The Future of TeleHealth


As population health continues to permeate across the health care landscape, providers are innovating viable, convenient and affordable care options.  The surge of telemedicine represents the future of highly accessible primary care.

Experts estimate TeleHealth’s worth will climb to $34.27 billion by 2020. It’s a very sought-after market and picking up steam as it moves from vanguard toward mainstream. The technology addresses a convergence of needs for patients, physicians and providers by:

  • Reaching patients where they are – virtually
    • Doctors and providers are changing the way they do business to stay current in a world dominated by smart phones and tablets
    • In fact, patients are using smart phones and tablets for more real time video doctor “visits”
  • Serving the behemoth-sized aging population
    • Health providers tout TeleHealth as a solution to meet the demands of a growing aging population with a limited supply of primary care doctors
  • Using technology that provides for long distance doctor consults
    • Kaiser Permanente is a major advocate of pushing more visits via smart phones, tablets, emails and videos
  • Having direct and immediate applicability with PCPs
    • Consumers take advantage of this type of service for diagnosis, prescription and advice
  • Allowing for solid co-branding opportunities
    • Cleveland Clinic partners with CVS MinuteClinic in Ohio to provide CVS customers with access to its experts for both online and mobile doctor visits
    • Depending the type of the medical need, the CVS nurse can recommend a follow-up consultation with a primary care physician from Cleveland clinic, who could be available within 10-15 minutes

Health care marketers will play an important role in the way hospitals, clinics and systems communicate the mainstreaming of TeleHealth. The communication narrative needs to focus on:

  • Quality Care
    • Patients see a top physician
  • Convenience
    • Rather than travel across country for expert care, patients can see someone virtually
  • Affordability
    • More routine consultations are ideal candidates for virtual appointments, rather than paying more for an in-office doctor visit
  • Availability
    • If TeleHealth goes mainstream, doctors will be freed up to spend more time with patients

The game-changing future of TeleHealth aligns with population health, as doctor check-ups evolve to virtual consultations from our living rooms.  How is your brand addressing a future with options on the horizon like TeleHealth? Have you begun to revise your brand narrative?  If not, we’d love to start a conversation.

Efficiently Bringing Healthcare Marketing Content to Consumers

The 2016 New England Society for Healthcare Communicators (NESHCo) conference promised a reboot and reimagining of health care strategy. And one thing is clear: We’re rebooting it with content, and lots of it. Content will win the day with meaningful consumer engagement, fostering new patient relationships and creating ongoing dialogue and brand loyalty.

Across the many valuable sessions 3 themes emerged for producing successful content:

  • Be Simple
  • Be Nimble
  • Be Practical

Be Simple

Dropping the medical language is mandatory to create useful content for consumers. Some tips to keep it simple include addressing concerns immediately, using laymen’s terms in describing conditions and procedures, and providing assurances to help ease the minds of worried patients. Get that out of the way first, then dive into more technical information as the topic requires. Some internal communications may be needed here to ease any provider concerns with simplifying language.

Be Nimble

The most relevant content aligns with real time opportunity. This means crafting content quickly to engage with emerging news or respond to consumer engagement related to existing content. In order to be nimble, have some processes in place that allow you to take advantage of content opportunities quickly. This might include ready access to a few key physicians or specialists that can provide soundbites, as well as pre-existing templates that can be immediately leveraged for new content. And remember, content doesn’t always have to come in highly produced video form (though that can be nice), so look for other vehicles to get it out fast.

Be Practical

Often health care marketers read “content” as “expensive.” Indeed, content cranking can easily become a drain on valuable time and resources. But speakers at NESHCo insisted that a marketing department of 3 people and limited budgets is not a good excuse. And we happen to agree. Control the content flood gates by beginning a pilot with a few best-fit service lines or initiatives. Supplement original content creation with strategic curated or syndicated content services that offer ready-made content carrying your brand. Finally, think ahead in planning campaigns about how materials can be repurposed for additional content use across your channels. Considering re-purposing needs in advance can set you up for success with a steady stream of content on the back-end.

