What is Compelling Healthcare Marketing?

January 12, 2010

I saw a great post written by Josh McColough for The PULSE this week: http://ow.ly/VihY

In it, Josh discusses the challenge of marketing your healthcare organization using billboards.  If you read through the comments section you will see that while he and I generally agree, I took issue with the example he provided of a billboard message that “works”. 

But it did get me thinking about the challenges involved in marketing healthcare organizations.  The complexity of the subject matter and varied audiences that must be targeted make communicating via traditional advertising an imprecise science.  It’s just difficult to say all that needs to be said using traditional print and broadcast channels.  

The internet, electronic media, and social networking have certainly been game-changers in addressing these concerns.  But ultimately these are just alternative platforms, not replacements for well crafted communications.  

Josh’s post asks what good HC communications looks like using outdoor (billboard) media.  I would ask what makes a compelling HC message that can be integrated across ALL channels?  Any ideas?


Exceptional Service Inpires New Years Resolution

January 4, 2010

If you are like me, you can probably cite numerous examples of poor service, unfulfilled expectations, and perhaps even plain old  rudeness from the service workers we depend on every day.  Several years of such experience has the effect of adding layers to an emotional callous that protects us from further disappointment.    

If we are lucky, and paying attention, the hard shell of our cynically low expectations can be shattered by a demonstration of care that forces us to reconsider our whole outlook.  Just such an occasion ushered in the new year for me. 

On the morning of New Year’s Eve day, my wife Julie woke up with a pinched nerve in her neck.  She must have slept funny.  Most of the time this would be little more than an uncomfortable inconveniece.  But on Thursday morning that pinched nerve brought on an episode of severe Vertigo.  Vertigo gives the stricken individual the sensation that the room is spinning around them.  It effects balance and is often accompanied by nausea. 

I came right home from work when I learned Julie was ill, but there was little that I could do to help.  In desperation, she called our Chiropractor Dr. Brian Schneider of Schneider Family Chiropractic, just to see if he could offer some advice.  She explained the situation and was told that the doctor was working a half day and would see her without an appointment.  Unfortunately, the severity of the Vertigo made it nearly impossible for her to walk, even with assistance.  Upon hearing this, Doctor Schneider surprised us by saying that if she couldn’t get to him, he would come to us. 

After wrapping up back-to-back appointments, “Dr. Brian” postponed his long weekend a little while longer and drove to our house to see what  he could do to help.  Following a brief examination, he confirmed that Julie’s neck was locked up and the likely cause of her Vertigo.  He was able to make some adjustments that immediately reduced her dizziness.  Unfortunately, it also made her sick.  While Julie was reliving her breakfast, I made myself useful by holding her hair out of her face.  When she asked me to run for a towel, Dr. Brian took my place!  He then stayed for over an hour (far longer than a typical appointment) just to be sure that she would be O.K.  As he was headed out the door, Julie attempted to hand him a check for his services, which he refused to take on the grounds this was not ‘technically’ an appointment.  He wished us a happy New Year, and was on his way.     

Thanks to Dr. Brian Schneider of Schneider Family Chiropractic for inspiring my NewYear’s Resolution for 2010:  To better appreciate the people who make their living in service to others; and to more intentionally seek out opportunities to exceed the expectations of those who I serve.

If you are in need of great chiropractic care, and would like to experience the kind of service and caring that my family enjoys, I encourage you to contact Schneider Family Chiropractic:

Drs. Brian and Terri Schneider: 4835 Cascade Rd. Suite #2, Grand Rapids MI 49546; 616-949-9010; www.schneiderfamilychiro.com.

The Greatest Obstacle in Driving Healthcare Reform

September 28, 2009

I think that there can be little argument that “fixing” our national healthcare system, and providing access to basic services for every American (and/or resident) is the number one public policy issue in our nation, state, and community today.  There are literally hundreds of the smartest people in the country committing a significant percentage of that substantial gray matter to creating solutions that are politically, fiscally, and practically viable. 

