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screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-1-35-22-pmMy friends at Inspire.com sent me a link to this amazing article in STAT. The story is by Bob Tedeschi (@bobtedeschi).  Bob is a senior writer @statnews and focuses on patient and end-of-life stories. This article is titled “After he was gone, a shy man comes to life in words left behind.” It is remarkable. In short, this is the story of Stephen Wheeler, a man diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer, and the important contribution he made as an active member of online patient communities during his life. Much of this was discovered by his family after his death. They are now in the process of curating more than 1,000 pages of posts from Bob.

Although it is cliche to say that this is a “must read,” I highly recommend reading this story. It will give you a clear understanding of the role that online communities play in the lives of patients, and will demonstrate just how much patients value the opportunity to share with one another and to be heard. You’ll also see how Bob’s posts touched the lives of other patients facing a cancer diagnosis.

If you’re not familiar with STAT, it is a “new national publication focused on finding and telling compelling stories about health, medicine, and scientific discovery.” (STAT website)

The Common Cold Strikes

Over the last several weeks I’ve noticed that a large number of my clients and employees have come down with a bad cold. They have been dropping like flies.

We work in healthcare, so we should know how to deal with this kind of thing. If you are sick, stay home and rest. Recuperate. Above all, don’t try to be a hero and come to work when you’re sick; all you’ll do is pass on your germs to your co-workers. I get so annoyed when I see those cold medicine commercials on TV that promised to treat your symptoms so you’ll be able to go to work or continue with your routine. If you’re sick, you should rest and give yourself time to heal. Pushing through it is not a good solution.

Today I have a cold. A bad cold. Interestingly, last week I had three co-workers with bad colds who came to work and refused to stay home. They each eventually decided to take a sick day, but only after spending time in the office with a full blown illness. Believe me when I tell you that I encourage employees who are sick to go home and stay home! I was also in meetings with clients who clearly should have been at home but who claimed to no longer be contagious. I wasn’t convinced. If you need a good rationale for staying home from work when you’re under the weather, check out this article from Forbes, “Three Reasons to Stop Coming to Work Sick.”

In many ways, we have a warped perspective of health and healthcare in America. We need to start using common sense. When you’re not feeling well, is the best solution to rush to the urgent care and get a prescription for antibiotics, looking for the quick fix? Is it smart to dose yourself up with cold meds and then head to work? Or is it better to slow down for a couple of days and give your body a chance to recover? Drink fluids and get some rest. What’s so important that you can’t take care of yourself?

This phenomenon, where sick employees come to work, is known as “presenteeism.” Here’s an excerpt from an article about presenteeism from Harvard Business Review (October 2004):

“Presenteeism, as defined by researchers, isn’t about malingering (pretending to be ill to avoid work duties) or goofing off on the job (surfing the Internet, say, when you should be preparing that report). The term—which has gained currency despite some academics’ uneasiness with its somewhat catchy feel—refers to productivity loss resulting from real health problems. Underlying the research on presenteeism is the assumption that employees do not take their jobs lightly, that most of them need and want to continue working if they can.”

The same Harvard Business Review article cites a study that claims that presenteeism in the United States costs businesses more than $150 billion per year (Source: American Productivity Audit, Stewart). It’s worth noting that only some of that can be attributed to employees showing up for work with the flu, some bug or the common cold. But the point remains: people coming to work with a bad cold are not doing anyone a favor. Rather, they are most likely prolonging their illness and risking spreading that illness to their co-workers.

I’m done with my rant. Stay healthy. Wash your hands frequently. And if you’re sick, don’t come into the office! Do it for your co-workers.

A Season of Sharing

It is fitting that in this season of sharing, I found myself presenting this week at two healthcare conferences – sharing my thoughts on the state of healthcare marketing and providing what I believe is the prescription for a better way.

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-11-43-52-amSimply put, we need to stop mindlessly spewing content in the direction of consumers and begin to thoughtfully build community with niche audiences who will benefit from our quality health information and resources. Marketing should help people. We need to start creating marketing with value!

It is my perspective that most healthcare marketing is devoid of value. Traditionally, it has been narcissistic and hospital- or provider-centric, rather than patient-centric. Our advertising has not been of service to our constituents. If you’re not sure about this, I can show you hundreds of print ads, billboards and TV commercials that support my position on this. No doubt, you’ve seen these yourself.

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-11-26-42-amOf course, this is a reflection of our industry’s inward focus – something I see slowly changing; although, it is worth noting that patients still cannot book an appointment online at most hospitals in America. To be truly patient-centric, we have to overcome that type of barrier. I’ve heard Dr. Joe Kvedar, Vice President, Connected Health at Partners HealthCare, refer to this inward focus within healthcare as a “seller’s mindset.” Joe is the author of “The Internet of Healthy Things” and a man I greatly respect. Dr. Kvedar clearly sees how difficult it is to change the prevailing mindset in healthcare:

“Most of us on the healthcare delivery side have done well. So when you’re doing well you’re in charge. People think you have some special knowledge, i.e., you’re a doctor. That’s a pretty tough combination for change, because who would want to change that, it sounds like a pretty good gig to me. So we have to overcome some of that; again, these new payment models are helping us with that.” (Interview from HIMSS Connected Health Conference)

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-11-39-08-amSo here we are in this season of sharing, and I’m doing my best to share a vision of healthcare marketing as community building. If we see ourselves as community builders, it will change our perspective on everything we do. It means we will infuse our marketing with real value for the target audience. Our marketing will answer the “so what” question for consumers. Our communication will be infused with relevance! To say “We’re #1 in Quality” means nothing to consumers, especially when every hospital in the market is claiming to be #1 in something. Much of this bragging and chest pounding simply confuses the general public. If we want to promote quality, let’s tell consumers why quality it is important and what we mean when we say “quality.” And what does it mean to them and their family members? That’s just one simple example.

