How Charleston Area Medical Center enhanced telehealth adoption with strategic marketing

The successful launch and sustainability of a virtual care program hinges on strategic marketing, explained Becky Harless, associate administrator of Charleston (W.Va.) Area Medical Center, during a past webinar. 

During the webinar, sponsored by Teladoc Health and hosted by Becker's Hospital Review, Ms. Harless discussed how Charleston Area Medical Center catapulted virtual registrations and visits, established employee buy-in and selected the right telehealth partner to help support its goals. 

Since launching the 24/7 Care platform with Teladoc Health in October of 2019, Charleston Area Medical Center has seen a sharp uptick in customer registrations and visits. Currently, the system has 12,873 people registered, has a large presence in its service area in West Virginia and even has visits coming in from the West Coast. While some of the traffic can be attributed to COVID-19, Ms. Harless said it was steadily increasing even before the pandemic as a result of its marketing strategy. 

Here are five key learnings from Charleston Area Medical Center's successful telehealth program rollout:

1. When selecting a telehealth provider, identify the organization's goals and analyze data. Before selecting a telehealth partner, Charleston Area Medical Center outlined top priorities and a vision of what the telemedicine program should look like in three years. In addition, Ms. Harless said Charleston Area Medical Center analyzed data to see where it could achieve savings from implementing a telehealth program. To find savings opportunities, the medical center analyzed the benefit spend, particularly unnecessary emergency room visits, of its employees. They found that employees aged 20 to 29 were using the ER unnecessarily more than any other care group and the average visit was $2,556. After analyzing this spend, the organization realized it wanted to establish a 24/7 on-demand telehealth option for employees and customers to help cut costs of unnecessary ER visits. 

2. Understand opportunities and threats in your market. Before rolling out a telehealth program, it is important to understand the various opportunities and threats in your market, Ms. Harless explained. For example, Charleston Area Medical Center saw an opportunity to be the first organization in West Virginia to offer a direct-to-consumer platform with on-demand telehealth services. However, it also anticipated the threat of broadband access issues in the more rural areas in West Virginia. Understanding the opportunities and threats allowed Charleston Area Medical Center to iron out its goals and strategies to boost patient access, Ms. Harless said. 

3. Bring in the marketing department early. When launching a telehealth program, the marketing department should be brought into the decision-making process early on, Ms. Harless explained. Marketing can help get the word out to enhance customer adoption and employee engagement.  "Not all organizations do that ... They have marketing as an afterthought," Ms. Harless said. 

4. Generate employee buy-in and find physician champions. There are various ways to establish employee buy-in, explained Ms. Harless. For example, Charleston Area Medical Center held a kickoff meeting that included all managers and the C-suite to help them get excited about what the program would entail. "What that did was it created a pull instead of a push," Ms. Harless said. In addition, the medical center promoted the new telehealth service at its employee benefits fair to get employees excited about the platform and also found physician champions to boost engagement across the organization. In selecting physician champions, Charleston Area Medical Center found those who were excited about telemedicine, and got those employees involved early and had them be the first to take on the virtual visits.

5. Establish a cost-effective marketing strategy to bring in customers. Charleston Area Medical Center established a month-by-month marketing plan to bring in new customers and get the word out about the new platform. This included hosting special events and using marketing tools like print ads, direct mail, social media blasts, ads in elevators at the mall and handing out coupons to use the 24/7 on demand platform. 

"We need to make sure [our 24/7 telehealth program] was a big hit and I'll tell you it is marketing, marketing, marketing," Ms. Harless said. 

However, Ms. Harless said that it's important to find marketing strategies that will work for your organization and will fit in the budget. 

Overall, marketing plays a critical role in the successful launch and sustainability of a telehealth program. By involving the marketing team early, establishing a long-term marketing plan and generating employee buy-in to the program, hospitals can achieve their telemedicine goals. 

To listen to the full webinar, click here.

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