In my work with Grand Valley Health here in Grand Rapids, I spend about 50% of my time talking to schools, churches, and social service organizations about the low-cost, direct access programs that Grand Valley Family Health Center’s offer through our Community Outreach initiative.  In this effort I am, for the most part, warmly welcomed.  It takes little explanation for these folks to recognize a helping hand when they see it.  In many cases the idealistic enthusiasm is overwhelming! 

Unfortunately, it is rarely the teachers, social workers, case managers, or ministers who are most in need.  These dedicated folks serve as conduits, helping the families they serve find the resources they need.  For their part, organizations like Grand Valley Family Health open their doors, offer free assistance in applying for the various programs, an forgo profits in order to keep costs as low as possible. 

In the last several weeks, Grand Valley Family Health Centers has hosted 2 Open House events, complete with free food, entertainment, prizes, balloons, free health screenings, and the opportunity to consult with health pros about resources for gaining access to a doctor.  I am sorry to report that despite an enormous amount of communication and promotion around these events, the attendance was… underwhelming.

Which brings me to the point of this post.  The greatest obstacle in driving healthcare reform in the United States, Michigan, and Grand Rapids is not partisan politics, greedy doctors, self-serving insurance companies, or the need for tort-reform.  Although ALL of these issues DO need to be addressed.  The greatest obstacle to driving reform in healthcare is APATHY!  For most of us, proactive preventative health falls way toward the bottom of our personal list of priorities.  When we do need to see a doctor, we have been conditioned to expect the “Wal-Mart” approach: fast, cheap, & convenient.  

We can have every physician, politician, economist, and MENSA Member in the country working full-time on fixing the Healthcare conundrum, and we will never move off square one until we can convince the general public to take a personal interest in their own health.

Accessing Healthcare in Troubled Times

September 23, 2009

On the off chance that you didn’t see the memo, the economy has been struggling a little bit recently.  A couple of days ago the Associated Press quoted recent Census statistics, saying that the number of people without health insurance in Michigan has grown to nearly 12% of the population, trailing only Alaska and New Mexico for the top spot in the U.S. 

I realize that this is not exactly new information for most of us.  However, there is a point of clarification that I believe needs to be made in the midst of the massive onslaught of health care news that we are  hammered by every day…  Are you ready for it?

“Health Insurance” and “Health Care” are two completely different things.  Loss of healthcare coverage is not necessarily an obstacle to receiving the important health services you and your family require. 

We are extremely fortunate here in West Michigan to live in a region of the country that consistently steps to the plate when it comes to supporting their neighbors in need.  Generally speaking, if you suddenly find yourself in a tough spot, chances are there is a group of people in Greater Grand Rapids that is ready and willing to lend a hand. 

Conversely, we are also a proud, hardworking, and independant group.  While these are all generally positive attributes, they can sometimes be obstacles to making connections in times of crisis.   Another challenge, that was pointed out to me at a recent public forum of healthcare professionals, is that service providers are not always as good at communicating their services as they are at delivering them.  In other words, how do people get educated on what assistance is available?   Sometimes availabile resources languish on shelves simply because those in need don’t know who or how to ask for them.

In an effort to bridge that divide, I offer this brief list of resources.  My list is primarily targeted at accessing healthcare services in the greater Grand Rapids  area.  But I would also like to open up the conversation to others, either providers or prospective recipients, to post comments and grow this list of resources in any way that improves access to those in need.  As additions are posted I will collect  and categorize them into one “master” list for general public use.

