Beyond Disease and Infirmity

Published on January 25, 2016 by Chuck Sanders

How to Help Patients in Need Find their Healthcare “Home”

How to Help Patients in Need Find their Healthcare “Home”

#Patients Finding a Healthcare Home Click To Tweet

The Parents’ Painful Story

Ryan and Amy faced a parent’s worst horror. Their youngest son, Joel, received the diagnosis of cancer just after his first birthday. It was terminal. As a young family of faith, they clutched the faint afterglow of childbirth that still lingered.

Many long nights saw sunrise extend to weary long days spent nurturing. Yet, those days would still resonate with hopes and prayers for a bright future for Joel. Would they see his first steps…his first days of school...summer vacations?

Enter an uninvited unwelcome guest, ‘Cancer, The Demon’.   Doctors gave Ryan and Amy the sad diagnosis, AT/RT. The condition is a rare childhood condition of the central nervous system. Also, even worse, AT/RT, atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor, carries a poor survival rate... 50% over two years. Joel’s condition was dire.

In that instant, a gut-wrenching change forced its way into Ryan and Amy’s placid lives. Hopes flickered and morphed to fears…anticipation transformed into morbid dread.

For both of them, critical questions demanded answers NOW!

Where do they turn for medical care and support?

What hospitals and clinical procedures provide the competencies needed for Joel’s complex condition? Are other health benefits needed? Even more personal, what institutions reflect the values and choices embraced by their family?

How do they find information and guidance? Where to go? What to do?

How Do We in Healthcare Marketing Answer Their Needs?

“It is incumbent on respected healthcare institutions to make sure people are able to decipher the information all around them and to provide accurate, timely and useful information for patients to utilize.”

- David A. Feinberg, Vice President, Marketing, and Chief Marketing Officer, New York-Presbyterian Hospital


We would wish that Ryan and Amy’s painful tale was simple creative fiction.

Yet, their story is true. But the specifics, while unique, are unremarkable.

Many, like Ryan and Amy, need to find just the right healthcare answer for themselves…and they need to find the answer NOW!

Every day many families face complex medical issues and tough choices. Even more, the quality and quantity of medical resources available to them will vary.

Obamacare has indeed had some impact. Yet, this variance coincides with other profound and well-documented shifts in healthcare.

  • Patient empowerment: patients are demanding greater authority in their healthcare decisions
  • Massive consolidation and expansion: a scaling up of provider networks and institutions
  • Many platforms and sources for health information: Today patients have access to the internet and other digital media; Information is no longer only physician-centered.

These shifts highlight, like never before, the importance of quality healthcare marketing. Our healthcare messaging needs to tell the patient’s stories. And, even more, they need to tell of the huge problem our products and services can help patients to solve NOW.

Healthcare Marketing: drilling below social media metrics to find the patient

But here’s where I have mixed feelings…and I think I’m not alone in this. Let me explain. There are those of us in healthcare marketing, myself included, who are ‘hybrids’. Trust me, I’ve heard worse.

We are healthcare marketing professionals as well as healthcare clinical professionals. As healthcare marketing professionals, we work to ‘humanize’ sometimes-terse sterile technical jargon. Our job then is to create marketing content that converts customers and generates revenue.

Yet, as healthcare clinical professionals, our view changes. For us 'hybrids', ours has been the honor of providing years of direct patient care. By no means are we jaded. But we’ve seen the self-anointed marketing ‘experts’ and ‘fads’ come and go.

Too often, their messaging misses integrating a critical yet defining focus. For instance, the messaging may hit the macro picture on all cylinders...the organization’s branding. Yet, it stutters and stalls at the micro. Often it misses the intimate emotional connection between each 'caregiver' and their patient.

But social media comes close. And social media is no fluke or fake. As a marketing instrument and for research, social media may yet prove to be the most potent marketing tool ever developed. Other industries have verified and measured its effectiveness.

And healthcare marketing research and analysis is critical for marketing success. Yet, I sense that social media's full impact in healthcare has not arrived. It's full force more likely will come in drilling down beyond the marketing metrics. Beyond ‘engagement’, ‘reach’, and ‘bounce rate’ we will find the key. There we may capture the emotional experience of the patient, of ‘Ryan and Amy’.

Getting It Right: The New York-Presbyterian Story

So, a recent interview with David A. Feinberg got my attention. Feinberg is Vice President, Marketing and Chief Marketing Officer at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. New York-Presbyterian is massive in size, the largest hospitals in the US by bed count. It also represents a complex brand management challenge.

Yet, Feinberg and New York Presbyterian strike a perfect balance. It begins, Feinberg describes, with enlightened leadership by Steven Cowan, CEO. Cowan set a clear organizational direction; Feinberg provided the intricate marketing synergy.

Cowan’s mandate: Patients First…an over-used and often empty platitude. But, with NYP, this is not such a case.

Feinberg goes on to describe the NYP efforts in establishing a digital presence across all media channels. His goal is to create a digital presence as seen through the eyes of patients and families. He also wants that presence to be “device and platform agnostic.”

“No matter how patients want access”, Feinberg says, “It will adapt to their needs.”

Yet, with all the NYP marketing complexity, Feinberg saved his finest moments for last. Giving homage to advertising simplicity, he discussed NYP’s much-heralded case study advertising campaign. Their “Amazing Things” Campaign creates simple unscripted stories...medical case studies except told by patients.

“People may love the ads, but they really love what the ads say. They say so much in such a simple way. It is a reinforcement of something I learned long ago: The quality of the advertisement is the inverse of the complexity of its execution. Our campaign exemplifies this completely. It is so simple and so real, and that has proven to be very impactful.”

Feinberg and his team deserve to celebrate their achievement in healthcare marketing communication. At the end of the day, Feinberg might even rephrase James Carville with what could be their marketing mantra…

“It’s all about the patient, stupid!”

KUDOS to them all!


What challenges do you see in creating healthcare marketing content?

Does your content connect and resonate with patients?

I welcome your comments.

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