We’re sure to review all kinds of rules of the health care content road as this topic continues to trend and evolve. But one thing is certain – the era of content in marketing is here to stay, and its health care strategists turn to get on board.

Key Topics from the 21st Annual Healthcare Marketing & Physician Strategies Summit



Being Chicagoans, Cows In Trees was quite proud of the outstanding summer weather we all enjoyed as a great backdrop to the 21st Annual Healthcare Marketing & Physician Strategies Summit.  

Energy and bustle were in the air as we came together to learn, share and network with like (and better yet, unlike) minds. All in all, a very engaging and productive time together. Here are the four topics that caught our attention from the Summit:

Content, Content, Content

So many breakout sessions focused on content, and other sessions included content as part of their case studies. Wendy Wilson of Geisienger told us that consumers aren’t looking for facilities first. Instead, they are searching for and sharing information about treatments relevant to their needs, and seeking overall satisfaction with their physicians. We later learned how The City of Hope has created a “content scout” position to seek new, relevant and reliable content.

Key Takeaway: More engaging content that educates and fosters conversation has stopping power and helps drive SEO.

Brand Engagement in the Digital World

We heard from Jackie Weder of Southeast Georgia Health System on how the role of health care brands has evolved from storytellers, to editors, to engagers.  Jackie shared strong examples of the powerful transition taking place within her organization to make the brand conversation a two-way street. Brands have developed beyond just creating content, and are now making genuine connections.

Key Takeaway: It was best summed up by Lisa Stockman of City of Hope — don’t just make content, look to nurture relationships in order garner new patients and drive commerce.

The Emergence of Health Care “Switching Strategies”

We all know that population health has led a new consumerism among patients. According to Linda MacCracken, while consumers find provider-switching a hassle, the digital economy enables consumer exploration and shopping, causing switching to increase. Marketers are responding to this dynamic by focusing on the intersection between patient experience and social engagement. They aim to minimize the number one barrier to consumers making health care decisions: confusion. Suzanne Hendery of Baystate Health says Edutainment is the way to go – educate and entertain at the same time to make information more interesting.

Key Takeaway: Meet patient prospects where they research and gather information to build meaningful, transparent engagement. Then show then why your organization can best meet their needs better than any other.

Big Data & Real Time Dashboarding to Drive and Impact Results

Avinash Kaushik, Digital Evangelist for Google and Wednesday’s keynote speaker, said that creating the best content requires creating the best dashboards to make better decisions and show sustained value. Traditional conversion funnels do not work and marketers should stop shoving people down them. People simply do not behave in manner they used to, so we must seek an alternate approach. He discussed how to develop sound analytics dashboard around the central elements to See, Think, Do and Care.

Key Takeaway: Don’t just regurgitate data and make it pretty. Set a plan in place ahead of time aligned with marketing intent, figure out what the results mean, make real time adjustments.

We know there were other topics buzzing around and would love to hear your take. As always, kudos to the outstanding job by Judy Neiman and her amazing staff at the Healthcare Strategy Institute for making the 21st Summit the biggest and most successful to date!  We look forward to seeing everyone in Austin, April 24-26 2017.

The Convergence of Wellness & Consumerism in Health Care


The relevancy of current health care brands is under distress in the era of population health given the collision course of these two concepts: Wellness and Consumerism. On the one hand, value-added health care is rooted in the paradigm shift to keep populations well and minimize hospital intervention.  On the other, given more patient financial responsibility and higher deductibles, consumer control and choice is greater than ever when “shopping” the price of health care.

