[Podcast] How Cleveland Clinic Helps Employers Create a Safer Workplace During COVID-19

Photo of James Merlino, MD

Dr. Jim Merlino, Chief Clinical Transformation Officer, Cleveland Clinic

Despite having entered the US eight months ago, COVID-19 remains a topic enshrouded in confusion, conflicting information, hyperbole, and even conspiracy theories. Everyone, informed or not, seems to have an opinion about the coronavirus pandemic.

Fortunately, health systems, hospitals, and medical providers are  uniquely qualified to fill the educational void and assert a leadership position within their communities. 

In this week’s podcast, my friend and frequent guest, Dr. Jim Merlino shares how Cleveland Clinic’s free advisory service, COVID-19: Creating a Safe Workplace, helps employers and employees, “return to work, safely and confidently during the coronavirus pandemic.” 

Listen to the podcast or read the transcript to discover:

  • Why educating the public is such a vital responsibility for providers to embrace
  • How Cleveland Clinic was able to leverage its expertise and preparation for COVID-19 into an effective educational program for employers
  • Why executive leadership is essential for larger missions like these
  • Surprising new insights about how the coronavirus spreads
  • How large and small institutions can take similar leadership positions within their communities

Finally, please help educate the public by sharing COVID-19: Creating a Safe Workplace website with employers, patients, coworkers, colleagues, friends, family, and social media. 

Other streaming services: This and other episodes of the Healthcare Success podcast are also available…
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Podcast Transcript

Note: The following ‘How Cleveland Clinic Helps Employers Create a Safer Workplace During COVID-19′ podcast transcript is computer generated and edited for clarity.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
Hi everybody, Stewart Gandolf here with another podcast featuring absolutely one of my favorite guests and personal friend, Dr. Jim Merlino. He is Chief Clinical Transformation Officer with Cleveland Clinic, now back at the Clinic after some excellent time with Press Ganey. Welcome Jim, first of all.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
Thanks Stewart. Always great to talk with you.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
In preparation for this meeting, we spent some time talking about, catching up how the world is very different than the last time Jim and I spoke. Last time we talked was pre COVID, pre Jim moving over to Cleveland Clinic. Things have changed quite a bit since then, obviously. And I think today we’re going to talk about a topic that I think is really, really important, which is getting the word out, leveraging the pulpit of healthcare providers. As the most trusted people in America, doctors, hospitals, health systems have a unique opportunity to educate the public. And I was talking offline with Jim prior to doing this, how during the very, very early days of the pandemic, some of our blog posts were about this topic. Back when everything was absolutely uncertain, and the world was going crazy. Our firm went virtual about a week or two ahead of everybody else, right about the same time that Stanford went virtual, before it became mandatory.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
I was telling Jim, we have some friends that sent us predictions on what this pandemic was going to look like. So we went virtual really mostly for public good at that stage, even though some of my employees thought I was crazy, and we spent a lot of time writing in our blogs of how you can, as a provider, be part of the solution, get the word out. Can you post on social media? Can you talk to your patients? Can you send emails? How can you be a voice? And that was before any of this stuff had widely happened within our surrounding communities. We just had a sense there’d be a need for authoritative information to supplement what’s happening in the more official channels.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
So anyway, Jim and I were talking about this and in true fashion with Cleveland Clinic, with the leadership role that the clinic takes in terms of public health, began an advisory service. And so that’s what we’re going to talk about today. And Jim, I’d love to hear from you, how this all began, the mission. This is your format. Let’s just talk. Tell me about the advisory service and maybe the history of it to start.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
Sure Stewart. Well, again, it’s really great to be doing a podcast with you again, and I really always enjoy our conversations and the insights that you bring to the industry through your work as well. It’s interesting. Healthcare obviously is on the front lines with the pandemic response and taking care of people who are affected by COVID. But we actually, I think, have a bigger responsibility and that is to help society reactivate and also function safely in the era of COVID because we clearly are in an environment now where COVID is with us. Whether you believe it or not, it’s here. It’s not going away until there’s a treatment or an effective vaccine. It’s just going to be a part of what we do.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
I think one of the things that we’ve learned in healthcare, and it’s not just true for Cleveland Clinic, it’s true for healthcare across the world, is that we understand how to keep people safe. And for the most part, I think healthcare has done that and you see different statistics on healthcare worker infectivity, but there are a lot of organizations across the country that have kept their workers safe. We had over 1100 caregivers infected with COVID. We’re confident, because of the contact tracing that we’ve put in place, that we can say we don’t believe any of those caregivers received COVID from taking care of a COVID positive patient, but that’s not without effort. It’s because of the safety measures that we’ve put in place, the teams of people that we’ve had together since the beginning of this pandemic that have really studied these issues and really debated about what are the best things that we need to do, or the safest things that we need to do.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
So with all of that in mind and understanding that the tsunami was coming towards us very quickly, we did a lot of preparation. We were very fortunate, in Northeast Ohio, that the tsunami didn’t hit us like it did in other parts of the country like New York or Washington. But nevertheless, we did see COVID, we did take care of a lot of patients, we’re still taking care of a lot of patients, but we learned a lot.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
And as we saw that the tsunami wasn’t going to hit us as hard as we thought it was going to, we were able to now take the information that we’d prepared for our organization and actually retune it or reformat it so that we could push it out to the public; to businesses, to churches, to educational institutions, so that others could use it. We started getting a lot of incoming early from different businesses and other organizations that needed help, and we wanted to be helpful. Cleveland Clinic has four cares, care for community, care for organization, care for caregivers and care for patients, and we very much see this as part of our responsibility to help care for the community.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
And I’ll just add one more thing, and that is that it’s interesting that if you think about managing diseases, for most diseases, we’ve had decades to study them. For COVID, everything we know about this disease has really come in the last six months or less, and we’re learning new things every day. We’re clarifying things every day. And so the most important resource that we’ve been able to provide to partners outside of healthcare is really interpreting what’s going on and translating that information to what they do every day so they can keep their employees, their customers safe. It’s been interesting work. It’s been fascinating to be a part of, it’s been an honor to be a part of it, to help others. We think it’s really meaningful and impactful.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
The Cleveland Clinic, as I mentioned earlier, the idea of being in your community, a thought leader, a healthcare thought leader, and Cleveland Clinic clearly does that not just in its community, but from a world scope. Is that part of the clinic’s DNA? How has that evolved, this idea of we’re trying to be something more than just the provider? We want to really be a thought leader. How did that evolve and how does that sustain?

Dr. Jim Merlino:
Cleveland Clinic has always prided itself on being an organization that’s innovative and trying to do things that benefit others, and that’s just part of our DNA. We’re actually coming up on a 100 year anniversary this year. It’s interesting the last pandemic was 100 years ago. We’re 100 years old, but it is really in our DNA, and it’s also part of the focus of our CEO, Dr. Tom Mihaljevic. He believes that we should be doing things as much as we can to really push hard and trying to figure out ways to evolve healthcare. And I think the work we’re doing with COVID response is part of that. And again, we don’t have the license on best practices. I think one of the benefits of COVID, if there’s any benefit, because there aren’t many for sure, is how people have worked together across the country. Other healthcare organizations across the world have come together to share information. And what we’ve been able to do is really just help package that so that we can help others understand what to do and be safe.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
It is interesting, one thing about the Cleveland Clinic, one of the things I think that makes the Cleveland Clinic unique, there’s a lot, I’m certainly biased, is that we have a network of hospitals and healthcare institutions across the world. And what was striking about COVID … And we were meeting every day. During the heart of the pandemic, we were meeting twice a day, and all of our sites were dialed in. It was the ability to learn from each other. So a truly integrated network where you’re getting information from Abu Dhabi, you’re getting information from London, from Florida, from Las Vegas, from Toronto, and all of that’s feeding into your decision making. And what was most fascinating is everybody was experiencing this a little differently. So for instance, our operations overseas was able to give us some early warning into some of the things that they were seeing and also how they were responding to it, and that directly impacted our responses in the States, both in Cleveland and Florida. So it was a very interesting time to be a part of such an important integrated delivery system.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
Jim that totally makes sense. I feel like obviously Cleveland Clinic has some amazing resources with multiple locations and a hundred year history and an incredible medical team and support teams. At the level of maybe a community hospital or a group practice or any level, but let’s maybe take a step, just one step down, a single hospital or a couple of hospitals, or just a large group, what would be important if they too feel like, “Okay, we’re not Cleveland Clinic. We can’t be, but we want to be that kind of a thought leader here in Topeka or Poughkeepsie or wherever.” What kind of recommendations, before we get into the specifics of your advisory service, but what have you learned they can use to … What would be the couple of things that you’d really want to have in place so that yes, raise your hand, be a colleague with us, help us get the word out. What kinds of things do you think would be important for that?

Dr. Jim Merlino:
I don’t think you have to be Cleveland Clinic to be helpful to your community. I think if you likely look across the nation and talk to healthcare providers in other systems, I’ve certainly talked to many of my colleagues around the country. For the most part, we’re all coordinating. We’re all driving the same things. When we think about changing a policy, for instance, around visitors, we reach out to our colleagues, my friends. I reach out to my colleagues, reach out to their friends. We really are trying to bring information together. I think that’s probably true for a lot of providers.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
But what I would say to smaller organizations, regardless of where they are and whether they’re a hospital or a practice, or a couple doc or a provider group that’s providing care, you know what to do. Likely you’ve been delivering care in COVID, and the information that you have available to you, how you think about this, the clarity that you bring to that process will be helpful to partners that are in your community, because this is complicated and it really requires a thoughtful approach to keep people safe, but an approach we know we can do.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
And I think that what I would say to anybody that’s listening that may be practicing in a smaller environment is talk to people in your community and ask them how you can be helpful, ask them how you can translate what’s going on around COVID to impact how they can keep themselves, their employees and their customers safe. They need us. They don’t just need us to take care of sick people. They need us to provide guidance. And this is such an opportunity for healthcare in the United States and across the world to really step into a role, to do much more than we’ve probably done in the past, relative to things going on in the community.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
You mentioned your CEO, and that’s so often the case, the idea of … Because I could see how you’re a busy hospital located in whichever town you are and you may not have the resources, but I think it’s more than just resources. It’s more of your vision of how you fit in the community because it’d be really easy and certainly forgivable. We’re just treating patients here. We don’t have time to do this high fluid and visionary stuff. We just have to take care of patients and I totally get it. But I guess it comes down to maybe the vision of the CEO and the leadership of what role, maybe a larger role than just treating patients. Does that makes sense Jim?

