What’s In It For Me?

The following post is from Robert Polzoni.

If your hospital hasn’t won some kind of an award yet, what’s up with that? There are more awards out there for hospitals than reruns of “I Love Lucy.” In addition to the old standbys like HealthGrades, U.S. News & World Report and Thomson 100 Top Hospitals, many others are hitting the market including HCAHPS, Angie’s List, Zagat, and J.D. Power. We recently compiled a database of hospital awards and it totaled more than 300.

So, I’m going to assume your hospital has won some kind of an award. And, I’m going to assume that you’ve used that award to enhance your hospital’s brand in the market place.

In some cases, an advertising campaign featuring a new award makes sense, but sometimes it doesn’t. Awards are evidence of strong work in your organization whether it’s clinical, service-driven or other. When it is used as a supporting point in a marketing effort, awards lend legitimacy to claims of excellence. But when awards are the focus of the marketing effort, the promotion can become an exercise in self-aggrandizement.

When marketing an award to build a brand, hospitals must look at the marketing effort from the patient’s perspective – “What’s in it for me?”

It’s nice that your hospital won the Malcolm Bridge National Quality Award but how does that benefit your patients? And, I’d be willing to bet that none of your patients have even heard of the award and what it means for them.

So, it’s important for us, as marketers, to be judicious in determining what awards to market and how to build a bridge from the award to the patient. Some awards allow us to do that, others don’t.

In the end, the use of awards and rankings is often driven by hospital leadership – administration, the board, and top physicians. They are proud of their organization’s accomplishments and want to share them with the world. It’s our responsibility as marketers to make sure sharing these accomplishments is done in an effective and balanced way.


Advice on How to Destroy Your Reputation Using the Internet

The following post is from Stephen Texeira.

Everybody likes shiny, new things, right? After all, they’re new and, well, shiny. And it’s that very newness that makes joining Twitter,  Facebook and all those other online communities so tempting. I see a lot of companies dipping their toes into the waters of social media and then quickly pulling them out; Facebook pages with no updates in six months, Twitter accounts with thousands of followers and three tweets, and blogs that have nothing more than a welcome message. These are among the surest ways to damage your reputation online.

I recently came across an excellent synopsis of some of the more effective ways to damage your online brand, written by B.L. Ochman on whatsnextblog. Mr. Ochman suggests you undertake some or all of the following if you really want to mess things up:

  1. Start a Twitter account and then don’t use it — an even better suggestion than mine. He gives the example of @TimeWarnerCares. They currently have 571 followers (eight joined since Mr. Ochman’s post), no description of who they are and no tweets. Do they really care? It would seem unlikely. As Mr. Ochman so ably puts it, “If you don’t want to listen and respond, don’t start a Twitter account.”
  2. Don’t track your brand or monitor online in any way — apparently Mr. Ochman really has an issue with TimeWarner (TW) and hasn’t received any response to his complaints. So, TW is online and apparently wanting to care, but they don’t pay attention when people are talking about them. That’s like walking into a room and saying, “Aren’t I a grand guy?” and then walking out and letting the conversation continue without you. It’s unlikely that the conclusion will be that you are, indeed, a grand guy.
  3. Start a social media program without telling the staff — I would expand this to do anything public without telling the staff. This is great, because when the public calls with questions about some new program, the staff won’t have any idea what they’re talking about. This makes the company look incompetent and the staff look stupid. Everybody wins!

In reality, you have to work hard to ruin your reputation online. If you remember a few simple rules, you shouldn’t have any trouble staying in the game.

  1. Social media is like a raffle at a convention hall — you must be present to win.
  2. Social media has the same rules of conduct as any other type of conversation: be polite, respond when spoken to and treat people as equals.
  3. Social media mandates openness and honesty. This is actually true of any kind of media. With thousands of people talking about you online, you are unlikely to be able to keep anything secret for too long, so don’t try.
  4. Finally, social media is here to stay. The longer you think of it as a fad and drag your feet about getting involved, the more you look like you’re living in the 20th century.

It Costs a Lot of Money to Die Young

The following post is from Stephen Texeira.

Warning! This article contains a fair amount of cynicism. It may not be suitable for less mature audiences.

