Core Exchange: Planning for a Healthcare Website Project

How assessing your system’s unique strengths and weaknesses can help your brand stand out in a crowded healthcare market.

In this episode of the Core Exchange, Laila Waggoner, senior healthcare strategist, Core Health, interviews Tom Duncan, vice president, Froedtert South Hospital, located in southeastern Wisconsin. Laila and Tom discuss what indicates the need for a healthcare website redesign, how to stand apart from competitors, and how to make the web experience easier for patients and providers to navigate. They also cover how to get buy-in from internal stakeholders, who should be involved in decision making, and how to set priorities and expectations so your healthcare website project can be a success.

  • Core Exchange | Tom Duncan Froedtert South

You can listen to the podcast episode using the player embedded above, 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 healthcare marketing podcast. I'm Laila Waggoner, senior healthcare strategist with Core Health, Core Creative's specialized healthcare marketing practice. This week, we are so pleased to be joined by Tom Duncan, Vice President at Froedtert South to discuss planning for a website project. Tom, welcome to the Core Exchange.

Tom Duncan: Thank you. Glad to be with you.

Laila Waggoner: We're so excited to have you with us because as I understand, you recently went through an amazing project to revamp the Froedtert South website. But before we get into the details of that, I'd love it if you could just tell our guests, our listeners, a little bit about yourself, your career path, and your current role and responsibilities.

Tom Duncan: Sure. Will be happy to share that information with you. So I've had 47 years in a progressive leadership positions with many, many healthcare organizations, most recently, of course, with Froedtert South, where I've been for 32 years. Some of you may say the kid can't be that old, but I've been there. I'm trying to do it.

Tom Duncan: And I think what probably positioned me well for this project was that I've been the vice president and chief operating officer for a number of years. So I really crossed over many, many service lines within our hospitals, and in so doing became really personally knowledgeable of many, many people and of the services that we provide. So I think I really have become available and knowledgeable to walk the talk. And I think that's what probably made it important along the way in building the new website, because having worked with so many people, they knew who I was and I knew them. I'd hired probably 80% of our physicians. And so there was a confidence, I think, in me, knowing that I wasn't going to be setting them up, but I was really looking for how to extract from them their personality and what makes them so good at what they do and delivery the type of healthcare that they have.

Tom Duncan: I have a master's degree in business administration. I have an incredible wife who is retired, a speech pathologist. We have two kids, a daughter that teaches English and creative writing, and a son that's an orthopedic surgeon. And we have five grandsons, no granddaughters that we're anticipating, but we have two grand dogs, one a boy, and one a girl. So one got squeaked in one way or another. So got a great family and we've had a lot of fun lately. And quite frankly, I'm also part of the bad boys club. We started when we were 40 years old. And so every year, we have to go do something like climb Mount Rainier or go to Kilimanjaro or go to the Tour de France. We're trying to stay active, which means that our waistlines should stay in shape. So glad to share a little background with you.

Laila Waggoner: That's wonderful, Tom. It sounds like you enjoy adventures both on the job and outside of work, which is fantastic.

Tom Duncan: Work hard, play hard.

Laila Waggoner: That's right. That's right. So we're here to talk a little bit about the process that you underwent in planning for a new website. And before we even get into that detail, we'd love to hear what led to the decision to engage in this website project and what were the drivers or the motivating factors that led to this project.

Tom Duncan: Well, I think senior leadership sat around for a long time and was very concerned that the current website that was about five years old was old. It really was not capable of being updated. And as a result, it was our objective to build a new, user-friendly website that would be easy to navigate, capable of being updated internally and easily, very easily, and provide clear messaging about our strengths and identify what differentiates us from our competitors. And so the team set about and came up with six objectives, and those six objectives were four that were patient-focused and two that were staff-focused. The four patient-focused objectives were to build awareness of what services that we had to offer, and through that, strengthen our identity, simplify the access as I indicated just previously, and educate our community as to those services that we can provide, because for so many years, people have thought that they have to leave Kenosha to get good healthcare.