Dr. Jim Merlino:
Absolutely, and it also comes to getting back to the role of your hospital. If you think about the history of healthcare in the United States and how it evolved, a big part of it was community centric and most hospitals are community hospitals. And they were formed by municipalities coming together, putting money in to build a hospital to take care of people in the community. So it really is getting back to the roots. I remember one of my first roles in healthcare, I was a board member in a community hospital in the city that I grew up in, actually where I was born. And it was a hospital that was built in early sixties by seven communities coming together. One donated the land, everybody threw in some money and before you know it, you had a hospital. And today, that’s part of a big healthcare system in Cleveland. It’s doing amazing stuff, but that’s what we’re about in healthcare. So taking care of our neighbors, caring for the sick, but also providing information to the community on how to stay healthy, which is just, when you think about it, that’s noble.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
We’ve talked about in some of the other relevant webinars and podcasts I’ve been doing surrounding this topic. If you haven’t, first of all, it’s for the good, to get the word out, but also that’s the primary reason. We’re in this for healthcare. We’re in this to serve our community. But from a business standpoint too, it’s to take the leadership because if there’s a void in the marketplace to be a positive force, we’re not doing it for that, but that’s a good thing too. We want to be more than just that big building that people fear or may have had … Everybody has their own relationship with the community hospital. They’ve typically been part of the community for years, but to be that kind of thought leader, I think is important. And all the things we’ve talked about in the past like, and I’m going to dive into the advisory service in a moment here, but the social media, the emails, and talking to patients, the safety videos, showing them how you care, showing them how the heroes, the everyday stories, showing them how they’re going to be safe are all important.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
So from there, I’d love to segue to more about the advisor service. Tell me about how do you deliver it and what is it? How much does it cost, if anything? How do they deliver it? What the purpose is, all that. I’m fascinated.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
Thanks for asking. We are too in terms of how quickly it’s really grown into something. And first of all, it’s free so that makes it easy for people to consider it.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
You did it!

Dr. Jim Merlino:
Exactly.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
All of our listeners need to write this down, they can just write this down. Free is good. So yeah.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
Free is good. Well sometimes free is not good. You always wonder what the intent is or if there is something behind the curtain, but no, this is free. And it hasn’t costed us much because we really just take in what we do every day for our caregivers and repackaged it so it’s a little easier for people who are not in medicine to understand. So we have a website that on that website, we have multiple industry playbooks that we’ve assembled that break down in simple terms how to think about keeping people safe. So there’s one for restaurants, for instance, manufacturing, office environment. They’re on the website. They’re all free. They’re all downloadable. They’re all easy to read. They all have a basic template that talks about the basics of COVID and safety, and then that portion that deals with the specific environment. They’re not that long.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
We built a playbook around how to better communicate with people, your employees, customers during this time, how to communicate with empathy because certainly, healthcare workers aren’t the only ones that are being stressed. Everybody’s being stressed on something so we thought that would be important. We do weekly webinars with our experts. So infectious disease, epidemiology, testing, HR to provide insight, to help employers, organizations keep their employees mentally fit and exercising their minds and healthy at home. We have a long running list of frequently asked questions that are posted as new information becomes available. Again, translated into simple terms, what do you do if somebody in your office tests positive for COVID? What do you do if somebody has symptoms? What do you do if somebody has a family member? What do you do if somebody gets exposed? Again, it’s just breaking down on all the things that people worry about. And all of that’s on the website, which I’ll share with you. It’s clevelandclinic.org/covid19atwork. Once again, clevelandclinic.org/covid19atwork.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
And what’s interesting about the material and the reaction to it, as I said earlier, is that it’s been a service because people just want to know what is going on, what the information they need to be concerned about really is. Cutting through the media, the conflicting news reports, the things they read, and then translating it into what to do. And that’s been very rewarding because I think that’s the clarity that we’ve been able to bring in. And frankly Stewart, as you would suspect, in some cases we just don’t know and we say it, but everything is guided by CDC guidance, what the scientific evidence is demonstrating. And then if there’s no gold standard to go to, it’s the best clinical judgment based on a pool of experts. I’ll give you one example that’s very public, which is our relationship with United Airlines.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
So Cleveland Clinic’s had a long relationship with United and it’s been our corporate partner. And during the worst part of the pandemic, the darkest days of the pandemic when New York City was being clobbered, we sent a team of physicians and nurses to help out, and United was kind enough to fly them there and fly them back. And we got into a discussion about what they needed because they were asking, “We’re trying to figure out how to keep people safe while flying, how to keep our people safe. Would you be able to provide some input to us?” And then we said, “Absolutely. We’re here. Let’s talk about it.”

Dr. Jim Merlino:
And so, and again, sharing with permission and we started going through the material and they were very sophisticated. As you would expect, it’s a big company, the airlines. When it comes to safety, they all talk to each other. They think about this all the time. They’re very sophisticated and they had a lot of great material and we provided input based on what we saw as the science around what they were doing. They adapted some things that we suggested that they didn’t think about. They changed some things that they probably didn’t need to do. But that, I think, has probably made flying safer.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
And what’s interesting about flying right now is so certainly airline travel has significantly decreased, but planes never stopped flying and they didn’t put in the safety precautions. And yet, we don’t yet think we have a confirmed case of, there may be one we don’t know of, but we haven’t traced the case of COVID through airline transmissions. It’s probably coming as community spread increases and flying increases. But I think right now, we feel comfortable that we haven’t seen it. But the interesting thing is that, relative to United, is they were the first airline to mandate masks, and that was one piece of advice that we had given them, and they were very, very aggressive about it. They said, “Okay. If you tell us that that’s important, we will do it and we will enforce it.” And as you know now, all the airlines are doing it.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
So I think that’s a good partnership because the last thing I would say, and then I’ll shut up, is that it’s not just what the businesses or the hospitals need to be doing to keep us safe. This is a social contract. We have to be doing things to keep ourselves safe. If we go onto an airplane, we should need to wear a mask. We shouldn’t refuse to do that. We shouldn’t protest like, “We don’t have to do that.” No, you need to do that. That’s your responsibility. When you go to an environment where you’re working, like a hospital, where we know we can keep you safe. When you go home, you have to think about how to continue to keep you safe.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
I have a colleague, Dr. Steve Gordon, he’s our chair of infectious disease. He’s internationally renowned. He says, “Listen, COVID gets in healthcare, for healthcare workers, COVID gets into the back door, which is they come to work, they have all the precautions, they’re safe. They go home, they do something they shouldn’t have done. They drop their guard, they get infected.” That’s the backdoor and that’s the thing we have to close by being very mindful. We all have a role. COVID doesn’t discriminate and everybody in the world right now, everyone, and think about that. Everyone in the world is susceptible to it. So we all have a responsibility in this. We’re all in it together.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
It’s fascinating when I think about that and it’s interesting too, because the idea of airplanes, and I didn’t know that. I didn’t know there’s no documented cases for airlines having COVID. So there’s so much fear out there, misinformation and what I really like about the idea that you guys are doing this is beyond it’s helping me us all safer, but curating it, helping people understand what’s real, what’s not, how do you do that? Is there any secret to that? Because that’s very … Just that one little anecdote I think is really important.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
We have a big team and we talk about things, and so I’ll give you an example. During the heart of the pandemic, one of the biggest concerns … Well, during the start of the pandemic. We’re in the heart of the pandemic. There was a big concern about PPE, personal protective equipment. One of the top concerns was we’re going to run out. The tsunami is coming, we’re going to run out and what are we going to do? But yet you can’t ration it because you can’t cut corners. You can’t say to people, “You don’t need it there,” or, “Don’t use it this way.” It just wasn’t an option. So we had a team of people, of about 10 people, probably a little more, that really were meeting every day to talk about how do you manage PPE? What’s the best way to do it? How do you account for supply chain issues? How do you model out how much you have, and what’s your run rate on PPE?

Dr. Jim Merlino:
But it’s a statement of how experts come together to really tackle the smallest of problems that are really huge problems. That’s been our approach for everything, is we’ve had teams of professionals that are really experts in this space that have worked on these issues.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
Is my dog barking?

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
That’s part of COVID. It’s perfectly OK to have dogs barking!

Dr. Jim Merlino:
Einstein my labradoodle.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
Oh my gosh. When we go offline, I’ll put my camera so you can see my dog. I have a labradoodle too. He’s enormous.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
Oh, I have a miniature. Oh yeah! We got to do it!

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
Going back to the curation and United in that, again, thought leadership, I fly on a different airline. I have about three million miles. As you know, I travel a lot as you do too. And at the beginning of the pandemic, there was news reports about them being very spotty with requiring masks. So they lost me for a long time because I’m not getting on a plane if this has become a political statement with the person sitting next to me. I want to be safe and that whole idea of we’re all responsible, I think is really important. And it’s great that you guys are doing that. I think also, I want to ask about this. You mentioned restaurants and I don’t know if you guys do bars, but even offices. So this is very real to me today.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
So literally last night, I mentioned we went virtual earlier and I’ve just been very conservative about this. And people who know me know I’m not doing this from a fear standpoint, I’m doing it from a public health standpoint. So we shut down early, not because I was paranoid about getting COVID, but more you don’t know who you’re impacting. And I have a bunch of a team and it turned out actually we could have had a near miss with COVID had we stayed open very much longer, which I won’t go into.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
What kind of response have you gotten? Because I know from our standpoint, that’s going to be fantastically helpful to have an authority because again, we’re not experts at this. Yeah, I market healthcare, doesn’t mean I’m a doctor. It doesn’t mean I don’t have any expertise in COVID. I read a lot, but I don’t feel comfortable with my employees safety and their relatives’ safety by making these decisions. So by guiding, having a sense of trusted authority to go to makes me feel a whole lot better. I don’t know if you have anything to add to that, and certainly what kind of reaction have you gotten from doing this?