Direct Access Primary Healthcare Resources in Grand Rapids:

  • GVHP PrimeCare – Offered by Grand Valley Family Health Centers, PrimeCare is pre-paid visits with a doctor and offers 4 visits over a  12-month period for just $190.00.  Most standard primary care services, including sick care, annual physicals, x-rays, diagnostic lab services and discounts on over-the-counter medications are included.  There are no copays, deductibles, or pre-existing conditions.  PrimeCare is not insurance and therefore does not include care in an emergency room, with a specialist, or in-patient hospitalization.  Click on the link for more information: http://www.gvhp.com/news.php?id=93
  • Center for Family Health, West Michigan – The Healthcare Bridge Program takes care of your family’s routine illnesses and simple injuries for just $25 per appointment.  There are no insurance claims, and no need to move medical records.   The program is for 90 days following first appt.-no limit on visits.  To qualify you must have lost healthcare coverage.  Click on the link for more information: http://www.centerforfamilyhealth.com/index.php
  • MIChild – MIChild is a health insurance program. It is for uninsured children of Michigan’s working families. MIChild services are provided by many HMOs and other health care plans throughout Michigan.  For more information and to apply online click on the link: http://tinyurl.com/mfkqqz
  • Kent Health Plan –  Kent Health Plan Corporation is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization that was formed in May 2001. Its purpose is to provide innovative programs that improve access to healthcare for thousands of low-income people in Kent County without health insurance.  For more information, click on the link: http://www.kenthealthplan.org/ 
  • Cherry Street Health Services – Cherry Street Health Services provides Health Care to Grand Rapids area and surrounding communities.  In addition to medical care, Cherry street also offers dental care, nutrition, and social work services in several locations throughout the greater Grand Rapids area.  Click on the link for more information: http://www.cherryhealth.org

It’s About Relationships Stupid (Don’t Throw Out Your Rolodex Just Yet)

July 7, 2009

My apologies to James Carville & Bill Clinton for the unabashed paraphrase of their famous campaign slogan.  But it seems an appropriate title for what is on my mind. 

 I readily admit to being a Social Media neophyte.  There is much to learn and I have only just begun.  In an effort to assist my employer in navigating these new waters, I have been investing a good deal of my own time getting up to speed with the various Social Networking strategies now available through the web.  Ultimately I hope to be able to incorporate all this newly acquired expertise into the marketing recommendations I make for 2010 and beyond. 

 I am now active on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and (intermittently) on this blog – Healthcare Grand Rapids.  So far, my experiences have been pretty positive.  I have reconnected with literally hundreds of friends, relatives, former colleagues, and acquaintances through Facebook.  LinkedIn has exponentially increased the reach of my professional Rolodex and “analog” networking efforts. I’m still getting acclimated to Twitter, but have found some genuinely interesting people to follow as guides and advisors.  The jury is still out on the whole blogging thing, I’ll let you know 😉

 While there are plenty of contacts that I have made (and been enriched by) from outside my local community, most of the real relationships that I have developed and by consequence most of those who I would choose as future business partners have come about after I met those people in person. 

 A couple of practical examples:

 –    Yesterday, I attended a networking lunch that I learned of through LinkedIn & Twitter.  While there, I ran into a new friend who I had met through LinkedIn, and run into at other similar events.  I’ll call him Paul.  Because his name is Paul.  Paul’s company wants to do business with my company.  That is logical and to be expected.  Why else would we be there?  However, without any formal business relationship and with precious little reciprocation, Paul has without hesitation offered his expertise, and practical advise to me with no strings attached.  He even picked up my lunch check!  Paul’s boss has called me to schedule a sales call…  Do you think I’ll take that meeting?  Your darn right I will.  And who do you think will be at the top of my list if/when my employer is ready to make a purchase decision?

 –    I received a magazine in the mail today from a professional acquaintance.  I’ll call him Todd.  Because his name is Todd.  Todd and I met several years ago through a networking group that I facilitated at the time.  We were “friendly” competitors who shared a professional respect.  Our professional paths took different directions, but thanks to our overlapping social networks, we recently became reacquainted.  Todd sent me the magazine because he had read one of my blog posts and new that the subject matter would be of interest to me.  No preamble, no expectations, just thoughtful action and good solid interpersonal networking.  Rest assured that Todd would be top of mind the next time I see an opportunity to return the favor.

