Field Notes from SHSMD 2018 – The Future of Hospital Marketing

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Christine Varela

Oct 19, 2018

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I recently attended and spoke at the 2018 SHSMD Connections Conference, the country’s biggest gathering of hospital marketers.

The conference is a place to discuss industry trends in marketing, planning, business development, communications strategy and physician relations.

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I was delighted to present with Julie Akers from Madison Health in Ohio about how rural hospitals can complete with larger health systems in major markets (I’m happy to share those strategies if you connect with me!), but for this blog, I wanted to recap some of the major themes and ideas discussed across the conference this year.

In short—technology is disrupting and transforming not only health care, but the ways health providers market their services.

This probably isn’t a shock at a thematic level, but the prevalence of new technology causing industry-wide change can’t be overstated. Here are some of the most prominent examples of technology at work in health care communications and implications for hospital marketers.

Consumers (especially Gen-Y and, soon, Z) have an expectation for access to health through tech.

If there’s one thing that professionals working across the health care spectrum agree on, it’s that health care as an industry is late to the technology party. As millennials and Gen-Xers inevitably become larger consumers of health care, they will demand convenience through technology as they’ve come to expect in literally every other industry.

For example — did you know the AI chatbot virtual health assistant market is expected to exceed $1.5 billion by 2024? Juniper Research suggests the investment will end up saving hospitals money over time — saving an average of over four minutes on each new patient inquiry, equaling to cost savings of $.50 – $.70 on each interaction. Virtual health assistants are still an emerging technology in health care, but, again, not for other industries.

Health care has a lot of catching up to do to retail, hospitality, travel and other industries who have successfully integrated apps, online booking, service browsing and submitting information digitally from the convenience of home. The industry is inching forward as it explores chat functionality, virtual reality tours of facilities and responsive websites with concise information, but health care is still a dinosaur and needs to learn from the work other industries in how information is presented and captured from consumers. And, using technology to identify patients, diagnose them, treat them, and how we think about where and how care should be delivered.

The hospital that makes changes today will be ready for the wave of future patients who will expect more from their health providers.

Largest systems leading the way — how mid and small hospitals can keep up.

Of course, it’s easy to say that hospitals need to integrated more technology into the patient engagement operations, but tricky to accomplish. First, because health care is a massive ecosystem of multiple dataflows stacked on top of and each other and interwoven throughout, but also because technology infrastructure doesn’t come cheap, especially for mid and small-sized hospitals who need to invest capital into expanding service lines and facility upgrades.

Where should these smaller hospitals start in the quest to adapt newer technologies? Start by staying in tune with what the larger systems are investing in, the new programs they’re rolling out to engage with patients at the hospital and to drive patient acquisition through marketing.

Technology is a costly enterprise to integrate at the beginning of tech’s life cycle, but as it becomes more established and productized, it can be much more easily purchased and built into your infrastructure for a lower cost investment. Pay attention to resources like SHSMD for case studies of how larger systems are adapting new technology into their marketing and their operations, and travel the path already blazed.

It can be a grind for hospital marketers — ways to refresh enthusiasm and strategic ideas amid change.

Amid so much tumultuous industry change, many hospital marketers we see at SHSMD beyond are overwhelmed, frustrated and confused about next steps to help drive patient acquisition and retention. We often see marketers second-guessing their strategies under the pressure of questions like ROI and newer, shiner tech emerging every year.

We offer this advice — remember that even though health care is in the midst of radical evolution (and we’re really just at the start of how technology will transform this industry) you can afford to play the long game with when and how to adopt technology. You can do it incrementally.

Marketing doesn’t make operational decisions so you can only affect so much, but you can bring your leadership team and operations teams learnings from resources like SHSMD and case studies of how new strategies are driving the bottom financial line for other systems. You can explain to doctors why building relationships with referral physicians is a better investment than billboards. Weeding out some older, time-consuming tactics to focus on bigger, strategic investments is an endeavor that requires buy-in from all the stakeholders within the hospital.

For more about what SHSMD members had to say about these trends, read the official SHSMD blog.

If you’re curious about any of these topics or other ways we’re seeing hospitals successfully differentiate to create greater market share, drop me a note!

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Photo courtesy of SHSMD
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