Each concept is significant enough alone to merit an evolution in aspirational brand positionings.  However, it is somewhat daunting when both concepts need to be addressed. Here are some suggestions to consider when calibrating your brand moving forward:

4 keys to help health care brands embrace Wellness

  • Simplifying health care communications and interactions with older America will be a big winner moving forward
  • Moving beyond the squishy concept of wellness to demonstrating and supporting specific health improvements in daily life
  • Focus on the core demos of middle age and older Americans with key aspirational themes like:
    • This group is growing and not fading
    • 60 is the new 40
  • Evolve health care connection to life partner connection

4 ways to help align your health care brand with Consumerism

  • Demonstrate tangible quality outcomes through positive physician experience, strong hospital cleanliness and quality ratings and high patient satisfaction
  • Address patients’ priorities by providing the right care in the right setting at the right cost complete, providing cost estimates directly to the consumers
  • Accommodate patients busy lives by working around their schedules rather than the traditional approach that favors the hospitals. Several key examples are extended hours and same-day appointments.
  • Given the proliferation of free-standing, physician-owned clinics, walk-in clinics and retail drugstore clinics, understand the price elasticity of these types of services as not to be priced out of the market. While operations departments work on pricing efficiency, communicate the key benefits of your services over the competition that are most relevant to consumers.

The branding challenge to remain relevant is not only for hospitals, but insurers too.  Cleveland Clinic and Humana are examples of health systems and insurers taking real steps in the evolution of their brand. These and others are forming the vanguard of health care entities that understand the need to optimize their brands in the face of real and substantive change in health care across these two fronts.

Hopefully your health care entity is addressing the convergence of Wellness and Consumerism with real proof points in both areas and an aspirational brand positioning that can become real very soon. If you feel your entity is lagging in either area, we have experience with optimizing brands in the challenging times of population health and would love to start a conversation.

Health Care Ride Share

Intersection of the new contract economy and wellness providers to meet the changing ACA-driven landscape.


H&HN Magazine recently reported about health systems partnering with ride sharing services Uber and Lyft in order to help patients find reliable transportation for their appointments. It’s important for health care communicators to understand why that’s not surprising and how the new model of health care will continue to drive health providers to innovate around new ways of engaging with patients.

In the old model of health care, providers paid attention to lapsed appointments because preventing them was one of the closest-in opportunities to meet volume goals. In the new model of health care post-Affordable Care Act, providers still want to make sure that patients keep their appointments, but with a goal of keeping them well – reducing the likelihood of readmission, and helping to keep the general population protected from the preventable spread of disease or infections.

These new goals, rather than previous volume goals, continue to play a larger role in health care provider payment structure and are redefining the patient-provider relationship. So, it makes sense that providers will go to even greater lengths to ensure patients get the care they need to stay well. That’s where programs like rider sharing partnerships emerge in the case of providers like MedStar Health. According to H&HN:

Since the partnership launched in January, a “Ride with Uber” link has been placed under “What’s Trending Now” on the website, providing patients with reliable door-to-door transportation to doctor appointments. They simply enter their pick-up location, the MedStart [sic] provider location and date of appointment. Another feature allows patients to set and receive automatic reminders an hour before their appointments, in addition to being able to know wait times and the approximate cost of the rides.

If ride sharing companies can partner with appointments, they’re not far off from delivering prescriptions. UberMEDS anyone? And if online food ordering services like Sprig or Blue Apron can deliver nutritious fresh foods, how long will it take for diabetes specialists to partner with these services for delivering on patients’ unique diet needs within the context of a convenient service already available to them?

Well-care is about meeting people in the communities where they are and helping them be the healthiest version of themselves. It’s not a task physicians, nurses, therapists or other health professionals can accomplish on their own. And in today’s new economy, they have an increasingly large pool of partners who can support them.  Your marketing communications partners should be offering you support in this area as well, communicating innovative new services with equally innovative and effective tactics and bringing some of their own ideas to the table based on market opportunity and needs.

Is your organization ready to empower wellness through today’s new contract economy? Tell us how below in the comments.