 Back in the Stone Age, when e-mail was still “cutting edge technology”, many popular business theorists of the day, including Tom Peters and Harvey Mackay made millions selling books and seminar tickets extolling the critical importance of  “actively working your Rolodex”.  The lesson of course, was that business cards are more than just 2”X3” pieces of cardboard.  They are a representation of real people; and the best way to grow your business with these real people is to be actively engaged and genuinely interested in them.  In other words, don’t fake it, be in relationship.

 This lesson bears repeating as it relates to Social Networking.  The Internet, regardless of your choice of platform, is still fundamentally a two-dimensional experience.  Business meanwhile, still requires some amount of three-dimensional engagement.  No amount of tweets, or “friends”, or widgets will alter that fundamental truth.     

 Thanks to Paul, Todd, and all those others in my network who “get it”.  I aspire to live up to your example.

Response to Recent MiBiz Article on Patient Centered Medical Home

June 23, 2009

An article entitled “Holistic less compartmentalization” was published in the June 22 edition of MiBiz.


This particular subject  happens to be one of my favorite hot buttons, and I felt the article deserved a response… 

First, allow me to commend MiBiz for their coverage of the Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) concept in yesterday’s edition. The PCMH approach is widely supported by payers, providers, and legislators (a feat which itself is worthy of news coverage). The potential that PCMH holds as a step toward reforming our ailing healthcare system makes it well worth the attention that it has received in recent months. Unfortunately, and much to my disappointment, Grand Valley Health Plan & Family Health Centers, and our leadership in this area, were not included in the report.

The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), through its Physician Practice Connections® program, has established a standard for recognizing physician practices as Patient Centered Medical Homes. In order to achieve recognition, practices must submit to a rigorous process of review and inspection of required standards, including use of patient self-management support, care coordination, evidence-based guidelines for chronic conditions and performance reporting and improvement. The majority of commercial health plans in the U.S. (including BCBSM and Priority Health) participate with the NCQA annually. (www.ncqa.org)

To date, there is only one primary care provider in the state of Michigan that has been formally recognized by the NCQA as a Patient Centered Medical Home: Grand Valley Family Health Centers (see media release at http://www.gvhp.com/news.php?id=181). Our ability to perform at this high level was integral to our recent ranking as the #4 commercial health plan in the nation (only Harvard and Tufts University Health Plans scored higher) in the 2008 U.S News & World Report/NCQA Quality Survey. This position also makes us the highest ranked commercial plan in Michigan; Priority Health ranked #15 and BCBSM [Blue Care Network] ranked #71.(http://tinyurl.com/2fkven)

My intention is not to take shots at BCBSM or Priority Health. On the contrary I have the highest regard for both organizations and our shared commitment to positively impacting the quality of health in our community. However, to describe their recent contributions to PCMH initiatives as “major drivers” would seem to be an overstatement. Accomplishing the practice standards and outcomes necessary to achieve formal NCQA recognition requires a wholehearted and long-term commitment at all levels of the organization. It reflects a methodical & dedicated approach to care that has been at the core of Grand Valley Health Plan & Family Health Centers’ operating philosophy since our founding nearly 30 years ago.

 In fact, BCBSM has developed a separate (and less stringent) set of PCMH standards from those supported by the NCQA. Participants in their program may then be considered a “patient centered medical home” without the need of submitting to NCQA guidelines. Which in effect creates a double standard, dillutes the value of PCMH recognition, and potentially undermines the concept’s original purpose. There is no doubt that BCBSM and Priority Health are the biggest commercial health plans in Michigan. However, at least where the Patient Centered Medical Home concept is concerned, it remains to be seen if bigger necessarily equates to better.

Grand Junction shows how a responsible health system can operate

June 19, 2009

By Henrietta Hay, www.GJSentinel.com

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Miracles do happen. Grand Junction was mentioned in The New Yorker magazine. And it has created quite a buzz in our part of the country.

It had to do with health care.