Dr. Jim Merlino:
A good reaction. I think one of the biggest concerns of patients is coming back to healthcare for elective procedures or not urgent procedures is will they be safe? And the answer is yes, they will be. And I think that that’s the same thing that employees want to know coming back to work or staying working. Will they be safe? And the answer is, yes, you will. However, and it’s a but, and that is you have to follow the rules. You have to be thoughtful. When your employer executes on a mask policy, you should follow the rules and wear the mask. When you have the ability to sanitize your hands, you should sanitize your hands.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
Look, the way we talk about these protections, these layers of protection, is that there’s something called the Swiss cheese model. In safety science for the military, for the airlines or healthcare, we assume that events are trying to hurt people and we enact barriers, and each barrier is like a piece of Swiss cheese. It blocks some things, but it has holes and it lets some things through. But the more pieces of Swiss cheese, the more barriers you line up, the better protective screen you can build to prevent those things from hurting people. And so when we think about precautions that employers put together; masking, social distancing, hand-washing, disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, education about how to keep yourself safe at home. None of those are perfect. Some are better than others, but collectively, they create a pretty strong barrier.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
And again, going back to healthcare experience, we know that we can keep people safe if they follow the rules and they have to be mindful about it. Again, I think the message is that if we do the right thing and we execute on what we know works, we can keep people safe and that should be the message. But again, part of that message needs to be that you have a responsibility as well. So when you leave the workplace, you want to be concerned about what you’re doing, who you’re interacting with, how you’re behaving, because you want to keep yourself safe at home as equally as much as you want to keep yourself safe at work.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
My wife went through a procedure right when things started to open up again and I told her, “Hey, this is a window. It’s probably going to bad again pretty quickly. Jump on now.” So she got her elective procedure done whenever that was. And so she went through it and it was amazing. They really had thought it through the whole, from the start to finish, how they greeted her in the parking lot, how they did all the way through. And then my wife said, “But the one thing is one nurse looked down and said, “This mask is just stupid. We don’t really need this.” And so that one, and fortunately, she kept her mask on, but obviously, didn’t have total buy in at an individual level. And that’s really what this requires, is a bunch of individuals doing stuff right, and even it’s … Maybe I’ll just argue, okay, you don’t believe it, but just suspend disbelief for me. Would you please? Because at the end of the day, that’s what we need.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
And I think the other point that you bring up is the importance of responsibility because, okay, great. This is so insightful to me, the idea of, okay, we have all this PPE. Who thought that your most dangerous experiences are not at the hospital, it’s when you go home? If you’re not being careful? Is that what you’re saying essentially, that the most dangerous part of your day, if you were treating COVID patients, is if you’re going home and being irresponsible?

Dr. Jim Merlino:
Well, I think that the biggest opening for risk is that. I wouldn’t say it’s the most dangerous. If you’re an ICU physician or a nurse taking care of COVID positive patients, that’s dangerous work. But I think if you’re following the precautions and you’re using them, you can keep yourself safe. So you have to be very mindful about that. It’s no different than any other environment where the risk of getting hurt is real if you’re not following safety precautions.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
But the need to be paying attention to safety doesn’t stop when you leave. And you don’t need to wear an N95 mask and gown at home, but you do need to be thinking about potential exposure opportunities, who you’re communicating with, making sure you’re avoiding large groups, quarantining yourself if you’re exposed to somebody. So that continuum of safety really stretches everywhere, not just where you’re working, regardless of what you do for a living.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
As we come into the home stretch here, I’d love to get any final comments you have, but I guess maybe starting with that would be to give you a place to start is what is the advice you would give to pastor of a church or the owner of a bar, or an office? All of us say to you with exasperation, “Dr. Merlino, I’m a pastor. I don’t know anything about this stuff.” What would you tell them? Obviously go to your side, but what’s maybe the philosophy or?

Dr. Jim Merlino:
I think the philosophy is to be cautiously optimistic. Number one, we will get through this. It’s not going to be without costs and it’s not going to be easy, but we will get through this. And I think it’s really important that as my boss, Dr. Tom Mihaljevic says, you have to keep perspective because we will get through this. The second thing I would say is to educate yourself and learn as much as you can. Pay attention to sites that are reputable. Don’t make your decisions based on what you’re hearing or what you’re reading on news outlets. Pay attention to medical sites and use that as your guidance. And stay up to date because the information changes. We’ve evolved a lot of our thinking on COVID. When the pandemic first started here in the United States, my wife and I were wiping down our groceries. You don’t need to do that.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
So pay attention to what’s changing and use common sense and be diligent about the procedures. A mask needs to cover your nose and mouth. It can’t just cover your mouth. It can’t be worn at your neck. It has to be worn the right way. You have to have precautions in place, or I’m sorry, protocols in place to think about what you do if somebody gets COVID in the workplace. Don’t wait for it to happen. Plan ahead. So those are the things that I would tell businesses. Those are the things that I tell businesses.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
There’s been times where I’ve been in situations here in California, which was at the beginning, was in the leadership position. Now, not so much, where nobody’s wearing a mask and it’s even me knowing what I know, there’s that social pressure to not wear a mask and I wear it anyway. And so I think that’s important to recognize there’ll be times that are probably challenging and do what the experts telling you. Not just because everybody else is not wearing it does not mean, “Well, they’re doing it.” It’s not safe.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
That’s right.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
Because that’s really what I think happens. They just said, “Well, nobody’s doing it. I guess it’s okay. It’s a sunny day and nobody’s sick.” And on the other hand, to not freak out and not be paralyzed because we have to go through life. And it sounds like, which is very heartening to hear the optimism in there that there are ways to get through this. And if we’re following the basics and I love, again, the Swiss cheese model, because that’s where I think … Maybe my last comment and then if you have anything else you can add up is perfection is the enemy of good. So in this case, if you’re thinking it’s just overwhelming. If I want to be 100% safe, I’d be lying in the sun, by myself with an N95 mask on, with the wind blowing at 100 miles an hour. It’s like, well, so then if you’re paralyzed and you’re afraid to do anything.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
But maybe the odds are, and maybe you can tell me this clinically, all right, if you’re having dinner outside, you’re six feet away or 10 feet away, it becomes like you overreact and just don’t have life and it becomes undoable. Do you have any comments on that? Because it feels like that’s where people get into trouble. They either, well, this is just too hard, they do nothing, or they end up with no health issues because they’re trying to do absolute perfection, which is maybe not as necessary. Any comment on that?

Dr. Jim Merlino:
Yeah. It’s like people who have obsessive compulsive disorder. People who suffer from that, they have to do specifically sometimes over and over again. That’s not what this is about. This is about really just understanding what are the few things that are capable of keeping you safe when they’re done together and just being vigilant about it. You can go to a restaurant that’s appropriately set up for social distancing and where people are wearing masks. You can sit at the table with your spouse and take your masks off if servers are masked. Those things are safe. I’ve done it. I’ve flown. My wife and I flew to Florida the first two weeks of July and we wore our masks. Everybody on the plane had a mask on. We went out to eat but we went out to eat in restaurants that we knew were following the precautions. And we were very, very careful about observing our environment because we weren’t going to walk into a situation that would put us at risk.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
But the point is you can do things. You don’t have to live in a bubble. You just have to be vigilant. And I would add, one of my closing comments would be the biggest thing we worry about in healthcare with any safety precaution or process is fatigue. People forgetting it, or people getting comfortable with it. We have to be mindful. We have to stay vigilant because that’s how we’ll keep ourselves safe. So we can’t relax our guard, so to speak, as we’re continuing to live with this pandemic.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
That totally makes sense, and for obviously the vast majority of our audience here is in health care. They live this every day and hopefully, some of those insights will help you communicate with your patients or your constituents and your employees too. We haven’t talked about this, and maybe just a second before we close here, your own employees at the hospital, they’re still people too and there probably is still some fear there. So any comments to the providers that are listening here or one final comments of how to get the word out to employees or to your patients?

Dr. Jim Merlino:
Well, to the providers, thank you, because I know that everyone in the provider space is working very hard to do the right thing, to keep themselves safe, to take care of patients, and it’s hard, so thank you. Again, I think it just comes back to emphasizing safety. We have to keep talking about it. We have to remind people about it. We have to reinforce it. That’s the message.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA:
Very good. Jim, as always, it’s been fun and fantastic talking to you, insightful. Love your thought leadership, love what you and your team are doing. Thank you.

Dr. Jim Merlino:
My pleasure. Thank you, Stewart. It’s always great to talk with you about these issues.

The post [Podcast] How Cleveland Clinic Helps Employers Create a Safer Workplace During COVID-19 appeared first on Healthcare Success.

[Podcast] How to Find and Select the Ideal Healthcare Marketing Agency: 8 Smart Steps

Ed Bennett, Founder of MarTech.Health

Ed Bennett, Founder, MarTech.Health

What’s the best way to choose a healthcare marketing agency?

While I (Stewart) have plenty of ideas about the process of picking the best healthcare marketing agency for your hospital, medical practice, or healthcare network, I thought it would be valuable to ask my friend and venerable colleague, Ed Bennett, to share his opinions during our latest healthcare marketing podcast.

As an original inductee to the Healthcare Internet Marketing Hall of Fame, a former Director of Web and Digital Services for the University of Maryland Medical System, and as the Founder of the MarTech.Health Directory, Ed brings tremendous experience in deciding which digital agency is best-suited for specific healthcare marketing requirements. In our podcast, Ed and I discussed both the basic criteria and critical issues involved in the medical marketing agency selection process.

You can, 1) play the recording of our entire conversation here, 2) listen to our discussion via your favorite podcast directory, 3) read my summary post below, or, 4) scroll down to find the full “How to Select a Healthcare Marketing Agency” podcast transcript.

Other streaming services: This and other episodes of the Healthcare Success podcast are also available…
iTunes | Spotify | iHeartRadio | Google Play | Pod Bean | Tunein | Radio Public | Stitcher


The First Step in Agency Selection: Begin with the End in Mind

Ideally, the agency selection process should yield a true client-agency marketing partnership. To that end, define the marketing goals you are trying to achieve.

  • Growing key service lines?
  • Getting more patients?
  • Effectively reminding your current patients to return, to schedule necessary appointments?
  • Communicating to patients that your healthcare offices and medical professionals are open for business?
  • Increasing your healthcare brand presence in the communities you serve?

Yes, there are so many types of marketing agencies, vendors, and healthcare marketing resources available, and it is often difficult to know where and how to begin the process.

What led you to decide you need a new digital agency for your healthcare organization or medical enterprise?

You’ll need to get a clear picture of how this agency will fit with your team and organization. Are your marketing goals new to you and your team, and do you need a digital marketing vendor that can guide you through the latest best practices?

Define and Refine Your Digital Marketing Objectives

Be aware of errant preconceptions. “In the digital space,” Ed observes, “things change quickly.” Invest time in discussing your business goals, mission objectives, and KPIs.

Test Your Assumptions

“Sometimes (someone choosing) a prospective agency or vendor has a strong opinion that really should be examined,” Ed said.

“Do you need a big marketing agency, one that has a huge, structured process and can pursue dozens of different initiatives simultaneously? Or do you need an agency that is an expert across specific types of marketing projects, that knows how to execute very well in those areas, and is small and agile enough to respond to your needs rapidly?”

Overcoming FUD Factors

Ed Bennett also tells us: “There can be a lot of ‘FUD’, Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. The key is to understand what is essential and what isn’t,” he said. “A lot of what I try to do is get down to the nuts and bolts, to make sure that vendors answer the questions that matter. So, what we find sometimes is that you find the right vendor is going to be the one that’s asking fundamental marketing questions right off the bat.”