Tom Duncan: And you really don't have to do that. Yet, unless you educate and reeducate and reinform, without that messaging out there, people aren't going to know what you can provide. And I think as we're seeing, as we're utilizing so many of the analytics that Core has provided us with, that messaging is getting across. And then the two staff-focused objectives were to improve retention of our staff and to drive recruitment. Without recruitment, we can't get the staff and we can't serve our patients. And clearly, right now in the pandemic, that's been a major challenge for us is to keep, retain, and get new staff.

Laila Waggoner: Yeah. There's no question that that is a priority for many, many healthcare organizations. And as you know, we're this... We call ourselves the say it, live it agency, and that's really about communicating externally, but then also strengthening that internal piece as well. So that's great.

Tom Duncan: Both have to go hand in hand.

Laila Waggoner: That's right. Exactly. Yeah. So tell me a little bit, if you would, about the process in getting leadership buy-in and the budget approval to do the project. Was that a challenge or what were the steps that you took there?

Tom Duncan: That was a huge challenge. Leadership buy-in is incredibly important, but leadership also need to be educated as to what was missing, and what was missing was our digital footprint. Because for so long, we had relied on the print media, the newspapers, as an example. Unfortunately, newspaper circulation has dropped dramatically. In Kenosha several years ago, we were right around 35,000 homes receiving a newspaper. We're down to about 10. And not even certain if people are reading the newspaper because they can go online now and watch it digitally.

Tom Duncan: So with what we began to do in a very small type of way, we put some ads out to various organizations that would put out on their digital media. And through that, we got analytic information back that would allow us then to go to leadership and basically say, "Look, folks, we have no sense of what we're getting through the print media. We do have a sense from the impressions whether it was Google Analytics, from Facebook, Instagram, et cetera. And when we were predicting that we might be 1 to 2,000 impressions on Facebook and we're getting 15,000 impressions, that says where our marketplace is looking to learn more about us."

Tom Duncan: And so that helped us with leadership to begin to say, "We've got to make a change. We've got to get to a website that can bring forth the messaging that we want. And more importantly, let them see who we are through the videotapes and other forms that right now they haven't had an opportunity to do. And without that, it's not going to happen." And when we found out that as we began to work with Core, that our drop-off average was 78%. That very clearly and simply said nobody cared to do anything to further their information find with respect to Froedtert South. So we had to get to it. We had to get to the project. And quite frankly, that platform development, that first step was extensive.

Laila Waggoner: Yeah. So how did you begin the process of gathering the input internally for how... What functional areas did you need to engage? How did that process work?

Tom Duncan: Well, I think Core helped us a lot. We identified, probably for the first time, I'm embarrassed to say, how many real service lines we had. And we went through the list and came up with 43 and then said, "We're going to start to work on those that were the highest revenue generators." I mean, makes sense. That's what you want to sell. That's where you want to bring people in.

Tom Duncan: But as we began that process, COVID hit. Boom. Here we are. We want to get as many people as we possibly can get interviewed. Unfortunately, interviews are best that they can be done in person, and that now was simply not going to happen. Then it became the structure to put the interview schedule together. And that was like herding cats, especially with physician schedules. But we were successful. We sent out a list of questions to all the interviewees in advance of their interview session so that they had a sense of what we were going to be asking of them, hopefully so that they could be as succinct as possible given what we are going to hopefully do within 45 minutes. And this construction project, as we began, it ultimately became pretty successful.

Tom Duncan: And I think the takeaways from those sessions, particularly with the physicians, allowed us to get a huge dive into why they A, went into medicine, why they're practicing the style of medicine that they are today, and the outcomes from what they're able to provide through their specialty services. And so as we get through that and working with Devin and others, I think we found, and we can talk about that in a little bit, but how we really came to believe we were providing breakthrough medical services in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Became very, very significant. And I get goosebumps as we talk about it because it was so revealing as to what we can do to help people in the Kenosha and surrounding areas get the type of quality healthcare that they are expecting to receive.

Laila Waggoner: Yeah. It almost sounds like that was an unexpected benefit of the process. It wasn't necessarily what we were setting out to discover, but through the gathering of the input, it gave you all this additional insight and information.