Health care is the important issue today. The president and both political parties are trying to find an acceptable answer, without bloodshed. That would definitely require health care.

We have had two events recently that have brought the issue to our special attention locally.

We all read that dreadful story about Nadya Suleman. She is the California woman who produced octuplets via in-vitro fertilization. For anyone who hasn’t had Latin, that means eight babies. She already had six children. I have no idea how much she has cost the health system, but it is probably in the millions.

Local physician, Dr. Michael Pramenko wrote an excellent column for The Daily Sentinel, which was the most rational piece I found on the subject. He used the octuplet event to make a strong point: There have to be three contributors to a health-care system for the system to work.

The patient needs to be responsible in his or her requests. Nadya was completely irresponsible and we are paying for it.

The physician has to be responsible for careful screening and sound medical practices. Suleman’s doctor should never have been permitted to do her fertilization.

And the government must be responsible, for it is footing the bill. That is to say, we are.

The second “event” which is creating quite a lot of interest here in Happy Valley was an article that appeared in The New Yorker June 1, written by Atul Gawande.

The Dartmouth School of Medicine has been doing research on health-care cost. Early on, the researchers found that McAllen, Texas, had possibly the highest cost rate in the country. In 2006, the average annual cost per Medicare patient there was approximately $15,000, twice the national average of $8,300.

By contrast, their further research found, in Atul Gawande’s words, “One of the lowest cost markets in the country is Grand Junction, Colorado, which has achieved some of Medicare’s highest quality-of-care scores.” And that was achieved for a cost of $5,800 per Medicare patient, making it one of the lowest in the country.

In the early 1970s, a group of local doctors got together with the goal of improving medical service for the entire community. They worked out fee inconsistencies. They agreed to meet regularly and start small peer review. Problems went down. Quality went up.

Then in 1974, they formed Rocky Mountain HMO. They jointly created an information network, a communitywide electronic recording system.

The two main hospitals here have been cooperative, taking special measures to ease financial problems and emphasize patient care.

Financially, one major item that has made a difference is that both hospitals and the HMO are “not for profit institutions.”

According to Dr. David Herr, former chief medical officer, Rocky Mountain Health Plans (formerly Rocky Mountain HMO) was almost sold some years ago to a private company. After serious consideration, the decision was made not to sell. As a result we continue to have a not-for-profit health plan in the community.

Not many communities have systems like ours. Gawande writes, “Like Mayo, it created what Elliot Fisher of Dartmouth calls an accountable care organization. The leading doctors and the hospital system adopted measures to blunt the financial incentive, and they took collective responsibility for improving the sum total of patient care.”

I dream of a country in which every city and town has a health system as efficient as ours. But dreams are cheap. Meanwhile, Congress and the president continue to battle and we don’t know yet what the result will be.

But quality pays sometimes. Recently Colorado was granted $4 million to install a system that would connect outlying areas to an Internet database for physicians to access patients’ medical histories.

My grandfather, making house calls around central Illinois in his horse and buggy, would be tremendously impressed by Grand Junction’s health community.

So am I.

Henrietta Hay can be reached by e-mail at henrietta.hay@gmail.com.


Healthcare Atwitter Over Social Networking

June 19, 2009

Thanks to Dan Dunlop of The Healthcare Marketer Blog (www.dandunlop.blogspot.com) for bringing this article to my attention.

By Elizabeth S. Roop
Radiology Today
Vol. 10 No. 10 P. 12

May 18, 2009

Some forward-looking healthcare organizations are working to include sites such as Facebook and Twitter into their marketing plans.

From YouTube and Facebook to Twitter, the University of Maryland Medical System has established a presence within the social networking world that helps the nine-hospital system connect to hundreds of potential new patients each day.

As many as 700 people per day watch the system’s 117 YouTube videos, which range from a four-minute promotional spot to interviews with medical experts, patient success stories, surgical Webcasts, and overviews of programs and services. Several of those videos also populate the system’s Facebook page, along with news, audio podcasts, commentary, and patient questions posted on the wall to which the system responds as appropriate.