Is Healthcare Expertise All That Matters?

As our own agency’s name suggests, Healthcare Success partners with organizations of all types, from hospitals, health systems, practices, Pharma, medical devices, healthcare networks, ,and health plans, delivering medical digital marketing and healthcare advertising agency services.

As you’d expect, our clients choose us because we specialize. At the same time, many of these same clients love it when someone on our team shares additional insights gleaned from experience in marketing for clients in other verticals (e.g., insurance, financial services, law, hospitality, and automotive).

Ed agrees. “When I first started at the University of Maryland Medical System, the default mode was for a marketing agency 100 percent focused on healthcare. Over time, however, that attitude began to change, particularly with commercialization and where patients were treated with a ‘consumer experience’ focus.”

Is Technology Reducing the Need for a Local Partner?

We asked Ed about whether many of his hospital clients still demand a “local partner?”

As Ed explained, everyone “is becoming comfortable with working from home and using tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, or WebEx.” This, by the way, is not just for healthcare, but for nearly all businesses everywhere. But as we become more comfortable with this type of working environment, the feeling that we have to have a “local agency” is going to diminish greatly.

Making sense of RFPs/RFIs — the Request for Proposal/Information Process

The entire RFP (request for proposal), RFI (request for information) process can be difficult and challenging for everyone involved. While this work can be quite useful, these efforts can also wind up being a frustrating, monster task. We asked Ed for his thoughts about the pros and cons of RFP/RFI.

“Certainly most large organizations have some mandated proposal process to follow,” says Ed. You can’t just hire anyone or spend a $5 million budget for your agency search without some process to make sure your choice in the right one (and that you’re not wasting time).

A diligent agency proposal process assures that:

  1. Vendors/agencies getting your RFP are the best fit for that RFP, and that
  2. The RFP you send out is a document that a) agencies can reasonably respond to in a timely fashion, and b) gives those agencies all the information that they need to respond effectively to your request.

There needs to be the right balance and understanding of relationship building. Plus, you need to be able to give agencies enough information so that they can make a good recommendation.

This means detailing your current situation on the RFP, and detailing the drivers necessitating you to look for another agency. Make sure the vendor understands exactly what business goals your pursuing, what issues are on your agenda, and what your expectations are.

Healthcare & Medical Marketing RFPs & RFIs: An Agency Perspective

As a healthcare marketing agency, Healthcare Success weighs every opportunity based upon several criteria, including likely fit (“chemistry”), marketplace realities, and economics. We are far more likely to participate in the RFP process when:

  1. The healthcare organization’s team starts the process by requesting an exploratory phone meeting,
  2. The process includes an RFI as an interim step to ensure a potential fit, and,
  3. The process feels informative, transparent, and fair.

We respectfully decline obvious “cattle calls” because RFPs take an enormous amount of thinking, time, and resources to respond intelligently. Red flags include receiving an RFP out of the blue without a preceding exploratory call, lack of transparency or clear objectives, 40 competing agencies, or language that makes it clear the client has already chosen a favorite, and the RFP is just an administrative exercise.

For example, about a year ago we received a blind RFP that on page 89 said, ‘We will heavily favor PR agencies based within our county.” First of all, we’re not a PR agency. Secondly, we’re not even located in their state, let alone their county. We pride ourselves in building successful client partnerships, and these kinds of signals do not foreshadow a respectful, win-win relationship.

What’s more, that kind of process is detrimental to the client as well. Ed agrees that transparency is critical, and those hospitals and other organizations that try to hold their cards too close to the vest are probably shooting themselves in the foot. They’re ruling out or discouraging vendors who might’ve been an excellent match for them. Also, who wants to dig through 40 off-point proposals? It really is best to be as upfront as possible and invest everyone’s time wisely.

More Resources to Help You Find Your Ideal Agency

  1. You can find close to 100 healthcare marketing agencies and other vendors on Ed’s free directory MarTech.Health. This directory is designed for healthcare marketing, communications, and digital marketing professionals, and features profiles, reviews, and other marketing services vendor categories.
  2. You can also hire Ed to consult with you, or lead your agency search. Ed has an incredible wealth of knowledge, and he can help you from start-to-finish. You can reach Ed through MarTech.Health or directly by email to schedule a call.
  3. You can download and review the Healthcare Success eBook, “How to Choose the Right Healthcare Marketing Agency?”
  4. And, you may also contact Healthcare Success directly to explore whether our healthcare agency’s experience could be a good fit for your marketing needs.

Podcast Transcript

Note: The following ‘healthcare marketing agency selection’ podcast transcript is computer generated and may not be 100% accurate.

Stewart Gandolf:
Hi, everybody Stewart Gandolf here, welcome to our podcast. Today I am pleased to host Ed Bennett, and Ed is a friend of mine and a very respected figure in the world of healthcare and internet. In fact, I’m going to let an Ed introduce himself in a moment. Ed is currently Founder of the MarTech.Health Vendor Directory. Previously, Ed was also with the University of Maryland Medical System. And Ed, welcome to our podcast.

Ed Bennett:
Well, thank you Stewart, pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me on.

Stewart Gandolf:
I mentioned it earlier, you’re a legend in this business and you’ve actually received some recognition. Tell us a little bit about your background, just to give listeners a little bit of context of what your areas of expertise are and how we got to this meeting today.

Ed Bennett:
Sure. Well, that’s normally a four hour story, so I’ll try to keep it down to less than a minute. I got into the internet in the mid 90s back when it was just starting to become the commercial entity that it is now, and really saw that this was going to be a game changer and make huge difference for every person in every industry, across the world. And so I got into it very early, I started my career in a mid 90s helping companies get set up with their first website. And I found that I really enjoyed the process of understanding how the business functions would work on the internet. Although I built a lot of first-generation websites, I also spent most of my time talking to the business owners and understanding what their business was, how it worked and figuring out how that could translate into how the web functioned at least back into mid 90s.

Ed Bennett:
And in around 1999, I left of that consulting type of a business and took a position at the University of Maryland Medical System. And was put in charge of their digital program, building their first website that grill into, of search engine marketing and optimization, mobile, social media, a whole bunch of other things. And was there for about 17, 18 years and then left to start this new business MarTech.Health, which is the vendor directory for our industry focused on healthcare communications marketing.

Stewart Gandolf:
You were going to talk today about how to choose a healthcare marketing agency, which is a topic… Obviously, our firm is an agency, there’s a lot of different agencies out there with different areas of expertise. So this will be an interactive discussion talking about your experience with this. So Ed again with his vendor directory at MarTec.Health, and you can certainly search through the list of lots and lots of different agencies and different types of vendors there as well. And also Ed is available if you’re looking for more curated ideas, you have a specific request and a specific need you can certainly contact Ed and his contact information will be available on the post. Ed, tell us about, when we were talking offline a little bit, we were talking about when you’re approaching this task, where I need a marketing company or a marketing agency, where do I even begin? Help us through the process here.

Ed Bennett:
Well, this is one of those problems that has lots of different dimensions and you have to weigh out lots of different factors before you could figure out what the right choices. So how I try to frame things up to start with, is to get a better understanding of exactly what is the goal or the task that you’re trying to accomplish. What drove you to feel that you needed a new vendor or maybe a vendor for the first time for a particular type of service or maybe a new vendor, if you’re dissatisfied with your current one. So what were the factors that drove you to that? And then look at what exactly is it that you need to accomplish with that vendor. And then how does that fit in to where you are as an organization?

Ed Bennett:
For example, are you fully staffed with lots of really excellent professional people who understand the nuances of the things that you’re trying to do, and you simply need a vendor that can provide a set of services and you’ve got the staff that understands how to make use of them. Or are you really new to whatever the thing is you’re trying to accomplish and you need a vendor that can really help guide you into the best practices and hold your hand as you get up to speed to it and you’re able to take it on. So those are some of the factors that you start off that you have to drill down in a conversation to figure out, what are the limitations and advantages that you’re looking for in a particular vendor, to help figure out which is the right one for you. I can stop now, I could go on for another half hour. But I mean that’s the very first step in figuring out where do we start.

Stewart Gandolf:
So let me ask with the mindset when you’re talking to people, when they’re considering a new vendor, what are they thinking? Are they worried about making a mistake? Are they trying to get a sense of what even matters or what their criteria are? What are the common mindsets people would have as they begin to approach this process?

Ed Bennett:
Well, many times what I’ll find is that folks will have a certain set of preconceptions about what they’re trying to accomplish with the new vendor. In the digital space things are changing so quickly and all the different things that matter change all the time. That it’s very difficult sometimes to really understand exactly it is what it is that exactly what it is that you’re trying to do. So a lot of my questions are to truly drill down to that and get to get a very concrete idea of what you’re trying to accomplish. So someone may come to me and say, “We need a mobile app.” And so the natural conversation it’s all, “Why do you think you need a mobile app? What are you trying to accomplish?” Many times that conversation will lead us to decide that a mobile app, isn’t what they really need, they just think they need it.

Ed Bennett:
But there might be something that they could tweak that they’re doing already that would solve that particular ask. So a lot of times it’s a matter of weighing what is the expertise that you have on hand and balancing that against what you need out of the vendor. So many times you’ll find that you might have staffed that understand exactly what they’re trying to accomplish. They need someone to just help them get started and provide the right infrastructure. Other times you’ll find that they need someone who can really hold their hand and walk them through the whole process.

Stewart Gandolf:
What do you find are some of the biggest challenges to finding the right vendor? Again, there’s certainly a lot of people out there, what are the things that hold them back?

Ed Bennett:
I think it can be very confusing because in the digital space, there can be a lot of FUD, fear, uncertainty and doubt. As you’re trying to understand concepts that are being bandied about to figure out what is really important and what isn’t. So a lot of what I try to do is really get down to the nuts and bolts and make sure that the vendors are answering the questions that really matter. So what we find some times is that you find the right vendor is going to be the one that’s asking those questions right off the bat, instead of just saying, “Sure, you want a mobile app? We can build a mobile app for you.” So a good vendor will be taking a step back to make sure that what they offer really is a good fit for what you need. And then if it’s not then guiding you to the right person.

Stewart Gandolf:
What are some of the mistakes people make in your experience when they’re looking for the vendor process, what are some of the really common things that you can predict before you even get started?

Ed Bennett:
I think a lot of times some of the factors that folks may come in and have a very strong opinion about that really should be examined or things like, what is the size of the organization? Do you need someone that is big and has a huge structured process and can do 100 different things or do you really need someone who is an expert in a very particular niche executes on that really well and is small and nimble and can quickly respond to your needs. So a lot of times that’s one of the first set of questions, is to figure out what is it that you exactly in terms of the size of the organization and the diversity of the services they offer and the focus that they have. What are those factors that really would be the right fit for you?

