After helping judge the “Best Mobile Communications” category for the 2017 eHealthcare Leadership awards, White Rhino’s chief digital strategist Shawn Gross shared with me, “The industry is definitely on a curve of innovation.” But he was quick to follow that up, “there’s also a wide divide between what I would call true digital engagement and traditional marketing efforts.”
I sat down with Shawn to better understand this gap. Read on to learn how the most forward-thinking healthcare marketers have moved beyond simply making their website responsive. Instead, they're creating an ecosystem of desktop and mobile apps that complement their website and cocoon patients in a better overall experience.
Q: You looked at entries from more than 30 organizations in the mobile category. What types of hospital website apps did you see?
"There were only a handful of organizations that offered standalone app experiences. All other entries were website re-designs with a focus on mobility. The majority of folks seem to consider “mobile” as a mobile responsive website.
Only a few saw opportunities to build what I think of as an “app farm” strategy. A text messaging app for sick patients that are too sick to talk, an in-building way-finding app — not for prospective patients but for current ones. An app targeting researchers who are looking to do a research study at the academic medical center – because there's a teaching and a research component to that organization.
These organizations are thinking of their hospital website as much more than a brochure with a mobile breakpoint."
Q: Are you suggesting that a hospital’s mobile strategy needs to focus on building a barrage of standalone apps?
"That would be impractical, wouldn’t it? Managing a dozen plus service lines each with a dozen plus mobile apps that need to be updated every time a new operating system comes out? You’d need deep pockets and a big bench to support a strategy like that.
A more reasonable approach, and one that I started to see more of in this years’ awards, is the idea of taking existing third party applications and weaving them into your website. To me, these were the standout organizations that are quickly learning how to make the most of mobile.
Carolinas Healthcare is one example – offering an ecosystem of apps for patients and its employee community. From patient cost saving tools to a gamified digital health app that helps kids recognize their asthma triggers. Some of these are home-grown apps, but others have been curated from third parties. And the apps aren’t just for patients. There are also niche, handheld digital experiences for education folks like residents and fellows. Scientists and researchers. Employees and other types of healthcare professionals. There's a little bit of something for everyone.
Pinnacle Health, now part of UPMC, is a great example of how digital engagement doesn't have to be just about mobile apps. Its website – which looks more like a site you'd see from GE than a non-profit hospital – puts an emphasis on fresh content and patient-friendly online tools including a cost estimator. Pinnacle has even taken its wellness section to another level by allowing patients to navigate content using an interactive illustration of the body and offering countless consumer-friendly quizzes.
Speaking of taking wellness to another level. Marcus Institute is leading the way like only an integrative health system can. Right from the main navigation, a "shop" button takes you to an ecommerce site where patients can purchase essential oils and vitamins from Jefferson Health. It's really brilliant. If we all start thinking like E-commerce marketers, I bet we could find hospitals not struggling so much with online appointment scheduling. Or delivering ways for family members to send gifts to patients staying at the hospital.
If you are going to build your own mobile app, take a look at what leaders like Geisinger Health System are doing with its ProvenExperience app. How do you motivate patients to complete satisfaction surveys? Give them an easy-to-use app that let's them decide at the end if they should receive a refund on their co-pay. By putting the power in the henads of the consumer, Geisinger has created a way to build trust in its brand even if that particular visit wasn't satisfactory."
Q: What do you think is holding other organizations back from creating – and curating – their own ecosystem of digital health app experiences?
"For most hospitals, the clinical IT infrastructure on the back end to support a digital health app eco-system is very fragmented. There can be as many as 30 different systems, with 30 different owners. And little to no integration among any of them.
So it’s important that Marketing, Operations, and IT work together on these initiatives. And that’s what I saw in this year’s awards. A lot of the submissions were from a title such as Director of Digital Engagement. It’s clear that these organizations have done the ROI homework to show senior management how important these initiatives are and restructure the organization to support it. Which points to another obstacle we need to overcome.
To take these big leaps forward, you need to restructure the marketing department with a digital ROI and measurement mindset. And I think that's a scary proposition for a lot of hospitals. After all, it’s easier to just keep doing the status quo.
In industries like B2B where there are shareholders and stockholders to hold marketers accountable, we see marketing departments change their organizational structure every year – sometimes every 6 months. They’re mixing up teams and having people step out of their comfort zone.
And, while it can be hard to push back on all the clinician demands for specialty programs and content, it’s essential to take a step back. To look at your online experience from the patient’s perspective. To spend 2-4 weeks realigning your team and meeting with senior management to get their support.
That’s the type of initiative that will get the rest of the industry up to par with the innovators I saw in 2017."