The social networking system Twitter helps the medical system promote its latest educational offerings and other noteworthy activities in short messages called Tweets to its more than 540 followers and refer them to one of the other social networking sites for more detailed information.

“We’ve gained an additional audience that would never have come to our Web site,” says Edward Bennett, the University of Maryland Medical System’s director of Web strategy. “Right now, we’re tracking 650 to 700 videos watched per day on our YouTube channel. We also have videos embedded on our public site that get about 1,500 views per day. That [number] didn’t go down when we launched on YouTube.”

For the medical system, expanding its online presence to include the most popular social networking sites was a natural extension of its existing marketing and outreach programs. By creating online communities across which it can deliver tailored educational and informational materials, the health system has broadened its community boundaries to encompass the globe.

“It’s a question of the hospital deciding to extend its conversation and outreach by being on this media,” says Bennett. “Millions of people are on these sites talking to each other. Once in a while, those people are talking about us. They’re having the conversation, but if we’re not in the room, not on the site, they can’t call us over and say, ‘We’re talking about you. What do you have to say?’ These conversations are going on whether we’re in the room or not. It’s better to be in the room.”

See the complete article at: http://www.radiologytoday.net/archive/rt051809p12.shtml

— Elizabeth S. Roop is a Tampa, Fla.-based freelance writer specializing in healthcare and HIT.

Health care benefit costs increase 5 percent in Michigan

June 18, 2009

by The Grand Rapids Press

Wednesday June 17, 2009, 5:28 PM

GRAND RAPIDS — Health care benefit costs for Michigan employers are increasing at an average rate of 5 percent — slower than the national average, but still at rates much higher than inflation, according to a survey released today by employee benefit consulting firm McGraw Wentworth.

The survey, which included 100 West Michigan companies, showed the regional health insurance market is practically evenly split between Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Priority Health.

Average monthly costs for health plans in West Michigan ranged from $339 for a single person HMO to $1,202 for a family point of service plan.

First Round of Innovation Michigan Finalists Announced

June 16, 2009

From Michigan Business Review

Wednesday June 03, 2009, 8:00 AM

Michigan Business Review announced the first round of 2009 finalists in the company’s annual Innovation Michigan awards.

Expanding the event to include entries from across the state, the first round includes 26 finalists chosen by Business Review. A second phase of finalists will be announced later this month, including all statewide finalists.

Innovation Michigan winners will be announced during the exposition and awards event July 16 at Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus in Grand Rapids, 4:30-9 p.m. The exposition will include displays of finalists’ innovations.

To register visit our registration page.

Sponsors of Innovation Michigan include Clark Hill, Mercantile Bank, Michigan Works!, The Right Place, Stiles and Western Michigan University.

Fireboy Xintex – Grand Rapids
Heat Tranfer International – Caledonia
Immersive (Human Computer Interaction) – Grand Rapids
KVCC Wind Energy – Kalamazoo
Locus Development – Grand Rapids
Maestro eLearning – Kalamazoo
ZZZ Shirt LLC – Cedar Springs
KCC & WMU – Battle Creek and Kalamazoo
Active Plastics – Caledonia
A & B Packing Equipment – Hartford
Fulton Innovation – Grand Rapids
InformMed – Ann Arbor
Plumstone – Grand Rapids
Western Michigan University – Kalamazoo
Frederick’s Design – Grand Haven
Lakeshore Advantage – Zeeland
Employment Group – Grand Rapids
Corotech -Grandville
Business Intelligence Associates, Inc – Portage
Integrated Architecture – Grand Rapids
Mindscape – Grand Rapids
Select A Flush – Mattawan
Grand Valley Health Plan – Grand Rapids
ActiveSite – Grand Rapids
GiftZip – East Lansing
Grand Valley Surgical Center – Grand Rapids
AutoVan – Battle Creek