3 Ways to Live Your Pediatric Brand Through Evidence-Based Design

Bringing your health care brand to life within your walls can always be challenging. And with smaller patients come both greater challenges and importance in bringing your brand to life through your facilities.

A pediatric care facility must balance the delivery of state of the art care with the feelings of assurance, warmth and comfort. It must engage, delight and provide fun while meeting the special needs of children and their families. There is little room for error and the design needs to be uncompromising to advance the emotional and physical healing that’s true to your brand experience.

Here are 3 ways your brand can strongly connect with pediatric patients and their families through facility design:

1. Smaller Means Bigger

It seems like children would need less space simply by their smaller size. However, spaces actually need to be bigger to stock the variety of sizes of equipment and other items needed when treating children ranging from neonatal to teenagers. The same goes for the range of medicines in the pharmacy and technology in the rehabilitation center as just a few examples. The bed sizes also need to either adjust or switch to accommodate the different development stages and ages.

Branding Opportunity: In patient rooms, accent the room in a way that delivers on the emotional connection your brand is trying to convey. Items such as posters, brochures, even screen savers and meal menus should all have a strong branded feel.

2. Think Family Center

When it comes to pediatric care, the young patient comes with the family almost every time. So, family support locations are essential, as well as playrooms and school rooms. Newer facilities have space for family meal times and have “meet and greet” private family gathering areas.

Branding Opportunity: Consider highlighting the Family Center with colors that exude your brand’s personality through the furniture, pictures and wall accent colors. Include branded materials in the form of table tents and brochures for both the parents and the young patients.

3. Broad Appeal that “Hugs” Everyone

Cutting edge facilities are designed to treat both the long-term patients familiar with the health care environment as well as infrequent or first time patients. The facility design needs to speak to both groups from “frequent visitor” check-in kiosks to the more comprehensive registration area. Additionally, the designs of many pediatric facilities are being redone to appeal across all ages and generations of visitors and guests. While kid prevalent, the facility has to be more than just a kid’s environment – a tricky but important balance to strike.

Branding Opportunity: Consider wrapping the welcoming hugs in a “brand messaging environment” such as videos and music to set the brand tone when patients enter your facility. Prepare brand scripts for the receptionists and staff to use that pull the brand experience into one-on-one interactions.

Children’s hospitals require special attention to deal with the special needs of their young patients and families. Does your pediatric facility infuse your brand into the onsite patient experience? We would welcome to hear more about the way your brand is delivering on your promise for the children and families through facility design and innovation.


Your Hospital Brand and the Care-Giving Conundrum

With many Americans living longer lives, the issue of costly long-term care for loved ones is real and more daunting than ever. You would suspect that the majority of the responsibility falls to the Boomers and you would be correct. However, a formidable percentage of Millennials has had to step up, too. In fact, over 25% of those providing care for their parents are between 18 and 34 years old, according to the AARP Policy Institute. With over 40 million of Americans claiming to be caregivers in 2013, the likelihood for additional Millennials playing this role moving forward is a given. Continue reading

Integrating Digital Design in Health Care


A Case of the Common Challenge

Creating integrated designs across traditional and digital media can be daunting for hospitals and health systems that are battling marketing budget cuts, lack of centralized resources, or even lack of resources at all. While we pretty much understand how to leverage design and messaging across traditional venues, the challenge is to extend the work across myriad of digital platforms. And this delivery of your message must be seamless across all venues to best represent the brand to your consumers.

First, a clear understanding of the patient journey is required to capture the relevant traditional and digital touch points in need of brand integration. The first several steps in the patient experience set the tone and inspire confidence throughout the entire journey. That’s because if the patient experience is fluid and clearly represents your brand, then all the touch points along the way are in harmony and the result is an engagement that is truly satisfying.

So, how can you effectively evolve your brand from traditional venues to digital media? Here’s the prescription for this case of the common challenge – equal doses of continuity, consistency and connection:

 Continuity Among Internal Stakeholders

This is the foundational step and sets the expectations of what’s to come.

