noted Climer. “It’s really a response to the fact that more and more people want to … and need to … access information by whatever is held in the palm of their hand.” She added that mobile uploads wouldn’t … and shouldn’t … replace the big corporate website, which she called the ‘workhorse,’ but key functionality plus a few fun bells and whistles are increasingly in demand for phones.
From a marketer’s standpoint, the QR codes provide an easy manner to introduce other images from a campaign to bring the full experience together. Castle noted a QR code from a print ad introducing the new MTMC led to the television spot. Another plus is that it provides a means to track the effectiveness of various advertising outlets. “We can track website traffic from the code and how it has been scanned,” Castle said. “We can do variations on the codes to see which print publications are performing better than others.”
STHS has been a very early adopter, but Climer said it’s important to recognize who your target audience is for this type of message. Right now, the highest users of QR codes are males 35-50 but that audience is rapidly expanding as smartphones gain market share. She also said you have to judiciously use the technology. “One of the things we were cautioned about early is the minute it starts to feel too advertise-y, people tune out. It’s more relational. We’re going to be careful … we’re always going to make it special if we use it.”
Hired Hand: STREAM Helps Patients Flow In
STREAM™ by Dynatronics is an example of a packaged marketing platform that leverages technology to connect practices to patients with functionality to create and manage social media sites, reduce no shows, customize patient communication, automate appointment reminders, offer online bill pay, register a practice with Google Maps, and provide analytics to measure results.
“There’s an entirely new paradigm shift taking place in terms of how our clients have to market their practices,” said Larry Beardall, executive vice president of marketing and sales for Dynatronics. Research, he continued, has shown consumers overwhelmingly trust a peer recommendation over a traditional advertisement where a company tells its own story. “What businesses are discovering is that this tremendous platform already exists, and it’s called social media.”
Tapping into the network, however, can be overwhelming for practices that are already overwhelmed trying to convert to an electronic health record and see patients. Beardall said packaged platforms like STREAM, which is software as a service, provide the technical and graphic support so that practices don’t have to have an onsite expert to take advantage of the benefits of electronic communications. Those who subscribe to the service have unlimited graphics and technical support to have Facebook pages and YouTube videos created and kept updated.
Beardall said the integrated technology makes it easier for practices to acquire new patients, retain existing ones and reactivate past patients. Beyond pure marketing, he said there are also multiple built-in revenue generators.
One is to reduce no shows in two ways — by reminding patients through both e-mail and text message of upcoming appointments and by automatically contacting anyone designated on the week’s wait list if a cancellation comes up. He added the industry average is a no show rate of 10-15 percent on any given day. If even half those appointments are filled, it can quickly add up to thousands of dollars a month in recovered revenue.
Recare is another revenue generator. “You are marketing to a very defined, loyal group of patients that you already have a relationship with,” Beardall said of communications to current and past patients. He added this marketing strategy could range from reminding patients to schedule appointments for flu shots or routine checkups to offering customizable promotions to getting feedback through surveys.
Like all interactive media, Beardall said a practice has to be aware of the double-edged sword. “Social media is fabulous, but it can work against you if you don’t keep up with it.” He added that STREAM allows for alerts on surveys so that up to three people in an office are instantly notified if responses come in on the high or low side. “If you’ve got a problem you need to fix, the clinic can jump on it immediately. We’ve all been there ... gone from the worst experience to ‘customer for life’ based on how a company responded to our problem.”
Powered by Smile Reminder™, which has been used for a decade in the dental field, Beardall said STREAM can be synced to most practice management software and is HIPAA ready.
Joining the Revolution
Whether using an outside service or opting to navigate new technology in-house, it is becoming increasingly clear that consumers expect … and soon will demand … functional information be available at their fingertips.