From cost-center to strategic asset — How to turn your health system's marketing department into a bottom-line MVP

Healthcare-based merger and acquisition activity is increasing, leaving healthcare organizations scrambling to figure out ways to not only standout from the competition, but to best leverage their collective platforms to ensure patients receive the care they need.

Livonia, Mich.-based Trinity Health affiliate Saint Joseph Mercy Health System in Canton, Mich., opted to address this issue with a new approach to marketing. During a recent webinar, hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by Evariant, marketing leaders from Trinity Health, Saint Joseph Mercy Health System and Evariant, discussed customer-centric marketing strategies, enterprise-wide data and technology integration and marketing performance.

Here are the discussion participants:

  • Matt Casselton, Trinity Health's vice president of marketing and consumer engagement
  • Karen Cameron, Trinity Health's marketing and consumer engagement manager
  • Mitch Holdwick, Saint Joseph Mercy Health System's marketing director
  • Rachel Neely, Evariant's customer success leader

During the webinar, Mr. Holdwick relayed the true story of a Trinity Health patient, using the pseudonym Amy to protect the patient's identity. On Feb. 1, 2018, Amy was on Facebook when she came across a sponsored post asking users to take a health assessment to gauge their eligibility for bariatric surgery. Amy took the test and had a slightly elevated score. St. Joe's began nurturing that interaction and on May 2, 2018, Amy contacted the hospital's call center, spoke with a customer care rep who connected her with an expert on bariatric surgery.
On May 3, 2018, she went to a surgeon-led seminar where she scheduled an appointment with a physician five days later on May 8. By July 9, 2018, Amy underwent a bariatric procedure. With a process that used to take 12 months on average, Amy went from start to finish in just five months. Now Amy has lost 44 pounds, resolved a number of health issues and is living a healthier life.

Amy’s story is possible because Saint Joseph Mercy Health System turned its marketing department from a cost center into a strategic asset, focused on helping to both drive and improve the consumer experience.

Modern day marketing
The days of photos, press releases and marketing departments as cost centers are fading. It's become essential for health system marketing departments to become the consumer-facing voice of the organization.

"Healthcare systems are beginning to recognize that our patients are, in fact, consumers — and they are becoming increasingly engaged," Ms. Cameron said. "The marketing department is key for reaching out to and interacting with patients."

To do this, Trinity Health needed to embrace data. In 2013, Trinity Health merged with Newtown Square, Pa.-based Catholic Health East and began thinking about how to better reach patients in light of the expanded scope of the system, Mr. Casselton said. As the parent organization of 94 hospitals in 22 states, Trinity Health wanted to ensure patients in all markets were reached.

"We knew that if done correctly, prioritizing and starting small, we could acquire and retain more patients, and most importantly we could demonstrate the measurable impact of marketing to the rest of the organization," Mr. Casselton said.

Ms. Cameron said, Trinity Health's marketing department had to become "best friends" with the departments collecting and organizing its data. Data was used in new ways to create campaigns they've never done before. “While the data was a starting point, it wasn't enough to move us forward," Ms. Cameron said. "We realized that we needed a methodology that would scale and grow across the enterprise."

Trinity Health recruited a team of marketers across the enterprise to work to better achieve its goals. Trinity Health needed a cloud-based solution to bring its data together. The platform would assist in patient acquisition and engagement, increasing customer loyalty and communication efforts throughout the complete care continuum. They selected Evariant. With the help of this platform, Trinity Health's marketing department is becoming a strategic asset.

Trinity Health created campaign strategy templates, with the help of the Evariant success team, that could be tailored to suit any market. During the discussion, Mr. Holdwick explained how St. Joe's marketing deployed a strategy to create unique consumer encounters like those experienced by Amy.

First, the department employed a digital first strategy that used an omni-channel approach to handle acquisition, engagement and retention. Next, it leveraged data and insights to create individualized tactics for different consumer segments. The department then began to focus on promoting service line procedures that generated strong returns on investment.

When Amy clicked on that health assessment on Feb. 1, 2018, she was engaging with St. Joe's bariatric surgery campaign. The campaign aimed to increase awareness of the hospital's bariatric services, grow market share from local competitors and create a unified regional effort through a hyper-local campaign.

The campaign featured a number of elements including: paid search, downloadable resource guides, display ads and paid social media posts. It's been an overwhelming success.

Since beginning the campaign, St. Joe's reached 114 percent of its lead goal in 2017 and 173 percent in 2018, recording a click to lead conversion rate of 15 percent. The increased demand directly led to two surgeons working an additional 24 hours per week. St. Joe's search impressions increased 143 percent from 2017 to 2018 and the campaign realized over 50 percent net growth in return on investment.

"These stats show the power of the campaign and how they can impact the bottom line," Mr. Holdwick said.

Most importantly though the campaign helped patients seek out the care they needed.

"We talk about ROI all the time," Ms. Neely said. "And as a marketer that's what we have to show, we're not just taking pictures anymore. We're making an impact on the bottom line. But surgeons adding operating room time is my favorite in the story because it shows marketing is much more than that. It's feeding the bottom-line business to your physicians and surgeons. It's showing you've forged a relationship with your surgeons. … And, most importantly, it's showing you're meeting consumer demand."

A replay of this webinar can be viewed anytime through this link.

More articles on strategy:
HSS CEO Lou Shapiro: System's 'value' is more than just financial worth
Why Premier Health is turning to high schoolers to fill its workforce
Why hospitals are using Amazon, Apple, Google tech at patients' bedsides

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