Ed Bennett:
My directory, I will ask vendors to pick the services they offer but then give that a weight, do they focus 100% on one service or do they… A broader agency that looks at a dozen or so different services and offers some, all equally. So many times you’re looking for that one person who is 100% laser focused on one niche. Other times you wants someone that can pull in other types of services that might be needed as you go along on the project. So a lot of that just really gets back to how comfortable are you that you can… In what you’re asking for so that you can get what it is that’s really going to be a good fit for your needs.

Stewart Gandolf:
Now Ed of course, most of your experience is with hospitals and health systems and of course our readers certainly comprise of hospitals and health systems, but also smaller and larger enterprise level practices, pharma device, lots of different categories. But as this relates to the hospital market specifically, although I think these principles apply across the board, let’s talk a little bit about healthcare experience. And in your experience at least from the hospital and healthcare systems side, do you find that people are commonly really want that health care experience? Maybe some are trying to think out of the box and don’t want healthcare experience, maybe some of the pros and cons on what you would advise on that particular topic.

Ed Bennett:
Yeah, it’s a really important question. Back when I first started at the university of Maryland Medical System in the late 90s and early in early 2000s. The default mode was, we need a vendor that’s 100% focused on healthcare, because no one really understands health… We’re special, we’re different than every other industry, so we need a vendor that all they do is focus on healthcare. That really started to change as the internet became more and more important to all the marketing and communications efforts that healthcare organizations did. Especially as the commercialization of healthcare came along, where people were treating as a consumer experience. They expect to see star ratings for their doctors. They expect to be able to do online appointments and all those convenience things that we’re comfortable now, we expect from our organizations, they now expected hospitals to do that.

Ed Bennett:
So then hospitals realized, well, maybe we should bring in vendors who have a lot of experience in other industries, so that they can bring to us the best practices from those industries and helped us fit those into what we do in healthcare. So I think right now I’d be very surprised if any large organization said, “We need a vendor and they have to be 100% focused on healthcare.” I really think that right now, most organizations are going to look at that and say, “We need to find a balance. We need someone who knows healthcare but also can come back to us with their experience and best practices in other industries.”

Stewart Gandolf:
Another question that often comes up is, depending on the scope of what needs to be done, right? So sometimes somebody or people are looking for an agency of record, where they really want to have the general contractor who’s handling most, if not everything. But certainly in the hospital market at least, oftentimes it’s something more specific, they may have either act as their own general contractor. They may have an agency of record but they want to work where somebody is doing the SEO and somebody else is doing paid social and somebody else is doing something else. How important is for the vendor to be able to play well with the other people that may be involved, both internal resources and external resources?

Ed Bennett:
Well, I would say that’s absolutely critical. I mean the days of a vendor coming to you and saying, “We’re going to sell you this product and here’s a system and all the data is inside this walled garden and nobody else can ever see it and we have to guard it very carefully.” Those days are over. Pretty much the default now is that, the expectation is that any vendor you work with should be able to set up an API to be able to kick the information that they’re managing for you to other systems that you have. And I’d say that’s absolutely critical, because without that you’re going to be spending a lot of time and money on a vendor to do something for you, but you’re not going to be able to leverage the value of that service to the other systems that you might have. So whether it’s a CRM that needs a talk to Epic and be able to manage the information flows there, or any other system you can think of, that integration is really just completely a must have now.

Stewart Gandolf:
Not very long ago, people were very focused on finding partners that were local to them. And clearly in something like, for example, enterprise software that just is impossible, there’s only one or two or three major vendors. But the local issue for example on the agency side, how important is that to your… Did you find that some clients really, really want to find somebody local and maybe give up some of that vertical expertise and others find that it’s just fine to work with people across the country? And how is that evolving obviously, with technology and the needs of pandemics and all those kinds of things, how is that evolving?

Ed Bennett:
I’m smiling because, if you would ask me that question a year ago, I’d probably have a slightly different answer. My answer then might’ve been, if you’re looking for an agency of record where you’re going to have lots of meetings talking about big picture things about branding and logos and the whole scheme of things at a marketing function has to deal with, then probably having someone who you could meet with in person on a regular basis without having them to fly across the country and stay at a hotel, someone who might be local would have a big advantage. However, things have really changed and I think that as we become they get more comfortable with working from home and using tools like Zoom and restore in the early days of figuring all this out, not just for healthcare but for all businesses everywhere. But as we become more comfortable with this type of working environment, I think the feeling that we have to have someone local is going to diminish.

Stewart Gandolf:
Let’s talk about the whole marketing agency RFP and RFI system. Certainly that can be very effective, it can wind up being frustrating, a monster task for everybody involved. What are some of your thoughts on this pros and cons better ways of doing it than others?

Ed Bennett:
Well, certainly most large organizations have some mandated process that you have to… You can’t just go hire somebody, spend $5 million a year with them without some process to make sure that they’re the right fit. Well, usually an RFP, an RFI of course is what you do before that, when you’re trying to figure out the vendors. So I think that that’s not going to go away. A large organization that’s being financially stable and responsible is always going to have a process in place to make sure they’re getting the right vendor. And they’re following all the rules that they should be following in terms of the people that they give the contracts to. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be doing a lot of work ahead of time to make sure that one, the vendors that you’re sending this RFP to are the right vendors. And two, that the RFP that you send out is something that they can really respond to and gives them all the information that they need.

Ed Bennett:
One of the things that I see many times from the vendor side is that the RFPs that come in are really light, they don’t really give enough background information so that the vendor could really understand where the customer’s coming from. So I think there has to be a good balance between understanding that there’s a relationship that you’re building with this vendor or whichever vendor you ultimately select. And you need to be able to give them enough information so that they can make a very good recommendation. So for example, that means really detailing on the RFP, what your current situation is and what are the drivers forcing you to look for another agency. And making sure the vendor understands exactly what’s on the table, what you’re coming to them in the relationship with and then what your expectations are. So that’s much larger than just a straightforward RFP that doesn’t have a lot of meat on it.

Stewart Gandolf:
From our point of view as an agency, that’s… I’m usually much more excited about is when I can get a sense that there is a RFI at the beginning, request for information. And in that step, what that means to me at least and I would love to get your feedback on this is, okay, great. We’re not having a cattle call, we’re making sure that the people that are going to invest the time and energy to create the RFP, because not only is it a massive amount of work for an agency, for example, to respond. Especially if it’s a formal RFP process with that you’re qualified and it’s a reasonable number of people competing. So from my point of view, the RFI process is a really, really important first step and of course, from the… It’s also a lot less to review on the hospital side or the health system side. Do you agree with that? I mean, how important are RFIs?

Ed Bennett:
Totally. I totally. I mean, I think that these structured processes have a place and the RFI really should be there to make sure that you’re qualifying the vendors, that first of all, the RFI gives you information. I mean, request for information, it’s going to help educate you on the customer on what is possible, because a lot of these vendors are going to come to you with solutions to things that you’ve never even thought of. Some of them might be very useful, others may not be appropriate to you, but there’s going to be a lot that you’re going to learn from an RFI.

Ed Bennett:
And once you have that, then you’re in a better place to make an RFP that it’s actually much more relevant to what you actually need. When I did vendor selection projects at the University of Maryland, I definitely had used those two steps. I did an RFI first, actually would bring in a consultant who had expertise in that particular area to bring down the number of vendors that I was sending the RFI to. And then based on those responses, then that would bring it down to a smaller number of vendors that would receive the RFP.

Stewart Gandolf:
Again, some people may have to legally accept it or put the RFP out to the entire world but from an agency standpoint, if you’re one out of a 100 agencies, the question is do I even want to get involved with this? From my point of view at least lose some good people or good prospects, because it seems so daunting. Do you have any advice on the number of people that you are soliciting and should you be up front with that? What are some of your thoughts there?

Ed Bennett:
Well, I think you should be upfront, I think many times the vendors are left out in the cold and that the customers are coming to the vendors and they feel like they’re in a complete position of power and they can be as opaque and mysterious as they want in the RFP. However, a really good vendor may not need to deal with that obstruction or problems. They’re going to have customers coming to them that are actually looking for the right vendor and are giving lots of the information out that will help that vendor make the right choice. So I think that companies and large organizations that try to hold their cards to colorless close to the best, are sometimes they’re shooting themselves in the foot.

Ed Bennett:
Because they’re ruling out vendors that might’ve been a great match for them. So I try to be as upfront as possible, there definitely should be some phone calls and conversations to help qualify the vendors before you even send out an RFI. Why should you be wasting anybody’s time if that company isn’t the right fit for you. So I think the more work you can put up front with that discovery, the much more likely you are to have a better outcome.

Stewart Gandolf:
Again, the agencies are busy too and once in a while, I’ll get an RFP blind, I don’t know who this is. And I remember the one I got about a year ago which was, they were really looking for a PR firm. And if you looked on page 89 in [mice type 00:22:05] it said something like, “We will heavily favor PR agencies in our County.” Well, first of all we’re not really a PR agency, secondly we’re not in their county. So I had to read through 80 pages to get to that and it’s a waste of my time and it’s a wasted their time too, it doesn’t make any sense. And so I think that the idea of communicating and being a little bit more upfront will lead to a better outcome. And I guess I have a comment on this too and I don’t know how you can describe this, but really we’re presuming you’re looking for a partner typically. If you’re starting a partner that way, that’s kind of a right way to start.

Ed Bennett:
I mean, I can tell you that every vendor selection project where I was running, nobody got any surprise RFPs or RFIs. I would have the phone calls, that first introductory call, tell me about your company, what do you do, what do you focus on, what don’t you focus on? And the folks that would get an RFI or an RFP from me, they’d already talked to me. They already knew, they’d asked the questions, I’d answered, we had a good conversation, so it wasn’t a surprise. To me if I was a vendor and I received a blind RFP or a blind RFI, that would definitely go a bunch of lower on my priorities than someone who would actually made the effort to talk to me and make sure that I was the right fit.

Stewart Gandolf:
It’s really rare that when we get something like that blind, where they haven’t talked to us and it’s usually not only have they not talked to us, they refuse to talk to us. And so they’re asking us to spend hundreds of hours preparing for something and they won’t even tell us who, if anybody, how many people are playing. And usually when we get those things, “Opportunities.” There’s dozens of agencies that are out there and we just pass, we’re too busy. We want to be a partner and I think that at the end of the day the key issue here is, without being obnoxious we only have so many hours in the day. And if we feel already, there’s this obscure need and we’re just guessing and throwing proposals over the castle wall, that’s never worked out well in my experience in anyway.