  1. Develop Your Brand Strategy
    • Conduct research among key stakeholders
    • Capture their current beliefs
    • Identify their aspirations
  2. Overcome Internal Challenges
    • Develop an execution strategy
    • Rely on your sequencing plan
    • Have proper resources in place, going externally if needed
    • Anticipate the politics
  3. Build Your Arsenal
    • Develop graphic standards
    • Create brand book
    • Prepare and provide templates across commonly used vehicles
  4. Market Your Marketing Internally
    • Clearly communicate your brand to internal audiences
    •  Instill the need to maintain a unified look across everything
    • Provide resources to be used when executing
    • Communicate results internally and explain their relevance

Consistency of Message

Message consistency begins with a well-crafted, concise brand brief. The brief serves as a blueprint for all internal and external folks who will develop any communication for the brand.  It is important to understand how to effectively develop brand briefs that account for the full suite of communication materials.

  1. Before Developing the Brief: Some important pre-work is necessary to understand the latest about your organization, your target audience and your competition:
    • Conduct a SWOT
    •  Update target profiles and trends
    • Assess competitive landscape
  2. Aligning Brand Strategy: Make sure your internal leadership agrees to the key components of your brand and affirm that it is relevant to your patient prospects:
    • What are the personality traits of your brand?
    • How do your patient prospects feel after engaging with your brand?
    • What are your most important, differentiating functional benefits?
  3. The Creative Brief: For optimal messaging outcomes, make sure your brief addresses these key areas
    • Objectives
    • Target Description
    • Key Consumer Insight
    • Main Message
    • Support Points
    • Tonality
    • Mandatories
    • Considerations (such as the need to work for future digital executions)
  4. Looking Forward
    • Review and refresh on important organizational / brand standards and themes prior to embarking on developing any new materials
    • Evaluate previously created materials when creating new elements
      • Ensure consistency
      • Determine which elements of messaging and design have been most effective, are most “on-brand” and should be maintained moving forward

Connecting The Brand To Where Your Consumer Is Engaging

Creating a holistic approach that creates an emotional connection needs to consider both traditional and digital tactics. Here’s how you can begin to approach this from a design perspective:

  1. Identify Distinct Visual Elements
    • Develop a list of visual cues to consider for use across your messaging that alert your target to your brand
      • Fonts
      • Colors
      • Design elements
      • Headline treatments
      • Photography style; subject matter; composition
      • Copy length and placement
      • Execute Strategically
  2. Maintain your key equities as you evolve into the digital space
    • Key distinct visual elements
    • Tonality
    • Messaging
    • Embrace Digital Universe
    • Lead with user experience
      • Responsive design
      • Content and conversion best practices
  3. Consider current on design trends that may warrant evolution of your digital creative

So, there is a cure for the common challenge of communication integration across traditional and digital media. It requires a thorough brand check-up, strong oversight and equal doses of continuity, consistency and connection. What’s worked for you brand?


patient reviews

The Usefulness of Physician Online Reviews

The practice of online reviews isn’t surprising and is just a natural extension of the proliferation of categories and services consumers regularly provide and read reviews in the spirit of making better-informed decisions. Most health care providers have felt the pressure building to support or strategize around patient reviews of hospital and doctor visits.  If you’re considering a strategy around reviews or just beginning, here are 4 factors to consider:

1.    The Ground Swell is Evident

75% of patients start their health care search online. Yelp statistics show health makes up to 6% of its reviews, more than hotel, nightlife or auto categories. Nearly 50% read online reviews before they make an appointment.*

“This is the fastest growing trend in health care” according to Andy Ibbotson, Vice President at Lincoln; Nebraska-based National Research Corp. NCR converts patient satisfaction surveys into online ratings for hospital websites. “More and more reimbursement is being tied to patient satisfaction.”

