BayCare's marketing strategy centers on 'taking the friction out of the healthcare experience'

In the spring of 2018, Clearwater, Fla.-based BayCare began rolling out a new and far-reaching marketing campaign that used simple, tongue-in-cheek imagery to educate patients about when to use the emergency room, urgent care, primary care and telehealth.

One billboard, for example, placed illustrations of a bee and beehive next to each other. A patient who "stepped on a bee," the billboard indicates, should head to urgent care, while stepping on a beehive is a fit for emergency care.

In the year and a half since the rollout, the campaign has gone viral online and, according to Ed Rafalski, PhD, BayCare's chief strategy and marketing officer, may have already begun to effect changes in patient behavior.

Here, Dr. Rafalski and Theresa Renaud, managing director at DeVito/Verdi, the New York City-based agency behind the campaign, discuss the inspiration for and impact of the campaign, and how it fits into BayCare's overall marketing strategy.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: Where did the idea for this campaign come from, and how did it come to fruition?

Dr. Ed Rafalski: We're about providing the right care at the right place at the right cost at the right time. Part of this is going out and educating the consumer about the right place to go for emergent clinical issues that can be treated in a variety of settings, starting at the very high end in the emergency room to the low end in the telehealth space.

There are consumers who, frankly, abuse and overuse the ER for low-acuity things that could be treated in other settings, and so the business case was to begin to educate the consumer to go to those other places for lower-acuity need and not go to the ER, because it's an inappropriate place for them to be treated. That led then to a creative idea to do that piece of education.

Theresa Renaud: Historically, when we've gone out and done messaging, it might've been for an individual point of access — for urgent care or for telehealth, for example — but this was the first campaign where we attempted to combine them.

We knew that we needed to give that to consumers in very simple, digestible bites that were easy to understand, and we wanted it to be stuck in their brain so that when they had a need they'd remember our examples. So, we came up with this approach, which uses very simple graphics and concepts that are a little bit hyperbolic; they kind of make you smile and remain sticky in the consumers' minds.

This was a concept approach with a big, fully integrated campaign — across Instagram, Facebook, direct mail, email — and it continues to evolve, depending on the medium. For example, on billboards, we're primarily focusing on urgent care and emergency care, but when we get to some of our other print and digital executions, we might add telehealth. We also have some iconography to help people understand the price they'll pay in each location.

Q: Have you already begun to notice any impact from the campaign?

ER: In a couple of ways: For one, it has gone viral online. The other piece is, really early on, in one of our locations we had an attending in the ER who noticed this flu season that volume was down year-over-year. This flu season was not as virulent as the last one, but still, it couldn't explain the decrease.

We had our analytics team do some work and they saw that most of the decline was in low-acuity upper respiratory activity. We asked whether those patients were showing up anywhere else, so they looked in other service line access points that would treat that level of acuity: Urgent care was up fourfold compared to the decline in the ED, and at Publix, where we offer a walk-in telehealth solution right across the street from that particular ER, they saw a huge increase.

I'm not going to attribute it necessarily to the campaign, but maybe, yes, the consumers have begun to act differently. We're repeating the study for the entire network to see, year-over-year, whether that was isolated to that one ED or if we will start to see a change in behavior across the entire network. In this instance, it's an early indication that we have begun to teach the consumer to behave differently.

Q: What specific aspects of the campaign do you believe are driving that success?

ER: One of the benefits of the creative execution is the playful aspect, which makes it very conversational. It's one thing to write it in print, but we've created some visuals that tell this story in a fun way that educates the consumer.

We're taking elements of the retail phenomenon that we've been seeing in spaces like Amazon Prime, OpenTable, Travelocity and Expedia, and now saying, 'Let's do it for healthcare,' because God knows it's a complex service. You can do a lot by simplifying the message and making it easier for the consumer to figure out what they're supposed to do. And so, in some ways, we're doing what others are doing in other businesses and applying it to what healthcare truly needs — which is simplification in navigation — and then executing it creatively so it's easy to digest.

Q: How does this campaign fit into BayCare's larger digital marketing strategy?

ER: This dovetails nicely into a couple of our other digital offerings. We actually built an app called BayCare HealthNav, which is designed to do digitally what we're doing through the creative medium: It's a whole app based on diagnoses from physicians who recommend where to go.

If you're in the HealthNav environment and it recommends going to telehealth, it takes you to an app called BayCare Anywhere, which is another component of our digital strategy and is part of a partnership with American Well. The app can tell you the distance from wherever you are to the closest BayCare site and is a telehealth platform that enables the consumer to talk to a doctor on their smart device.

The last component, which also has its own digital strategy and campaign, is our partnership with Publix. That's also an American Well offering, but it provides expanded service because it's a kiosk and a dedicated exam room in Publix stores, so you can do some light diagnostics while you're visiting with your doctor. In each of those instances, they're all sort of companion campaigns that relate back to this overall strategy of teaching the consumer where to go.

Q: With that said, would you classify patient education as the main priority of BayCare's overall marketing strategy, or something else?

ER: Without disclosing too much, we believe that there's a lot of opportunity to improve what the healthcare industry does to service the consumer. Clinical excellence is presumed: If your arm is broken and you go to the system, you expect them to fix it and for you to have the use of your arm back. But where we struggle as an industry is the service component, the navigation component and helping people get to the right place efficiently. So if there's anything in the campaign's overall strategy that ties it together, it's that key theme: taking the friction out of the healthcare experience.

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