Ed Bennett:
And it probably won’t work out for the customer either. Which has always mystified me, that you would take that stance as a customer to say, “Well, I’m not going to talk to them, they’re going to respond to the RFP, it’s on them.” That’s not how I want to start a partnership.

Stewart Gandolf:
From the agency standpoint, I can speak for the industry to some regard on that matter, is that it’s a pretty common issue and from the agency side is even respond to this and again the more… The problem is again, you could lose somebody who’s really great, because they feel this is already starting off in their wrong foot, it’s not exciting to them. Are there any other final thoughts or any key takeaways or things we haven’t talked about, that you think are really important for people remember?

Ed Bennett:
Well, I guess I’m going to pitch my a directory, because there’s one really big factor, very positive factor in our industry. And that is how the folks inside our industry, the people running marketing programs, inside healthcare organizations. I’ve been going to conferences with these folks for over 20 years and I find that it’s a community that really helps each other out. So I go to conferences, I see people talking in the hallways, they’re talking about their experiences with different vendors, they’re helping each other out. And my directory is designed so that anyone can come in and see reviews and ratings from their peers, talking about their experience with these different agencies. So I think that’s really critical and whether you go to my directory or you just pick up the phone and you talk to your colleagues across the street, getting that feedback will be very, very valuable to you.

Stewart Gandolf:
Ed is currently founder of the MarTech.Health-

Ed Bennett:
Martech.Health.

Stewart Gandolf:
… it’s a website directory. And then we talked offline again about, a new and enhanced version of your business where, for those hospitals that feel maybe overwhelmed or they really need someone to call those vendors. And they want those personal insights of all that experience that you have for over the years and would like it to help you get you involved in a bigger way to curate their list and cover the short list and hold their hands through these very, very important decisions, you’re open to that as well, correct Ed?

Ed Bennett:
Definitely, definitely. The first thing they should do is simply reach out to me via email or pick up the phone and call me, I’m happy to have that conversation and see if what I offer is a good fit for what they need. And then we can figure out the process from there.

Stewart Gandolf:
Very good. And your contact information, Ed?

Ed Bennett:
So on my website, I’m at [email protected]

Stewart Gandolf:
Well hey, Ed this has been fantastic, it’s always fun to talk to you.

Ed Bennett:
Same here.

Stewart Gandolf:
Again, Ed he’s a member… Were you the first member of the Healthcare Knight Hall of Fame?

Ed Bennett:
I was one of the first back when it was first launched, I think 2012. And it was a real honor to really be recognized that way.

Stewart Gandolf:
Yeah. So again, Ed is just a delightful guy, super knowledgeable, he’s been around the block. So Ed, thank you.

The post [Podcast] How to Find and Select the Ideal Healthcare Marketing Agency: 8 Smart Steps appeared first on Healthcare Success.

[Podcast] How to Adjust Your Creative Strategies In Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Dana Callow, Creative Director

Dana Callow, Executive Creative Director, Healthcare Success

COVID-19 has been a life-changing event for us all. It’s the kind of event that has lasting effects on people that we can’t even truly see just yet. We’ve thrust an entire population into a cycle of grief that is ubiquitous but unique to every person. How will the healthcare consumer, patient, and caregivers‘ needs, wants, and actions change now and in the future?

Meanwhile, has your creative strategy, creative communications, and creative messaging kept up? Which changes should you make now?

In preparing for a recent webinar, I asked our Executive Creative Director, Dana Callow, to share some of her ideas about COVID-era creative messaging. Dana has created award-winning healthcare marketing campaigns for over 20 years and brings valuable personal and professional insights to today’s marketing challenges. I liked Dana’s ideas so much I interviewed her for this follow-up Podcast.

In case you don’t have time to listen to the recording, here is a synopsis of the most critical points we discussed. There is also a complete transcript of our discussion just below this synopsis:

Coronavirus and the stages of grief

The Elisabeth Kübler-Ross grief model helps explain how people deal with death and grief. It provides a useful context to understand the many ways people cope with extraordinarily difficult circumstances, such as their own impending death, the demise of a loved one, a financial crisis, or, as Dana suggests, the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Shock and Denial: We still have many people in this grief-phase, and some may never leave it. In the early days, the spring breakers were a perfect example of this behavior. Now that the country is reopening, others are resuming their lives with little to no thought about protecting themselves or others from the coronavirus.
  • Anger: Yes, some people have moved on, but others are still right there. Many people vehemently protest masks, guidelines, and restrictions. Worse, misinformation and conspiracy theories are now polarizing the nation, thereby threatening public safety as well.
  • Depression and Detachment: Many are still here, and won’t be able to move on until some sense of normalcy is restored. These are the folks who’ve gotten more quiet and introspective over time. You’ve seen this in your family, your coworkers, even that used to be a super happy cashier at the grocery store.
  • Dialogue & Bargaining: The vast majority of people are here and will stay here for quite some time. The good thing is they’re talking, reaching out, learning, responding. We need to support them and help them make their way to acceptance.
  • Acceptance: People are tip-toeing into this phase. These will be the resilient leaders who pave the way for others. Eventually, they will move on to “return to a meaningful life.”

Rethink your archetypes

Rethinking your healthcare archetypes is critical right now. Before you do anything, think about how your patient population might have evolved for better or for worse in their thinking, or even jumped from one archetype to another. While everyone around you will feel the need to move fast, it’s worth your time to reevaluate your audience before you push out messaging that might not resonate anymore.

Enter the new “COVID Resolutionists

Many people are looking to respond to COVID-19 by taking this opportunity to make positive changes in their lives. Dana predicts that healthcare will be the highest priority on most people’s lists.

What will the “COVID Resolutionists” need from the healthcare system and their healthcare providers that is new and different as the battle marches on? How do we promote, embrace, and facilitate all of those who are now more motivated to act on their health and wellness positively? How do we think about and protect those that might be internalizing toxic levels of stress?

  1. The people who were already obsessed with health and wellness are going to be even more obsessed. Wanting to “get ahead of the health game, they will move forward with or without our help.
  2. There is also going to be a large group of people who took their health for granted (did some things right, some things not so right) who will be seriously stepping up their game. They’ll want to make sure they know whether or not they have any underlying conditions. Expect to see a rise in everything from colonoscopies to mammograms, skin cancer checks, etc. Expect lots of new questions from avid Googlers about diets, exercise plans, vitamins and supplements, proactive screenings, etc.
  3. The deniers with comorbidities will also have changed, at least a portion of them. Whether motivated by fear or the urging of their families, they’re going to try and step up to the plate. They’re going to be terrible at it, as they weren’t successful before. They’ll need encouragement as they begin to reach out. They’ll also need real strategies and tactics to help them get going, and even more strategies and tactics to promote adherence. The rest of this group will likely take the “head in the sand” approach and keep on as they have. However, many of them may be internalizing real fears that will only exacerbate their existing conditions.
  4. The worriers – have never been more worried. Not only will they obsess about every symptom, but they will see the world more differently than others. It will be far more contextual for them. They’ll need your reassurance. They, too, will be prone to toxic levels of stress that could negatively impact their mental and physical health. You’ll need to listen to these folks very carefully and be ready to help them address mental health issues/needs.

Begin your new creative approach now

What does all of this mean? It means you can’t just look at anyone on the surface and take their actions or behavior at face value. There is a huge danger right now that we misjudge consumer behavior as having moved beyond grief, when in fact, they haven’t even started.

And what happens with any resurgence? It’s a measure twice, cut once across your segments. Constant monitoring to facilitate evolutions in your reopening messaging is going to be critical.

Finally, if you’d like to explore how Dana, I, and the rest of our team could help you with your COVID-19 related marketing challenges, please let us know.

Transcript

Note: The following transcript is computer generated and may not be 100% accurate.

Stewart Gandolf:
Hi again everybody. This is Stewart Gandolf. Welcome to another podcast. Today I have the pleasure of interviewing our Executive Creative Director, Dana Callow. Dana has extensive experience, many years of experience writing and creating campaigns for healthcare. As we’ve been working together with some of our client projects, a lot of concepts come out, a lot of cool creative ideas come out constantly. Both of us are pretty philosophical about the current COVID pandemic. Dana has lots of great insights about how the creative strategy should change given that we’re in this pandemic. First of all, welcome, Dana.

Dana Callow:
Thank you. Happy to be here.

Stewart Gandolf:
Yes. Glad to have you. Dana, before we get started, I could brag about you all day, but I’d like to have you brag about yourself a little, just if you could give us, our listeners a sense of your background and how that relates to today’s topic at least. Not the whole thing, obviously, but just where these insights are coming from.

Dana Callow:
Sure. As you well know, I’m an agency veteran. I’ve been in the agency world marketing across a plethora of categories for 20 years. We’ll just leave it at 20, but I have spent a healthy portion of that time in the healthcare space in some way, shape, or form. Whether it was working for health plans like Humana, Blue Cross Blue Shield/BCBS, or working for major hospital systems and little hospital systems. Everywhere from rural Missouri to cities like Chicago and Detroit. Then a considerable amount of time working on pharmaceutical products. For the most part, products — drugs that are treating very rare diseases. Folks that are suffering from things that are lifelong afflictions, debilitating, definitely the kind that you’re talking about mortality sooner versus later.

Stewart Gandolf:
Very good. We were talking offline a little bit and I remembered as Kübler-Ross, you’ve heard of it more as the cycle of grief, but the concept is, and this was innovated by Kübler-Ross. There are various interpretations of that and controversy or whatever, but I still remember maybe it was in health class, but somewhere along the way in high school, this whole idea of people going through a cycle of grief that’s pretty predictable. Clearly, it’s a model, right? Not everybody goes through every stage. Some people go straight from the beginning to the end. It’s just a useful context as a place to start. As we’ve talked about the COVID pandemic, there certainly is a lot of grief and grief shows up in various fashion. Dana, since you’re such an expert and have used this model for your rare disease drugs so often, how about if you just give us a quick overview? Then we can drill down into each of these cycles and what you see is happening today.

Dana Callow:
Sure. I started using this model years ago. I think the other benefit I have that, I see it as a benefit, a lot of times people go, oh gosh, I’m so sorry. I also happen to be the caregiver of a child with special needs who is now 22. In that journey, I learned very clearly what the difference is between the common cycle of grief that we might go through for a broken dish or a fender bender versus a major health issue that impacts either you or a loved one or your entire family. I’ve always applied the model to these very serious circumstances and it is phased. It’s shock and denial followed by anger, depression and detachment, dialogue and bargaining, acceptance, and then returning to a meaningful life. When we talk about that in the rare disease space, the point that I’m typically making is the nuances as it applies to a very serious health condition.