2.    Can Online Reviews Translate Effectively in Health Care?

The value and credibility of reviews are always left for interpretation by the readers across any given category. But validity of review is easier to assess in some categories. For example, we all are relative experts when it comes to dining out or what’s important when selecting vacation destinations.  Most reviewers can likely provide a reasonable and informed report on restaurant ratings like food presentation, quality, waiter competency and overall ambiance.

But can that same relative expertise hold true in world of physician online reviews.  Yes, we all can provide our observations on the basics like bedside manner of staff, wait times and appearance of the facility. Beyond that, most consumers do not have sufficient knowledge to review the efficacy of the trained medical experts’ evaluation and treatment for an ailment or malady that is unique to a specific patient. So what can be done to embrace and manage physician reviews in  a way that does not perpetuate misinformation?

3.    Pro-Active Stance of Hospitals Will Lead to Actionable Reviews

Well, hospitals like Inova Health System and MedStar Health are pro-active in encouraging ratings and unedited comments around their physicians on their websites. Children’s National Health System will also go live soon with its first phase of offering patient online ratings for its doctors.

To be a valuable resource to patients, the accuracy of ratings are paramount. For that reason, MedStar requires the feedback be gleaned from at least 30 patients before the information is published. The only data withheld from publication is that which is considered to be inappropriate, libelous or revealing patient information.*

4.    Transparency Prevails

The future of health care relies on constructive feedback and transparency. A big part of that transparency is full access to patient input on their experiences with the physicians and the hospitals. Carefully considered feedback can only be a win-win – as it truly benefits the patients, physicians and providers.

The time is now to define or redefine your online review strategy to ensure you’re prepared to usher in this new age of peer health care reviews. With some careful planning you can transform the process from passive, scary and sporadic events to engaged, constructive conversation.

*Source: Reed, Tina. Washington Business Journal. “This health care giant just jumped into the online review world”

Medical Expenses? Get Real.

Now Comprehensive Care Can Come At Too High A Cost


The ongoing trend in health care right now is all about consumers taking control during the high-deductible, accountable care era. Let us set the stage for you.

You have an emergency and go to the hospital. The people caring for you are not covered in your insurance network and you are bombarded with surprise medical bills that have high price tags. You didn’t ask for someone not in your network. If it is mandated to have insurance coverage, why is this even happening?

Consumers are changing their reactions to this situation. We consistently keep a pulse on large-scale “macrotrends” from our Iconoculture partner, and one is called “Get Real”. Consumers have had it with being told what they think and want. They’re standing up for themselves with a clear compass of what’s right for them. Before, they used to accept charges, or maybe they didn’t even examine them. But now, patients (and the government) are doing something about it.

Consumers are becoming active participants in their health care by taking advantage of the information available. This means they are more diligent and research-oriented. They are also working to understand all ins and outs of their bills. The net result is patients are getting tired of hidden medical costs. They are beginning to ask questions about payments, looking for itemized receipts and expecting explanations for every charge.

States are starting to take notice of this new trend. New York, for example, has stated that it is unfair to require insurance coverage then surprise patients with additional medical bills. So under new law, patients are generally protected from owing more than their in-network copayment for surprise out-of-network bills.

The net result is that patients are driving this industry. And what does that mean for health systems? A shift in communication. They need to communicate differently to give these patients a sense of control and appeal to all their new values of confidence, trust, savvy and integrity.

This translates to providing transparent, empowering experiences. Provide patients avenues to take control across all channels– searching and providing reviews, transparency and active involvement in the billing process and opportunities to own their own patient experience.

So now, more than ever, patient engagement is key. Engaging patients through functional online portals, personalized communications, self-assessments and a variety of options for collaboration and delivery of care, can help to command the attention and business of this control-demanding patient. Fail to adapt and risk losing current and prospective patients. Comprehensive care can now come at too high of a cost.