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Core Exchange: How and When Health Risk Assessments Fit Into Your Marketing Campaign

Using digital tools to engage more patients in their care

Alyssa Carter, director of marketing at Wellsource, and Laila Waggoner, Core Health’s senior healthcare strategist, roll up their sleeves to dive into healthcare risk assessments (HRAs). They cover how HRAs can be an effective tool to engage patients in their care, when to use an HRA in your marketing strategy, and explore your organization’s options when introducing an HRA to your market.


  • Core Exchange | Alyssa Carter - Wellsource

You can listen to the podcast episode using the player embedded below, or you can read a full transcript below. Be sure to subscribe to Core Exchange on Apple Podcasts.


Episode Transcript:

Laila Waggoner:

Welcome to the Core Exchange, a podcast for healthcare marketers. I'm Laila Waggoner, Senior Healthcare Strategist with Core Health, Core Creative's specialized healthcare marketing practice. We are so pleased to have Alyssa Carter from Wellsource with us today to talk about health risk assessments and how and where they fit in the marketing mix. Alyssa, welcome to the Core Exchange.

Alyssa Carter:

Thanks for having me.

Laila Waggoner:

So for those who aren't familiar with you and with your organization, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and about Wellsource?

Alyssa Carter:

We are essentially a health technology company. We focus on health risk assessments. I've been here for about four and a half years, and we joke that Wellsource is the world's oldest startup because we're very lean and mean, but our founder actually created the company back in the late seventies when he created the first online health risk assessment. So really up until the last few years, our bread and butter has really been focused on health risk assessments for the population health space, so really looking to of employee health, working with health plans, wellness companies, et cetera. So our mission has always been to help people live longer, healthier, and happier lives. And we wanted to extend our reach beyond prevention and start designing assessments with a bit more focused topics that can help people who might be seeking care around a specific condition that might be inhibiting them from living their healthiest and happiest life.

So that's been our focus for the last few years, which is just creating these condition specific assessments that can help patients determine their risk levels for conditions they may need intervention on, whether that is getting to a healthy weight, determining where they stand with heart health, or even assessing their pain levels with things like orthopedic care options, et cetera. So yeah, that's a little bit about Wellsource, and of course me being the Director of Marketing there, I work with clients who are looking to use these health assessments in their marketing mix and find ways that they can engage patients and move them through the continuum of care.

Laila Waggoner:

Yeah, that's great. It's really interesting, I think, that you have your roots in population health, which is such ... To have been thinking about that, that long ago, it's interesting because it's now finally, I think, becoming a more common topic, and every health system is looking at ways that they can really help keep their communities healthy, and think about it from the prevention side. But the thing I think that we have noticed a lot of coming out ... well, crossing fingers, coming out of COVID, but certainly as health systems have returned to more regular care, is they're certainly thinking about how to get patients back into care and how to get them more engaged. And so I'd love to talk a little bit, even at a higher level, about the challenges of reaching today's healthcare audience. It's such a different kind of space, maybe, than it was when Wellsource first started. And what are you seeing as your clients are talking to you about how to reach people?

Alyssa Carter:

Yeah, it's really interesting because ... So I mentioned we've been in this space for a long time, right, 40 plus years. And it was fall of 2019 when we started making these more targeted assessments to help some of our marketing clients who had been asking us about this. And so we actually launched this product right in line with COVID. So the timing ... We did have people who, right pre COVID, were trying to bring patients in, et cetera, but then the world ... Everything changed. Right? And so over time ... and we even saw people really starting to engage with us more as we thought things were getting better last summer, whatever it is. So it's been a lot of ups and downs, and like you said, fingers crossed, right? Now, we're entering this quote unquote post COVID ... It's always going to be a part of the world, but we are really seeing a lot of people now coming in and they want to use more digital tactics.

I think one of the things that COVID did was it shone the light on how imperative it is for us to do things digitally, whether that's telemedicine, getting ways to engage people online. And so that's where I think more and more people have been coming to talk to us about health risk assessments, because it is a way to engage the patient digitally. So someone who may not necessarily be coming in regularly for their annual exam and talking to their primary care provider about different ailments they might be having, but somebody who might be able to softly see something online, answer some questions about their health, or maybe issues they're having around a particular chronic disease, or maybe pain they're having, and be able to sort of see their results online there.

And then from there, take action or give the healthcare marketer the ability to get more data on that patient so that they can market to them more effectively, or get them in for the care that they need or may have been neglecting, especially during COVID times. I can't remember the exact stat, but tons of research came out now just around people who put off prevention for breast cancer. We have the breast cancer HRA.

