“Going to the doctor” is going to change. For good.

person typing on computer with stethoscope

Healthcare strategists and marketers envision “Transformation” at SHSMD 2017

Not just change. Transformation. That was the unspoken theme at Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development 2017 conference.

From opening keynote speaker and futurist Daniel Burrus teaching attendees generally how to anticipate “hard trends” (things that ARE going to happen to your industry because they are already happening elsewhere) …

to breakout sessions specifically explaining how to train your staff and patient base to accept and apply new telehealth technologies to provide collaborative care and better “reach”…

the message at SHSMD was clear: Transformation is here.

The question simply remains: how quickly will it be embraced, not so much by consumers, but by the providers themselves?

The emerging world of telehealth

While there is a tremendous amount of scientific innovation being applied in healthcare every day (space-age surgical techniques, breakthrough diagnostic inventions, experimental drug therapies), few “new” ways of delivering healthcare have been explored.

That is until now.

New healthcare leaders are emerging, asking some smart questions. Take Dr. Stephen Klasko, CEO of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (see article below). Recognizing that the consumer world embraces change far sooner than his own industry, he is pushing his entire academic medicine and healthcare system to catch up.

He challenges his organization to answer one big question: “What ‘disruptive things’ are happening in our everyday life (think online shopping and driverless cars) that don’t yet happen in healthcare … but could or should?”

As a result, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital has incrementally created, tested and applied a telehealth model to patient care entitled JeffConnect throughout aspects of their entire healthcare system.

JeffConnect gives patients and caregivers alike a “portal” through which to walk, where they can communicate and work together virtually to address health challenges ranging from treating sinus infections to cancer care.

Why telehealth? Why now?

This transformation takes incredible foresight, passion, creativity, investment, perseverance … and, yes, humor, to occur. Watch Klasko’s TEDTalk (below) for a few minutes and you’ll see a leader casting his vision in creative and clever way.

Without a doubt, other key ingredients are needed and are also converging at the right time to make this type of transformation possible:

  • Computing technology
  • Medical breakthroughs
  • Consumer acceptance and demand
  • Economic conditions

What has been missing is the incentive for drastic change. The experiment that is the Affordable Care Act (with its various pros and cons, and wins and losses) has created an X-factor for visionaries like Klasko to gain some much needed share of voice.

Clearly, healthcare delivery and compensation models are broken. Klasko’s prescription of using technology to bring a faster, more collaborative healthcare service to the consumer – rather than wait for consumers to come to a slow and siloed system – is literally “just what the doctor ordered.”

In effect, we live in a transformative age that is being demanded and realized. We live in the age of virtual house calls for preventive care and in an age of connection that allows sick and hurting patients to access the best healthcare solutions from around the world, not just at their hospital down the street.

Answering objections

While not perfect and not perfected, the telehealth age that Klasko and team (among others) are ushering in shows tremendous promise.

According to the presenting physicians at SHSMD, many questions are being answered through a spirit of willingness by all parties (trial and error):

  • What can we use telehealth for … and when?
  • Is this approach safe and private for our patients?
  • How will it affect our workflow?
  • Will this work within our OS system?
  • Will this work for the diseases we treat?

Many objections are being addressed one by one:

  • “Patients don’t want this.” (Many do and some even prefer the speed and convenience.)
  • “Virtual visits are not as good as actual visits.” (A virtual visit beats the alternative of no visit, which is what typically happens.)
  • “You can’t examine the patient as well.” (Level 5 (visual) physical exams are possible and are better than none at all.)
  • “Learning this technology is too hard.” (It’s like using FaceTime with your friends and family.)
  • “Telemedicine is not reimbursed yet.” (True, but payment reform is coming. The key should be to learn and apply this technology before your competitors.)

And many evidence-based proofs are being gathered regarding potential improvements in:

  • Patient access
  • Quality and outcomes
  • Cost savings
  • Patient satisfaction

If systems begin to move in this direction voluntarily to gain a competitive advantage, that is simply smart business on their part. If not, such change is likely going to be foisted upon them anyway by consumers and the demands of the digital age. Regardless, transformation is here.

What this means for healthcare marketers

How will marketers help everyone (patients and caregivers alike) understand and embrace and use the new technologies and models?

That’s our job as communications professionals. That’s the opportunity. And judging by the amount of transformation coming, we’ll have a lot to talk about for a long time.

It is an exciting age within which we live. Think about it. None of us will have to “go to the doctor” in the old sense of the phrase anymore. He or she (or even they) will be coming to us at appropriate times where and when we need them.

So here are our new marching orders (healthcare marketers and their agency partners alike):

  1. We just have to reach that new healthcare patient (wherever they are and however they prefer to consume information).
  2. We have to teach them about the alternatives in care, delivery, treatment and payment.
  3. And we have to move them (honestly and emotionally) to take the desired action.

Deliver on these three critical steps, and we can help a lot of people live healthier, better lives.

Sound good? Let’s go. The future awaits.

A vision about the future delivered from the future

Watch all (20 minutes) or even parts of Klasko’s explanation of the future of healthcare in this TEDTalk from 2014. In his speech, he pretends the year is 2024 and provides a retrospective to his audience of all the advancements that were made in healthcare delivery over the past decade.

As I watched the video, I was struck by the following:

  • The vision that such driving such transformation requires.
  • The personal belief (when not too many others can see what you see).
  • The persuasive communication skills.
  • The personality and leadership qualities needed to attract others to his vision.
  • The sheer perseverance behind it all. (This has been nearly a 40 year journey.)

While so many complain that healthcare is broken, so many others are doing something about it. You just have to look at the hard trends, and bet on the right leaders and solutions.

Stephen Klasko | TedXPhiladelphia


Ward Alles is the President and Brand Consultant at Core Health, Core Creative’s specialized healthcare marketing practice.


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