Tom Duncan: It really did. I'm just so thankful for the folks that really poured their heart out to us in sharing their stories. It also allowed us... Subsequently, we decided that we were going to establish a magazine, and the magazine that we call Healthy Connections is really about individual physicians and the services that they have provided, and then patient testimonials to go along with it, that then identifies why they feel so richly enhanced due to a service that a physician was able to provide.

Laila Waggoner: Yeah, that's fantastic. So I know sometimes projects like this website projects, just like many other projects, have a tendency to grow over time. And as people find out what you're working on, there's additional input that comes in. So how did you stay focused on the priorities and how did you keep people involved in the progress?

Tom Duncan: We put together, I think, a really good Gantt chart and a site chart that basically said, "Here's where we need to be by the end of March, April, May, June, July," and while those were all excellent to assist us in keeping the locomotive on the tracks, in retrospect, I think where I made a mistake was that I included too much of our leadership team on the governing board. And I say that because not everyone in that group understands marketing and promotion and messaging, and yet every one of them wanted to become an expert. And so everybody had a vote, and sometimes that vote took a lot longer than what we anticipated. So literally, we got to a point where we had to say, "If we're not going to keep to the timeline, we aren't going to make our go live. We're not going to be there."

Tom Duncan: So ultimately, I think if I were to have a redo, I'd go back and say, "If you who want to be a participant, you've got to be 60, 70% down the road knowing what marketing and messaging, especially now that digital age needs to be." And so we probably should have had some educational programs on the front end and then had a failure rate for those folks that weren't going to make it. Because I think that would have helped streamline the process because that became worse than trying to get some of the physicians together at times, just getting leadership to have the type of buy-in that we needed to have. And that did cost us more money because there was delay, and our go live did not happen on the timeline that we had thought.

Laila Waggoner: Yeah. So that both the understanding of the scope of the project, I think, as well as having that perspective, it sounds like that's something that you might suggest to others is do that level-setting understanding of how website projects work, the importance of digital as part of the mix, all of that level-setting at the beginning of the project might've been something that you would recommend for others.

Tom Duncan: Very much so on the front end. I think it would have saved us a significant amount of time during the project duration. Absolutely. I do think that what also helped us is that we were queued up every week with Core folks to have our conversations about where we were at and if we were on target or not. And that was very, very significant. So I'd highly recommend to anybody that's going to undergo the massive challenge of a journey of rebuilding a website to have that type of activity on a regular basis. It focused you and forced you to try to do your very best to stay to the project.

Laila Waggoner: Yeah. Really having those milestones and knowing that people were going to be accountable to answer to it. Yeah. Those weekly calls are important for information-sharing, but also for, like you said, meeting those objectives and keeping everybody with a little bit of a fire lit. Yeah.

Tom Duncan: And lots of emails in-between.

Laila Waggoner: And lots and lots of communication. Exactly.

Tom Duncan: I think I've got carpal tunnel.

Laila Waggoner: I bet you do. Well, there's probably a specialty that can take care of that.

Tom Duncan: I know that guy very well.

Laila Waggoner: Yeah. So overall, Tom, what advice would you give to others who may be considering a website development project? Maybe-

Tom Duncan: Don't do it.

Laila Waggoner: Don't do it.

Tom Duncan: No. But all kidding aside, I mean, well, it was extremely difficult. I mean, it was such a rewarding exercise, as I was just sharing with you, because of some of the inspirational messaging that was coming out of our physicians. And while scheduling of them, it was difficult at times, I think their dedication, their passion, their achievement of the very best was overwhelmingly heartwarming. And those conversations resulted in a very strong outcome statement for our organization, as I shared briefly, but to put it succinctly, we are bringing forth a very compassionate, community-centered group of caregivers providing breakthrough care. That's awesome. I mean, that says it all. I mean, I feel like that old movie I saw years ago, We are the Titans. We are Froedtert South.

Laila Waggoner: There you go. Yeah. A real pride, it sounds like in that.

