5 Take-Home Messages from SHSMD Connections 2013

SHSMD Connections 2013 was a giant exchange of incredible information, with more than 1700 attendees and 3-and-a-half days of workshops.

But it was also a call for healthcare marketing to wake up.

Here are 5 take-home messages from SHSMD:

1) Healthcare is the bald step child of marketing

If you put marketing professionals from consumer technology, online retail, software or any other industry on a playground, healthcare would be the kid everyone is pointing and laughing at.

Most innovative brands do not include healthcare

Why? Because, healthcare is not changing and adapting quickly enough to the new ways people are consuming information and making healthcare decisions.

2) Too many healthcare marketers still rely on billboards, brochures, signage and QR codes

These tactics equate to marketing by default, not strategic or creative thinking.

I work with the smartest people in medicine, but all I hear is ‘make me a brochure'

Moses Hohman, founder of Human Practice, did an informal study of qualitative interviews with 20 physicians. He found that most of them don’t even like billboards.

They think billboards are cheesy and should be reserved for car salesmen.

Signage can be just as tacky and confusing for patients.

Too many signs in the hospital could mean front door associates want to avoid talking to patients

And Dean Browell, PhD, Executive VP at Feedback is on a crusade to kill QR codes. They’re ugly; they’re a hassle; they’re often not properly tracked.

Most importantly, you’re asking people to take several extra steps to get to your healthcare organization’s site, all because you didn’t come up with a simple enough website address.

3) Focus on what you can measure

In many of the sessions I attended, there was a larger healthcare organization talking about how their big-budget agency helped their 10-person marketing team do an awesome, expensive marketing initiative.

Then, someone in the audience, would ask a key question: What if we’re a small team in a hospital with fewer resources?

The answer: Focus on what’s measurable.

That way if your CFO asks if the marketing budget should be cut again, you show that your marketing team added to the healthcare organization’s revenue.

There was an entire track of the conference devoted to marketing analytics.

Let's do the "social media ROI" dance

4) Focus on prevention and primary care

A powerful keynote from Daniel Buettner, author of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, reminded us of the basics that keep people healthy:

  • a plant-based diet, a cup of tea and an occasional glass of red wine
  • loving relationships and a faith community
  • daily, moderate exercise and rest

These simple healthy living habits are why people in 5 parts of the world live more than 10 years longer than most Americans and with less disability during their old age.

But healthcare organizations thrive when people are sick, not when they are healthy.

Keynote speaker Joe Flower discussed how one hospital’s successful bike helmet campaign almost led to bankruptcy. Why? Because head injuries were a major revenue driver. He also pointed out that surgeons actually make more money for the hospital when they screw up because they get to charge for the follow-up care.

That’s all changing now.

doctors job description a thing of the past

Medicare is cutting payments for medical errors and readmissions.

ACOs are aiming to cut back on excessive or redundant healthcare services.

The patient’s journey often starts with primary care, said Lindy Butterfield from Beryl Health in her pre-conference workshop on mapping the patient’s experience. Primary care is the front door to the healthcare system.

All of this means that more hospital marketing efforts need to drive patients to wellness and primary care services, not just specialty care.

5) Speaking of patients…where the heck are they in healthcare marketing?

You can’t even buy a toilet scrubber at Target without being asked for your email address. Yet, you can have a 6-figure surgery at most hospitals without the marketing team knowing who you are.

Jon Morris, founder of the digital agency Rise Interactive, said marketing efforts should link to the healthcare organization’s customer relationship management (CRM) system.

The system should capture email addresses and other information about current and prospective patients.

Dead silence in the room.

Most healthcare marketers are not using a CRM tool.

It’s almost like patients are being left out of healthcare marketing.

During Moses Hohman’s presentation, tweets and mumbles in the audience asked why his study on how to market doctors to patients included only 20 in-depth interviews.

The real question is why many healthcare marketing teams don‘t talk to 20 patients or doctors for marketing initiatives? Maybe it’s because we don’t have the patients’ contact info.

I’m not sure if a single session at the conference had a patient on the panel. But aren’t these the very people healthcare marketers are trying to reach?

For more insight from the 2013 SHSMD Connections conference, check out the hashtag #shsmd13 on Twitter. The sound bites and conversations there were just as great as the presentations.