Laila Waggoner:

All the screenings.

Alyssa Carter:

Yeah, screenings, et cetera, and just seeing different service lines really needing to try to drive revenues back up, specifically high generating service lines, like orthopedic or bariatric, because people just ... They weren't coming in for years. And so now, I think marketers are just trying to find new ways to engage and get people to, feel more comfortable coming back in, but also give them a reason to. Right? And maybe that reason is because this person is experiencing a healthcare problem that they just haven't made time to come get fixed or looked at.

Laila Waggoner:

I'm curious, when you get approached from a healthcare marketer, what questions do they have starting out? What are the things that you maybe have ... questions that you have for them that they need to think about before just saying, "Oh, let's just do a health risk assessment"? It's not that simple. Right? Tell me a little bit about how that conversation goes.

Alyssa Carter:

Yeah, it's funny. I get such a broad array of questions, anywhere from someone who thinks they want to do an HRA, they know all about it. They think it's going to be this magic bullet to get more patients coming in, to someone who's never even heard of an HRA, and maybe they're just getting started with digital. They've been doing those billboards and really traditional marketing activities that healthcare marketers have always done, continue to do, but they're really hard to measure.

So I usually, depending on where that person's background is and where their digital maturity is, I usually try to get them to focus on three things. So one is, what is the goal of what they're trying to do? Are they trying to drive service line revenue? And if they've got a specific goal in mind of what they're trying to achieve, do they have an actual plan on how they're planning to measure success for that goal? Are they wanting to get actual patients in for surgeries, for example? Are they wanting to get a certain number of people screened? Do they have benchmarks of what they've done prior years, et cetera? Just so they can know what they're measuring against.

Because a lot of people ask, "Well, what can I expect? How many people can I bring in with this?" And my answer to that is always it totally depends on a number of factors. It depends on what service line or service lines are you promoting, what market are you in. Certain markets might have higher likelihoods of people needing care in specific areas, the competitive landscape, et cetera. How are you planning to promote it? Some people just want to put the HRA right on their website and think that magically people will go there, and click it, and convert.

And that is great in theory. But really, if you can have more of a strategy around how are you going to drive people to that website, are you going to use Facebook? We've seen a lot of companies use Facebook ads really successfully. Are you going to have an email strategy? And then finally, how are you going to follow up on the leads that you're getting? So whether it's having people call, having a post email marketing strategy to contact those people who might be at high risk for a certain area. We do sometimes get people who write on the results page. They see they're at risk, and they click schedule an appointment, and then that's really seamless, and it's great. But you're always going to have people who read more information and still need that extra nudge to really get that book.

So, one, knowing how you're going to promote it, two, knowing what you're measuring, why you're doing it, what's the goal, and three, how are you going to follow up? And I'd actually add a fourth, which is making sure that you are really in lockstep with your operational team, with whatever service line you're working with. So making sure the doctors who are going to be receiving these patients, they, number one, they have access. Right? I can't tell you how many times people wanted to drive service line, and I ask, "Well, what's the access?" And they're booked out for months. And it's like, okay, well then do you really need to drive that, or was it just a surgeon saying they wanted more patients? So-

Laila Waggoner:

Yep.

Alyssa Carter:

Making sure they are ready to see that patient, making sure that they understand what kind of people the HRA is going to be bringing, what kind of questions we're asking, all these things are super important, just strategically, just to make sure everybody is working together in lockstep, so you have a good patient experience, and can get that patient the care that they need.

Laila Waggoner:

Yeah. Hearing you speak about that, it really just reminds me, in general, this is the way healthcare marketing functions, right? They often are responding to a request for volume, right? There's this push to say, "We need to build more volume," and asking and having those questions, really thinking strategically about where does this fit in your bigger picture plan. An HRA, I think of it really as this incredible tool, but it is a tool, not a strategy in and of itself, right? It needs to fit in. Would you agree with that, that that's ... It needs to fit into a larger strategy for that service line, for the brand overall.

And again, your point about the operational side of things is so critical because it is interesting how often they haven't stopped sometimes to challenge back to that service line, are we really ready to accept new patients? Do we have availability? Do we have capacity? Or are we going to be driving a bunch of people who are interested, and then actually create a dissatisfaction by not being able to accommodate them?

Alyssa Carter:

Right. And I totally agree with you. It is absolutely not a strategy. It is 100% a tool. I was just thinking about the podcast you recently did with Kris Baird in talking about the secret shopping, and these terrible patient experiences that people are having, and it could be in response to things like this, not doing your due diligence to make sure that everybody understands what's going on. The interdepartmental communication is just so critical in making sure that you're able to get these patients in.