Tom Duncan: Truly, truly, truly, truly. And I think through that then, we personalized our website. One of the objectives that I had was to use the least amount of Shutterstock that we possibly could. I wanted our staff in the pictures, even if they were going to have masks on. I mean, we'll go back now over time, hopefully. We get through this next surge and we'll de-mask and we'll have the full face of our staff. But even so, you can look at these staff with the mask on and you can see the smiles through their eyes. That is another story to be told, that they love what they're doing.

Tom Duncan: And so throughout our website, you will see our staff in the various pictures, and they're proud of it. I mean, they done go tell their friends, "Go to our website. You got to check me out." Okay. That's pretty good marketing, telling your own story.

Laila Waggoner: Absolutely. Yeah. And who better to do it than the team, for sure.

Tom Duncan: Yep. Absolutely.

Laila Waggoner: Yeah. That's really great. So-

Tom Duncan: I think another thing, just as an aside that we found, and I mentioned a little bit, we decided that we were going to offer physician videos. And about 50% of the physicians took advantage of it, but it was a very nice way to tell their story. And there's a huge story that can be told through a two- to three-minute video about a physician, not necessarily where they went to medical school, where they did the residency, but, "I've got a family. We like to camp. I play a piano. I play the trumpet. We go to the theater. I'm on the soccer field." Those are some of the personal issues that people can identify with and say, "I like that person. I'm going to go to him or her."

Laila Waggoner: Yeah. I think that is an underutilized medium for the physician directories. That's something that we've certainly seen is that people want to not just know that they're... They expect their physicians to be qualified, right?

Tom Duncan: Right.

Laila Waggoner: They want to see who they are as a person and have that connection with them. So I totally agree with you that that's... My guess is that you'll find the metrics are high for the viewings on those videos.

Tom Duncan: And I was just going to comment about that. For those physicians that have the video, they have the longest read time.

Laila Waggoner: There you go. That's the metric that you need, right?

Tom Duncan: And so we're seeing that someone is following Dr. Garretto or Dr. Gauthier for four and a half minutes, outstanding. We know that they're paying attention to what those physicians have to offer, and it's because they can watch the video.

Laila Waggoner: Are there other metrics, Tom, that you've been tracking or that you would recommend that people pay close attention to in terms of before and after? How do you know that you're getting the success that you want?

Tom Duncan: Yeah. Actually, there are several that we've been following. And just most recently, because we've got the dashboard set up. But the read time, the number of visitors daily, the highest click-through rate, the drop-off rate. And I'm sure as time goes by, we'll be measuring others as well. But those are the ones that we've been looking at right now. And once again, just how many visitors we're getting daily versus what we've had before. What's the read-through time especially as it relates to those physicians with their videos? And our fall-off rate has dropped dramatically. So I have to say that the success of the new website is there.

Laila Waggoner: That's fantastic. And that's what we're hoping for. We know for sure that people more and more are using digital means to find information about their condition, to find physicians, and to find information about service lines that their healthcare providers are offering. And so having that resource has to just be a really big boost to complement all of the other efforts that I'm sure you're undertaking.

Tom Duncan: Absolutely. I mean, as these metrics came through and we were able to share with leadership, we were, "Yahoo!" The touchdown, the sign went up. We made it. But I'd have to say, as I just said, as we made it, don't ever believe that just because you went through some website rebuild that you're done. You're going to be rebuilding over and over and over again because you add new technology, new providers, new services, that messaging has got to be out there. You just have to be telling your public what you can do.

Laila Waggoner: Well, that's great. Well, Tom, thank you so much for sharing this story and sharing some of your time with us and with our listeners. A reminder to our listeners to please subscribe on Apple Podcasts to the Core Exchange, or you can sign up for our newsletter on Be sure to join us again for the next edition of the Core Exchange.


Laila Waggoner serves as Vice President, Strategic Partnerships for Core Health, Core Creative’s specialized healthcare marketing practice. Laila brings more than 30 years of experience working with regional health systems, community hospitals, academic medical centers, hospices, managed care organizations and B2B healthcare brands in markets across the country. She’s held in-house health system and agency leadership roles, and provides unique insight into how clients can best leverage the strategic branding, marketing and creative resources of an agency partner.

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