Dana Callow:
Then the fact that it’s typically cyclical. When you’re dealing with something longterm, there are new developments in that disease, there are new developments that affect you physically, mentally, financially. There’s the impact on perhaps a family unit, et cetera. You’re constantly restarting the process or maybe overlapping processes on top of each other. I’ve talked in the past about for me and for lots of parents who are dealing with children that might have a serious condition, you go through it every so often. Usually attached to developmental milestones that you realize they may never make, or they might struggle quite a bit to make. What’s interesting about that as it relates to what we’re doing now, I thought about this the minute it started is that we literally thrust everyone on the planet into a massive cycle of grief, an intense one that wasn’t going to be easy for anyone to navigate. That was the first thought.

Dana Callow:
Then secondly, now we’re all navigating it differently based on who we are as people, our own internal resiliency, our ability to cope, our thoughts and beliefs, all of those things are coming into play. What we might see is behavior on the outside from people really might not reflect where they’re in that cycle. It’s just a really complex but fascinating and important issue as we move forward.

Stewart Gandolf:
Totally makes sense. Now, in our recent webinar, I’ve talked about the research. I do that a lot in our webinars. If you’re one of our longtime blog readers you’ll know from the recent webinars we’ve talked about it, and the research is very interesting. When you see photos of people in the Ozarks shoulder to shoulder, having a great big old party, there’s a tendency to assume everybody is like that, right? It’s just the research shows that’s clearly not the case. Some people for sure believe that there’s, “What pandemic? There is no such thing. It’s all a mass media ploy.” To other people who are in very severe consequences, I’ve just read an article from a lady talking about how much it pains her when they talk about, “Oh, don’t worry. It’s just the people that have immunocompromised or old.” She said, “You know, I’m in that target audience. I’m a little offended and I’m very, very scared.”

Stewart Gandolf:
People are all over the place in terms of how they’re responding to the various stages. I’d like you Dana to take a few minutes and maybe a couple of minutes per each to drill down on shock or denial, what that means and how you see that playing out. Anger and the various phases, just to put meat on the bones, because I think really what the key here is, is as you’re writing and creating and you can obviously expand on this more, you’re the creative director, but what do these things mean maybe? Then we’ll come back and talk about, okay, how do you adapt your creative strategy to that?

Dana Callow:
Sure. When you look at shock and denial, it’s so funny, I was right there when they were showing the spring breakers and everyone was so offended and just so upset with them. They were in shock and denial. We might see it as that’s bad behavior and that’s a lack of empathy or care or concern or maturity. But really for many of them, and I’m not saying all of them because there are always the I before E, except after C, but many of the people, even the folks out there protesting I will not wear a mask and attaching it to whatever reason that they are, many of those folks are still in shock and denial. Well, shock and denial and anger. They haven’t even truly begun to process what might be our new normal, the impact it might have on them.

Dana Callow:
They’d rather just be mad and live in that place of this isn’t happening. I think that that’s important as you start to talk to people or as a physician or any kind of provider is really looking beyond what might be that outward reaction to understand where they are because that’s going to affect the type of education and support that you provide to them. That might even affect how you’re looking at them from a treatment perspective. Thinking about what’s underneath that shock and denial and anger is going to be important. After that, we move into depression and attachment. Looking around the world, looking around my sphere of people, looking at the folks in my family, the people I spend most of my time with. I think a lot of us are still here and could be here for a considerable amount of time based on the fact that we really have no answers to where this is going.

Dana Callow:
Many of us are there and we won’t be able to move on until we figure out what normal is, whatever it might look like. You’ve probably seen it. You’ve seen people get quiet. You’ve noticed people, maybe they’re not talking about it as much or asking as many questions because they’re processing. They’re processing and they’re trying to figure out new routines. They’re trying to figure out how to adapt to this changing world. One thing you can bet is there is a level of stress there that whether you can see it or not is something I think we’ll have to consider as people start to go back to their regular healthcare routines and to their providers and start to address issues that they might be having.

Dana Callow:
You might even have noticed it in that super happy cashier at the grocery store is not the same person that they used to be. That someone who’s probably living in the depression and detachment piece of this. Then dialogue and bargaining. I mean, a lot of us are moving into this space. We’ve got one foot in depression and detachment and one foot in dialogue and bargaining because our will to live, our will to move on, our will to find a new normal will drive us there even though we’re still a little scared, a little stressed out, a little concerned. We don’t know what we don’t know yet. A lot of us are starting to move into that place where, okay, I want to talk about it. I’m going to start reaching back out to my healthcare providers, to my mentors, to my confidant, to people that maybe I’ve talked to a little bit but I have been detached from and I want to start to bounce ideas and things off of them.

Dana Callow:
I think to be ready for those folks who are going to come in. They’re going to have a lot of questions. As a healthcare provider, no one healthcare provider is going to be able to answer all of those questions. When we look at how most physicians out there, they have a set of resources that they offer to people beyond what they do in the day-to-day. Checking back into what those resources are, thinking about the places and spaces you can guide people, I think that’s going to be really important. Feeding their desire to move into that next phase, that’s going to be critical. The flip side of that, that’s going to reduce their stress and then reduce potential complications for any conditions that they have now or may develop in the future.

Dana Callow:
Then acceptance, I think maybe there’s a few, just highly evolved humans out there who are stepping into this. I think it’s fewer than we might expect. Even if you hear people who sound like they’ve accepted it, who are voicing a lot of like, this is what I’m going to do and this is how I’m going to handle it. This is where it’s going. I think there’s not a lot of those folks yet, but I am very encouraged to see them stepping into that phase because I think that’s where the leaders are going to come from. They’re going to pave the way for others. As much as this has all been this very overwhelming place that we’re living in, I think out of it is going to come so much innovation and so much progress because there’s nothing like putting a wall in front of a motivated person. They will figure out how to get around it, over it, or through it.

Dana Callow:
I think those folks are few and far between. I do think no matter who you are, if you come in contact with someone like that, we need to embrace that. They’re probably not going to be a huge problem for healthcare providers other than they will have read so many things and come to you with so many questions that are deep and have a lot of dimension to them. Being ready to have those conversations is what’s just going to keep them in that healthy place of moving forward. Then returning to a meaningful life. I mean, I couch this as stay tuned for the next available operator. I don’t know that I believe anyone is there yet, but I’d like to meet them. I think that’s what we’re all going to be trying to do for each other and all of the folks who play in any one person’s health and wellness ecosystem is going to be a very important part of that.

Stewart Gandolf:
Very good. It’s interesting because the idea of dialogue and bargaining because I always heard the model as bargaining but dialogue and bargaining is intriguing because… I think this model is useful because we go through different phases. The same person can go through different phases, right? They may generally be in dialogue and bargaining, but once in awhile get into depression, anger, and back and forth. I think the idea of being able to talk it out with friends. We recently met a friend in Palm Springs. We have a vacation rental there. We did our first social distancing friend visit. It was amazing to have that chance to just talk things through. We haven’t done that really, and it’s not the same when you’re doing it on through Zoom.

Stewart Gandolf:
I think that it’s really intriguing to know that these are out there. People are in general categories probably. At any given moment, they may be staying in one and probably we’ll go through this predictable sequence rather. Let me ask you. The key question here is here from a marketing standpoint because neither of us of course therapists, but how does this impact our creative strategy? That’s the meat of this. What can we do as marketing people and recognizing that we have a broad audience of people in our podcasts including super sophisticated marketers primarily at pharma or hospitals or wherever. We also have private practice doctors and everywhere all over the place. Just in general, if you were to give some advice on what your creative strategy should look like today. Well, today and then even as things start to continue to evolve, what would those kinds of things be?

Dana Callow:
The way that it’s strategy first, right? We have had for many, many years some pretty accepted patient archetypes. People behave in a particular way when it comes to their healthcare. While those may have become more robust over time, I think now is the time for everyone to stop. Whether it’s with your internal marketing team, in conjunction with your agency, just you yourself and your thoughts. It’s time to sit down and think about seriously, think about your patient population. The segments in it and how they might have changed because that’s what’s going to impact how you might change your overarching strategy or simply your messaging. Because we have people who have taken quarantine so seriously and then you have the people who I lovingly say hashtag what virus. Everything in between as far as how they’re thinking about it, but then you also have how they behave as patients.

Dana Callow:
That’s where I coined the little term COVID resolutionist because it’s like when you make a New Year’s resolution. So many of us do that, whether we’re super demonstrative about it or not is debatable. Some of us just have a list in our heads. Some of us just have one. Some of us have a dozen. There seems to be this thing every year where we see the New Year as a time to change or to attempt change. I think that COVID is going to do that for a lot of people when it comes to their healthcare. That’s where I think the idea of the cycle of grief next to how it will have actually changed people is how strategy must change. When you look at those, and I’ll keep it really simple, when you look at those patient populations, you’ve got your people who are on top of their health and wellness, your type-A personalities. Diet, exercise, staying on top of as they age, doing all the right things to make sure they know what their underlying conditions might be.

Dana Callow:
They are ahead of the cancer game. They are ahead of their eye health. They are on top of those things. They’re just going to get more on top of those things and that’s okay. That’s okay. Then there’s this giant group of people. I definitely fall into probably one end of this one, but there’s this giant group of people. We do a lot of things, right? We don’t do all the things right. We try things with our diet and our exercise. We fall off the wagon. We know we need to get that colonoscopy but we put it off until like, okay. My mother gave me a hard time about it. My spouse is staring at me like it’s time. You have a family history, whatever, go get it done. I think you’re going to see a lot of those people who are pretty good about their health, really stepping up to the plate and wanting to check the boxes and do all the things. Making that easy for them, making that comfortable for them, encouraging them to pursue those things.

Dana Callow:
I think that it’s a great time to message around that for that group. Like, let’s embrace the idea that I’m going to make a resolution to not let something like this scare me as much as it has ever again. Get ready for that flood of folks who want to, they want to figure it out. They want to dot their i’s and cross their t’s. Then you’re still going to have that giant group of folks, they are the deniers and we all suffer from it. That’s why I say I’m on the edge of the previous group because I’m the worst when it comes to… I take care of everybody else before I take care of myself, but that’s a different kind of denial. Then when you look at people who know, they know that they have diagnosed conditions, they know there are life changes they should make, they should have made a long time ago. They have been recently connected to their mortality on a whole new level.

Dana Callow:
The interesting thing about this group I think is that we’re going to have to approach them as if they fall into two categories. You’re going to have the deniers who, yes, I have severe diabetes but I have not addressed my diet and exercise and I never planned to. But this connection I now have to my mortality, the connection that my family has been literally in my face about every day before COVID and now even more since COVID happened, all right, I’m going to give it a go. I’m going to give it a shot. That’s good news, but they’re going to be terrible at it because they always have been. They’re going to need a lot of support. A, messaging that assumes that there are some people in that camp. Targeting those folks with, if you weren’t ready before, we hope you’re ready now. Let’s talk about whatever it is that we need to. Let’s do it. Getting them to go ahead and act on that notion, and then they’re going to need a ton of support.