Now, that being said, I think it's a great tool. If you feel like you've gotten your ducks in a row, you know your goal, you have your strategy, it's clear you need to drive revenues, or acquisition, or even engagement. We have clients who use the HRAs with existing patients who they might want to just reengage with to get their annual ... We already talked about mammography for example, targeting existing patients in that age group-

Laila Waggoner:

Yep. Yep.

Alyssa Carter:

So I do think it's very important to make sure you have your strategy set. A lot of the times, that's where we engage first, because the last thing I want to do is have somebody use this HRA and not have a plan in place on how they're going to use it.

Laila Waggoner:

Yeah. Yep.

Alyssa Carter:

But, yeah.

Laila Waggoner:

Yeah, that's great. And I think your point to ... not to reemphasize too much, but I do think it's like anything. It's not an if they build it ... or if you build it, they will come. Right? It's you have to build it, and you have to promote it, and you have to understand how you're going to get people there, and what their motivation will be to use it. And there's just so many opportunities to integrate an HRA into a bigger picture service line plan, or brand plan, or population health plan.

But again, having that really engaging call to action with an actual potential outcome. And that can work for health systems, even if they aren't all the way down the digital transformation path. Is that true? I think sometimes people are by these tools and think, "Well, I don't yet have a CRM in place," or, "I don't yet have online scheduling, and so I can't necessarily take advantage of this." Of course, it'll be smoother if you had all of those things in place. But talk a little bit about clients that maybe aren't necessarily all the way down the path, and how they still can maybe benefit from an HRA.

Alyssa Carter:

Yeah, that's a great point. I think that is a huge ... I don't want to say barrier, but that is a huge thing that people come to us with is they want this really sophisticated technology stack that's going to streamline and automate everything for them. And I want that, too, as a marketer. Right? But that gets incredibly expensive, and you have to make some choices about how you're going to do it. And while I think CRMs are amazing, and I wish they were at a point where everybody could have them, it's just not accessible to everyone.

And so we do work with ... I actually think the majority of our clients don't have CRMs, and this is a way that they can use a tool that can help them meet their goals without the huge financial commitment. So for example, we are in the process now of working with a client who ... They can't afford a CRM, it's not in their budget, or it's just too large of an undertaking for them to do right now. Maybe in the future they'll get there. But they do want to experiment with some digital tools, the HRA being one of them. And so we're planning on essentially working with them to use the tool in place, and then work with another vendor or agency who's going to run the email programs for them.

And we're just going to integrate right with them, and it's going to be much more cost effective, and way less of a technology onboarding burden to be able to get things going soon as people are like, "Oh my gosh, I haven't been to the doctor in two years. It's time," capitalizing on some of that urgency of people now really starting to go in without like, "Okay, it's going to be two years before we can onboard this whole solution." So I do think all ranges of digital maturity healthcare companies can use this and ... Or we also work with CRMs where we integrate right in with the platform, and it's very easy and seamless to see your results. So it just depends on where you're at, but anybody can use them.

And I want to circle back on something, you said where you said it's not an if you build it, they will come sort of thing. The building it is actually a huge barrier in and of itself, and kind of the problem we solve, because a lot of people think, "Well, can't, I just put up a Google Sheet and have some questions on knee pain, whatever, to get people to engage?" But it's a lot more complicated than that. And we have a team, a health and research team that designs all of the health assessments based on evidence based science, peer reviewed literature, and research, to make sure that we're asking the right questions. We have a design team to make sure that the questions are asked in the right way, in the right order to engage people and move them through the process. So if you're wondering, oh ... And we've talked to people who've tried to build them themselves, and it's just not effective.

So that's really, I think, a big part of the problem that we help solve, as well, is just building it, making sure it is sound science, et cetera, and designed in a way that is going to be a good user experience, and get the patient at the end of the day to complete the assessment, and then provide them health information at the end, and give them a good call to action. And it doesn't have to be like schedule now if you don't have that. It can literally just be a phone number to call. Just make sure you're tracking where that phone number is going, and have some sort of process in place to know how you're going to track and measure your success.

Laila Waggoner:

Thank you for clarifying that. I think that is something that maybe gets overlooked in this idea that, oh, we can just build one ourselves. Well, it is a lot more complicated than they may have assumed. And I think that can bring a lot of confidence to the medical teams that ... are we asking the right questions, and being able to point to the way that you've gone about researching these questions, and the way that they're constructed. I think that's a comforting thing for those surgeons, for example, who are like, "Are you asking the right questions about orthopedic pain?" or whatever it is.