Apparently it costs this country’s health system a lot of money to have non-white people in it. That may not have been the primary point of the recent study Urban Institute, but that is essentially what they are saying:

We estimate that in 2009, disparities among African Americans, Hispanics, and non-Hispanic whites will cost the health care system $23.9 billion dollars. Medicare alone will spend an extra $15.6 billion while private insurers will incur $5.1 billion in additional costs due to elevated rates of chronic illness among African Americans and Hispanics. Over the 10-year period from 2009 through 2018, we estimate that the total cost of these disparities is approximately $337 billion, including $220 billion for Medicare.

If my understanding about the motivation for this study is correct, they are trying to produce an economic argument for doing something about the health disparities in this country. And they are very real disparities. African Americans and Latinos have higher rates of diabetes, stroke, renal disease and hypertension than whites. According to some information I found on the University of Cincinnati’s NetWellness website,

  • 251 per 100,000 African American males suffer from Prostate Cancer as compared to 167 per 100,000 white men.
  • 108 per 100,000 African American men suffer from lung/bronchus cancer as compared to 72 white men.
  • 68 per 100,000 African American men suffer from colon/rectal cancer as compared to 58 per 100,000 white men.

There are similar statistics for African American women, Latinos and Asians. Now I’m not an expert on this kind of thing, but I believe that this probably translates into shorter life spans. In fact a report from the Census Bureau showed that the primary cause of the disparities in lifespan between racial and geographic groups is early death from chronic disease and injuries.

Now I know that we all like money. And I know that it is often used as a great motivator for action. “Hey this is costing us money, let’s change it.” But when did money become a great motivator for change than death? I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess that these same fine people who produced the studies cited above have probably produced similar studies for years decrying the loss of life and decreased quality of life because of health disparities. And they probably did so in vain. Then one day some clever graduate public health graduate student decided that she might get more attention for the problems if she looked at them from an economic perspective.

I know, I’m being a bit cynical, but I warned you about that at the beginning of this article didn’t I? The Urban Institute has done a fine thing with this study, and I’m certain that there are people out there who are shocked by the price tag of these health disparities; shocked enough, perhaps, to do something about it. I just wish that those same people would be as motivated by black men dying of prostate cancer or Latino’s dying as a result of diabetes.

Health care reform at any cost?

The following post is from Stephen Texeira.

Quick, how much is a life worth? Are we talking big numbers? Small numbers? Incalculably large numbers? Is it ridiculous to even attempt to put a price tag on a life? Yes? I agree. But really, isn’t that exactly what we’re doing in this national debate on health care reform? Aren’t we trying to decide whether the cost of insuring all Americans is worth it? I doubt there is any serious participant in this debate who thinks that health insurance is bad, it’s really about who, how much and how? Right? Government versus private is really just another way of saying how much? So how much?

People are throwing around numbers close to a trillion dollars without having any idea what that means. I think that’s kind of dangerous. The average person in this debate hears a trillion dollars and thinks, “That’s too much. We can’t afford that. I don’t want my tax dollars going for that.”

So I have a solution. Let’s not talk dollars. Let’s not pretend to put a price on human life. Because, after all, we should be past that by now. Instead lets looks at a number that most of us can understand. 45,000. A big number, but one that we can probably grasp. But what is 45,000? According to a study that is about to be published in the American Journal of Public Health, 45,000 is the number of deaths per year that are associated with not having health insurance. Most towns in this country have fewer than 45,000 residents. We’re talking about eliminating (or letting die) a fairly decent-sized town every year because we don’t want to pay for health insurance.

So if you’re on that side — and that side includes everybody who hems and haws about how and whether to implement change — my question for you is this: how about your town? Or the town you grew up in? Or the town your parents retired to? Or what about the town where your son or daughter attends college? Can we get rid of one of those this year or next? Would you be okay with that? I’m guessing you wouldn’t. Perhaps you should rethink your “reasoned concern about this most recent health reform proposal.”

Doctors on Facebook? Pope Catholic?

The following post is from Stephen Texeira.

Over the last several months, we’ve been privy to more and more conversations, debates and discussions about whether doctors should be using social media, primarily Facebook. I have to say from the outset, just so there’s no ambiguity, that this is a pointless debate. There, I said. Now I’ll tell you why.

The reality is that doctors are on Facebook all over the country — thousands of them — and more of them are joining every day. Some of them are part of one of the many social networking sites just for physicians as well (sermo comes to mind). So when we ask the question of should doctors be on Facebook or should they be involved in social networking, the answer is irrelevant, because they are.