Dana Callow:
They’re going to need a ton of atta-boys and atta-girls and all kinds of strategies and tactics to help them stay on the bus. Then you’re still going to have a group of those deniers who head in the sand. I won’t go. I’m not, I’m just going to know that it’s not going to come for me. That group is going to be really tough to reach as they always have been, but this might be the time for a proactive conversation. Healthcare providers could be a tipping point. They are feeling it, their family. You could be that exclamation point on the sentence to help them go ahead and give it a shot. Then the group, I think, well, and one more thing on those folks. If they do just put their head in the sand, that doesn’t mean that they’re not experiencing a lot of stress around it. That stress can be toxic and actually exacerbate their situation, whatever it might be. That might be something to message around as well.

Dana Callow:
Then the worriers, they’ve never been more worried than they are now, and that will continue. Again, I think very solid pragmatic information and facts that help them address their fears and concerns that make them feel comfortable and confident about seeing their healthcare provider, about pursuing whatever health issues they might have. They’re going to need confidence instilled in them. I think that’s an important messaging strategy with those folks. Again, these are also folks who are going to possibly suffer from just a great amount of stress. Recognizing that and being able to have the conversation around that to make sure that that doesn’t either aggravate an underlying condition they might not even know they have or exacerbate one that they do, that’s going to be important. I think the gist is sometimes we try to be very focused in our messaging, one size fits all. I don’t think that that’s where we’re going. I think targeted messaging that gets to these audiences where they are in this journey is going to be paramount.

Stewart Gandolf:
Then the last question I have is pretty universal today. In fact, you and I have a conference call in what, 23 minutes, about this with a client. The point is that a lot of providers on the provider side are reopening in stages. Some are wide open for business, others are not. Then there’s a whole fear of what happens as the other shoe drops, are we in the beginning? Are we just in the continuation of the first phase, which a lot of people argue? Is there a second wave? All those kinds of things. That makes it very flux right now. The idea of reopening, in this very uncertain environment where just like I described everything is changing, looking at a different model with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety is way down there at the bottom. Basically, self-survival and safety are at the core of this. Nobody’s going anywhere if they don’t feel safe. What are some of the communication strategies that providers might be thinking about now with all this that we just discussed in mind? But really, about safety and reopening, and do you have any tips on that for our audience?

Dana Callow:
I think clearly communicating all that you are doing to provide a safe environment is important, but I think combining that message with general health messages, you’re right. We don’t know if we’re still in phase one. We don’t know when phase two might happen. We don’t know any of those things. To some degree, all of this is quite a grand experiment and a tough one. I think just the utility of communicating, this is what we’re doing to keep you safe and healthy. I’ve seen a lot of good work done out there down to the…this is the brand of disinfectant that we’re using. This is what we’re doing. Coupling that with health and wellness messages that cater to your audience, whether you’re a specialist or a GP or a big hospital system with lots of offerings, or a pharmaceutical product, whoever you are. Combining that functional message with that comment, come and see us. We’re here for you, here to help you. Don’t wait to tackle whatever might be happening in your life with regard to your health and don’t let your primary care go. I think it’s a marriage of messages with where one doesn’t necessarily take precedence.

Stewart Gandolf:
That is a really important thought because we’ve talked about this on a number of webinars recently with research and so forth, but this is an opportunity for thought leadership in your community. Some people are doing this better than others, and obviously some health systems are well-funded than other private practice. They may not be, or some pharmas have that as part of their mission. Again, we have a very broad audience listening to our podcast, but thought leadership is such an important part of this. Everywhere I look, I read today in Fierce Healthcare an article about how for a while there or actually it was a different publication where for a while their hospitals are just thought of as these entities, faceless entities. The public was losing touch with them and they didn’t really understand any kind of, despite the hospital’s point of view, that community commitment.

Stewart Gandolf:
Nowadays, there’s a resurgence where certainly depending on where they’re located, hospital systems and healthcare providers are seeing a resurgence. I think this is a time to continue to consider thought leadership and figure out how you can be not the educator, both sides of the brain, right? Dana, the right and left brain side.

Dana Callow:
Yup.

Stewart Gandolf:
Certainly, the educator, the thought leader, but also the compassionate people, the people that are really invested in the community. As we wrap up here, I don’t know if you have any additional thoughts on any of this stuff, Dana, because I think all these communication strategies are important. Our audience may be looking for new insights on where do we even begin.

Dana Callow:
Yeah. I think you’re exactly right. I think one of my favorite phrases is, measure twice cut once. I think circling the wagons internally no matter who you are and having a very thoughtful and thorough conversation about your patient population, your geography, the mindsets of people and how your patient archetypes might have changed. Then a balanced message that plays off of both right and left brain is spot on, not easy but spot on.

Stewart Gandolf:
Well, I think it’s a terrific opportunity, a COVID resolution. It’s a terrific opportunity. Then you alluded to this a little bit ago, rethinking your personas but also rethinking your marketing and creative strategy and your messaging. We’ve been, from the very beginning it is something I’ve been writing about is to look at your marketing from a new. I think that okay, for a lot of people on the hospital side at least, they’re just dealing with patients and reacting to a crisis. It’s hard to think very strategically, but this is a good time now where, okay, we’re past, in most cases obviously. It varies by where you are in the country, but most of us are past the sort of crisis phase. We have Telehealth and Telemedicine in place…we have providers in place largely.

Stewart Gandolf:
Who are we? What do we stand for? I challenge our listeners to think about that because it’s a terrific opportunity. Some people in some organizations fall to the wayside. Others can really demonstrate and take a leadership position, not just from a business standpoint, but from doing good standpoint. Thank you, Dana. It’s been great having you for this healthcare podcast discussion. As I predicted, this would be a great podcast and you did great and thank you.

The post [Podcast] How to Adjust Your Creative Strategies In Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic? appeared first on Healthcare Success.

How Are Healthcare Consumers Responding to the Coronavirus Pandemic?

multiracial graphic of people with face masks

COVID-19: The New Normal for Healthcare Consumers

A “new normal” is emerging in healthcare for both providers and patients. Healthcare industry leaders and medical marketing professionals constantly struggle to keep pace with changes. We all have the challenge of adjusting to pandemic demands and shifting consumer attitudes. Some questions are emerging:

  • What do healthcare patients want and expect in a post-pandemic world?
  • How best to address new and future consumer fears and desires?
  • Why “COVID-speed” has become the new normal in healthcare marketing.
  • How to leverage a new and more efficient role for telemedicine, outpatient clinics, urgent care, and other healthcare delivery options.

To that end, I recently led a webinar with our friend and marketing research partner Rob Klein, CEO, Klein & Partners. Rob delivered insightful data from his Wave II Omnibus Study, which captures shifting attitudes among American healthcare consumers. If you have time, you really should invest the time to watch the full webinar and download the data slides.

However, since we recognize that many of our readers require an abridged version, I am sharing the essential points here.

Time Has Become the “New Currency” in Healthcare

One of the most dramatic indicators is how people seek care now. The increase in COVID virtual healthcare visits is more than double Rob’s previous Wave I survey.

  • Rob Klein advises that “time is the new currency. If you don’t have a virtual care strategy, you are behind the 8-ball as a provider.” What’s more, hospitals and health systems have recently proved they can innovate quickly.
  • Further, American consumers now expect providers to be proactive and to adapt quickly to market changes and consumer needs.
  • How do we get patients back after a cancellation due to COVID-19? Data reveals that a large percentage of patients changed to a virtual visit. “No matter how we asked the question about receiving care,” Klein notes, “virtual visits pops to the surface. It is truly our number one opportunity to get patients back for care.
  • “Virtual service eases the strain for those who need to be seen in person. The ability to see those patients sooner is especially helpful to people who couldn’t or wouldn’t leave home.”
  • Surprisingly, the two top reasons that would make patients change providers are “attitude” and “access.” Survey responses were “Another provider can get me in faster than my current provider,” and “My current provider has been difficult to work with to get me rescheduled.” Once again, time is the new currency according to Klein. Responding to these concerns is an open opportunity to retain patients and/or to capture new patients proactively.
  • What can be done to ease access to healthcare? According to the survey, the top opportunity is to provide virtual visits in place of in-person appointments, when medically appropriate. This is especially helpful for women and individuals working at home. Further, expand the weekday schedule with early morning and evening hours.
  • Now, more than ever, cost concerns and financial help in healthcare are vital. Unemployment has been astronomical, and normal income, for many, has disappeared. Consumers would welcome provider options to ease their cost concerns, as are offered in other industries. For healthcare, consumers would like to see lowering or eliminating co-pay, waiving deductible, working with insurance companies to reduce out-of-pocket costs, and other options.

Key Take-away and Action Items

Coronavirus is unlike nearly any experience that we have known in our lifetime. And for providers and patients, it is permanently changing healthcare systems to a “new normal.” The Wave II Omnibus Study, presented by Rob Klein, delivers valuable guidance for industry leaders and marketing professionals about consumer perceptions and behaviors — now and in the future.

    • After many weeks of living this experience, some consumers’ negative emotions — loneliness, anger, fear, and anxiety — are beginning to abate. However, these perceptions are still higher among women and people age 18 to 44.
    • Consequently, this is an excellent opportunity to build on the goodwill that you have instilled in consumers and patients to grow your marketplace brand.
    • Significantly, this experience has proven to everyone that we can innovate quickly (i.e., remove bureaucracy). Now, consumers expect us to continue innovating. In other words, our “new normal” means we can’t go back to our old ways.
    • One of the most significant healthcare changes in a post-pandemic world is having and using robust virtual care options, whenever appropriate.
    • Further, this is an opportunity to change behavior and expectations regarding where patients seek care — e.g., inpatient to outpatient procedures and the availability of a Nurse Practitioner and/or Physician Assistant, especially for patients under age 45.
    • For healthcare providers, organizations, and marketing executives, multi-method communications are required. In other words, one size does not fit all, and a comprehensive plan is needed to connect with consumers and patients.

    As we begin to emerge from the worldwide Coronavirus experience, our perceptions and behaviors have changed, and healthcare needs to shape a “new normal” for health providers and
    patients.

    As we alluded to earlier, Rob and I share more ideas in the full on-demand webinar replay. You can access both the webinar and data slides.

    The post How Are Healthcare Consumers Responding to the Coronavirus Pandemic? appeared first on Healthcare Success.