Alyssa Carter:

Even on the population health side, too, because as I mentioned, that's where historically we've really built our product around. So on the population health side, we have a much more, I don't want to say comprehensive because I think each of our targeted HRAs for these specific conditions are very comprehensive within the condition that we're targeting, but a more broad ... a broad health risk assessment that population health professionals use that ask questions that help you understand the full scope of where you are from your fitness, and your nutrition, to your mental health, et cetera.

And that's certainly something we get a lot of questions about, why are we asking questions in this way? And we've been doing this now for 40 plus years and have a dedicated team to make sure not only are these assessments built in a right way in the correct way, and they're also updated. So if a guideline gets changed, or a recommendation, we're making sure that our assessments are up to date, too, so you don't have to worry out that, either. I remember when the blood pressure guidelines changed a few years back, and that can be a huge undertaking to know that, make sure you're updating it in your software, and your system, et cetera. So that's another area that we're on top of and making sure that we keep up with the research.

Laila Waggoner:

Yeah, yeah. Then the latest, the latest and greatest.

Alyssa Carter:

Right.

Laila Waggoner:

For sure. Yeah. I'm curious. Your clients for the population health assessments, are those more corporate? Are they health systems? Are they public health ... Who's engaging with you to run those assessments? Is it [crosstalk]

Alyssa Carter:

Yeah. So I would say the majority of our customer base is a mix between health plans and wellness companies. We have worked with employers in the past. I think we mentioned earlier that HRA is a great tool, but you need the rest around it. That goes with population health, too. It's great to have a health risk assessment and capture data, but what are you going to do with that data? How are you going to use that to drive an intervention, to help someone who may be at risk for diabetes, or something like that?

So we work with a lot of wellness programs and platforms like Virgin Pulse, for example, who they have our health risk assessment integrated right in with their whole wellness platform so that they can use our HRA to collect the data from us, but then use other tools to help round out that strategy. So when we've worked directly with corporate employers, it's because they're usually pretty large, and they want to bring in the best of breed solutions and build their own platform. Otherwise, it makes sense to use our HRAs built in with an existing platform. But the end users who are taking that assessment are going to be usually employees somewhere where you have an employee wellness program.

Laila Waggoner:

Yeah.

Alyssa Carter:

Yeah. So.

Laila Waggoner:

Yeah, that's fascinating. That's great. Well, Alyssa, this has been really informative and educational, and I'm curious if there's anything else that you would want our listeners to know about, or anything else that is on your mind.

Alyssa Carter:

So I mentioned we launched this product, or these suite of products, right in line with COVID. We did a lot of research before we decided to enter this market. Ultimately, the reason we decided to offer these was in line with our mission. We want to help people get the care that they need so they can live healthier lives. But we found that the ... A lot of times companies ... There's just a huge barrier, whether or not it was a price driven barrier, a digital maturity barrier, things like that. And so I just want people to know that these are really accessible, and they don't have to be ... They don't have to be scary. They don't have to be like you have to ... I would love to have these conversations with people who might feel like, "Oh, we're not there yet in terms of our digital stack," or whatever.

We can find ways to make this work. You just have to ask the right questions and make sure that you are ... you have a plan in place. And I love ... That's my favorite part of my job is when I can talk to someone and help them find a way that they can make their marketing strategy work for them. And maybe it is an HRA, but maybe it's another tool. But just want people to feel like these are accessible, and open to them, and not feel like they're not there for whatever reasons. So always happy to have those conversations so we can get people the care that they need, and also help hospital marketers meet their goals, too. So it's a win-win.

Laila Waggoner:

That's great. Yes. Don't be intimidated. Reach out to Alyssa for more information. Yeah, no, that's great. And again, thanks so much for joining us. And for our listeners, you can find more information about Wellsource at Wellsource.com. And a reminder to our listeners to subscribe to the Core Exchange on Apple Podcasts, and sign up for our newsletter at CoreCreative.health. Alyssa, thanks again for joining us.

Alyssa Carter:

Thanks so much.

RESOURCES FROM WELLSOURCE:

Learn more about Wellactivate.

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Guide: 13 Tips to Help Patients Feel Safe Returning to In-Person Care. Get the Guide

author

Laila Waggoner is a Senior Healthcare Strategist at Core Health, Core Creative’s specialized healthcare marketing practice. Laila has over 30 years of experience with systems such as Mercy Health and ProMedica, as well as with academic medical centers, managed care organizations and clinically integrated networks in markets across the country.

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