Now I’m not naïve, I know there are some real issues about doctors being on Facebook. One of the ones that we hear the most is that they will be inundated with requests by patients and will never have any peace. In fact, there was an article in the New England Journal of Medicine last month by a physician who expressed that very concern. But Facebook (or any kind of online communication) is not the problem.

Remember people, these are just tools that can be used well or poorly. Being on Facebook or friending somebody on Facebook does not commit you to communicating with them anytime they want to. Just like having a phone in your office does not mean that you will be talking to patients on the phone every day. And just like having patients in your office does not mean that you will see them all on time (oops, how did that slip in there?). Seriously, though, if you manage your communication well in one area and have set rules and expectations with your patients that are clearly stated, there is no reason to think that Facebook or email communication will be any different. Nor will it absorb more of your time, it will replace other forms of communication and most likely give you more free time.

On the other hand, if you don’t follow your own rules of communication well and aren’t adept at setting boundaries, don’t get on Facebook until you figure out how to do that better. Your problem isn’t Facebook, your problem is you.

The real question here is not whether you as a physician should be on Facebook, you clearly should and eventually (if you don’t retire first), you will. The real question is why aren’t you on it yet?

Let’s do it for him

The following post is from Stephen Texeira.

For anybody who has paid attention to politics even a little bit over the last 50 years, the passing of Ted Kennedy is a loss the full ramifications of which we will not know for a long time. Regardless of which side of the aisle you claimed for your political home, Senator Kennedy served as a beacon of conscience and integrity that made us all re-examine our actions and our motivations.

A champion for the poor and ignored, one of Senator Kennedy’s great regrets, according to many reports over these past days, was not accepting a compromise on health care reform offered by President Nixon more than 30 years ago. Instead, he held out for everything he wanted, and ended up with nothing.

We as a nation are now engaged in one of the most important debates of the past century. Should we attempt to reform an enormously complex and convoluted system that provides our nation with both the best and worst care in the industrialized world, and if so, what should that reform look like? These past few weeks have seen some of the most shameless and brazenly negative tactics — and a surprising dearth of real information — I’ve ever seen in a national debate. For an issue of this import that affects every single person in this country, this is inexcusable.

Which brings us back to Senator Kennedy. Whether you loved him or reviled him, you cannot deny the justness of the causes for which he fought. Nor can you deny the importance he attached to the provision of quality health care to every American. So let’s just stop. Right here, right now, stop. No more slanderous statements about the UK’s health care system, no more guerilla tactics at town meetings, and no more hamming it up for the cameras. Let’s sit down with our friends across the aisle and pass real reform that changes the way we deliver health care in this country.

Let’s do it today because tomorrow may be too late. Let’s do it today because it’s the right thing to do. Let’s do it today because it’s the last, best thing we can do for that man who fought so hard for all of us.

All the News (And More) That’s Fit to Post and How to Respond To It

The following post is from Robert Polzoni.

Where is news breaking these days?    More often than not, it’s breaking online.

Dr. Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson’s personal physician implicated in the singer’s death, posted his first remarks on YouTube and conducted his first interview with TheDailyBeast.com, one of the leading news sites on the Internet.

Two major sports stories broke this week on Twitter, quarterback Brett Favre signing with the Minnesota Vikings and major league baseball’s top draft pick, Stephen Strasburg, signing a $15 million contract with the Washington Nationals.

While not breaking news, a blog posting by a physician this week on the San Francisco Chronicle questioned hospitals’ billing practices. It created quite a stir online and within the industry.

Unlike stories that appear in the mainstream media, online news and blogs like these can spread like wildfire in a matter of minutes.

That brings me to my next point.   How should communicators respond to online breaking news and blogs?

First, monitor the news and blogs online.   Just as you skim through the morning newspapers or catch the local television news before work, you should be “Googling” to see if anything is being written about your organization online or what topics are being discussed that could eventually lead to your organization.

Second, if you discover something online that could impact your organization you must turn on a dime to respond to it.  Literally, every minute counts.

Third, make sure your response is posted online to the breaking news story in question or to a specific blog posting.   It does no good to contact or email the reporter or blogger directly.   The thousands and thousands of people reading that news story or that blog won’t see that.  They need to read your response.   You must  engage in the dialogue online.

An article this week in InformationWeek Healthcare reports that  hospital communicators are beginning to see the value of integrating social media into their communications and marketing plans.

Once the step is taken to enter the online world, the next step is to learn how to dialogue in it.