img_7557This week I was honored to speak at a Home Care and Hospice conference on Tuesday and at a Healthcare Marketing conference on Wednesday. Coincidentally, both conferences were in Charleston, SC, a great place to spend a week! The professionals who attended my sessions asked great questions and seemed to engage the information I shared with them. I am always grateful for opportunities to interact with healthcare professionals and find that I learn as much as they do, if not more. These people are on the front line everyday, and manage marketing, corporate communications, and public relations, with limited resources. They do all of this is a rapidly changing healthcare ecosystem. This is a challenging and exciting time to be a healthcare marketer. The desire to learn and grow is now a compulsory quality of the healthcare marketing professional; individuals who possess those qualities will likely thrive. I’m excited to be here at this moment in time and wouldn’t have it any other way!

Happy Holidays!

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-11-21-31-amThe best way to understand how to successfully manage an online patient community is to participate in one. Be a voyeur. Watch. Listen. Observe. And it doesn’t have to be a patient community; any online community will do. My daughter is a freshman at the College of Charleston and my wife and I have used the parents forum to get acclimated and learn important details about campus life (teenagers aren’t always good about sharing important information). As someone who moderates online communities professionally, participating in the online forum at College of Charleston has been an education. It has also been an affirming experience.

What I admire most about the people who manage the community and moderate the conversation is the patience and kindness with which they deal with worried, aggravated, and frustrated helicopter parents. As an observer, I am stunned by the mundane questions parents post on the forum. “Where is the bus station located in Charleston?” “How can my child get from the airport to their dorm?” “When is fall break?” Most questions could be answered in 10 seconds if the individual used Google or simply visited the College of Charleston website. And people keep asking the same questions over and over, rather than taking a second to review old conversations on the forum.

But the group moderators deal with the questions in a positive and helpful manner, never showing frustration. They are respectful and never cast judgment on the individual asking the mundane question. That’s exactly what it takes to be a successful online community manager.

Another element that contributes to the success of the community is the cohort of parents (two or three) who consistently chime in with helpful advice for the parents posting questions. I don’t know if these are paid Ambassadors or just extremely kind and helpful individuals. Whatever their status, they are the informal group leaders and familiar voices that can be counted upon to share their knowledge. Every successful online community has these leaders who step up and take it upon themselves to keep things moving in a positive and helpful direction.

Oh, and by the way, they talk about healthcare on the forum and parents ask for physician recommendations. This happens quite often. And it happens at nearly every college and university in America! Here’s one example looking for two specialists:

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Check out this response to a parent’s request for recommendations for an orthopedic surgeon. The response is coming from a fellow parent who took the time to compile all the information below:

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-6-29-17-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-30-at-6-32-17-pmThese online conversations are taking place and most of us are unaware. A good social media audit will uncover many of these platforms where conversations about health and wellness are happening.

Just as an aside, College of Charleston also has a family blog that I’ve found to be an excellent resource.

 

 

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-3-37-48-pmBecause I believe healthcare marketers and communicators have so much to learn from patients and patient stories, I spend a lot of time reading books written by patients or from the patient’s perspective. With that in mind, today’s book recommendation is somewhat of a departure for me. Trauma Room Two is a collection of short stories written by a physician – Philip Allen Green, MD. The stories are fictionalized, but draw upon Dr. Green’s career as an ER physician.

Through Dr. Green’s stories, the reader develops a better understanding of both the patient and the clinician. It probably won’t surprise you that the Emergency Department provides a rich setting for incredibly emotional life and death stories. Even if these stories are fictionalized, the drama and emotions are real. For me, reading a book like this gives important context for everything I do everyday to market services promoting health and wellness. It helps to remind me exactly why I’m in this line of work.

“In every hospital emergency department there is a room reserved for trauma. It is a place where life and death are separated by the thinnest of margins. A place where some families celebrate the most improbable of victories while others face the most devastating of losses. A place where what matters the most in this life is revealed.

Trauma Room Two is just such a place.

A collection of short stories about life in the ER.”

Trauma Room Two is a quick read. I read it a few weeks ago on a flight back from the Health Care Internet Conference (HCIC) in Las Vegas. And it is inexpensive – available in Kindle or paperback ($8.99). I highly recommend picking up a copy and adding it to your reading list.

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-2-04-22-pmIf you’re a fan of digital video content, you should be actively tracking video analytics. Without video analytics, you have no way of knowing what content is performing well and engaging your target audience. At my firm, we use Wistia as our video hosting platform. One of the reasons why we selected Wistia was because of the analytics it provides.

Wistia starts by providing high-level stats—account and project-level trends for our videos. Then it reports video-level trends and  gives data on total engagement, play rate, and action analytics. You can find detailed insights on how the video was viewed—both at the aggregate level through engagement graphs, and individually through heatmaps. You can also look at up-to-date views as they come into the view stream. Gain insights into all identified viewers on the Audience page, see the entire viewing history of a viewer on the viewer page, and manually identify viewers with identity tagging. Finally, Wistia allows you to export all these reports.

In the graphs below, you can check out analytics from a recent video I posted. This represents a day and a half of viewing. Please note that this is only a partial report.

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My team and I recently produced a video for one of our healthcare clients. The video, not for public consumption, communicated the value of internal community building and was used to introduce a community building project to employees of our client’s organization. Those employees would eventually play an important role in the project by participating in one-on-one interviews and specially crafted focus groups. The video does a nice job of touching on my thoughts related to the importance of building community within an organization, so I thought I’d share it with you here. I’ve edited out any specific client references and shortened the piece to just over 4 minutes.

 
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