[Podcast] Healthcare Marketing and the Patient Experience

By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer

Photo of Stewart Gandolf

Stewart Gandolf, CEO, Healthcare Success

While I have interviewed hundreds of guests on our healthcare marketing podcasts over the years, this time I enjoyed the unique experience of being the interviewee on my own “show.”

My friend and colleague Dr. Lynn Nye, CEO of Medical Minds, interviewed me in advance of our panel discussion at this year’s EyeforPharma Conference in Philadelphia titled Patient-Centric Care: Does the Doctor Know Best?

My role was to share my expertise on improving healthcare practices from a marketing perspective. Here are some quick highlights of our discussion:

“Technology and patient experience”

I talk to physicians every day in private practice and major healthcare institutions and what I’ve learned is patient experience has gone from a non-issue to huge issue in a relatively short period of time.
Physicians and hospitals often hire us because they want their online patient experience to be first class, and just like any good bell curve, there are innovators, early adopters, late adopters and laggards.

Closing the communication gap

Doctors are always pressed for time and if they don’t understand why they need to make certain changes, they probably aren’t going to make them. Oftentimes it takes persistent, top-down messaging to create lasting change. And the why is a really important component.

Customizing patient experience with technology

We leverage patient experience, communication and technology in a way that encourages people to raise their hand when they need care. As a healthcare marketing and digital agency it’s our mission—and our passion—to help people get better by unobtrusively leveraging the power of technology to reach patients, developing a relationship with them and getting them to comply.

Complete transcript

Lynn Nye:
This is Lynn Nye of Medical Minds and welcome to the Healthcare Success Aria Agency podcast. If you’re wondering why Stewart isn’t introducing this podcast it’s because I’m interviewing him today. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m president and founder of Medical Minds, a medical communications agency that specializes in physician and patient education and advocacy. Our team has supported the introduction of many first-in category therapies, the first targeted cancer therapies, Rituxan and Herceptin, the first biologic therapies in psoriasis, next comes continuous glucose monitoring, to name just a few. As well as patient programs such as the award winning Cancer Survival Toolbox for the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship. And currently we’re working with the American Gastroenterological Association on an innovative program in IBD to help bridge the gap between physician and patient communication.

Lynn Nye:
I have a PhD in immunology and I’ve worked in healthcare for my entire career. I’m also a cancer survivor. So today’s topic of patient experience and how it relates to medical practices, hospital and Pharma is especially important to me. I am delighted to have this opportunity to interview my friends and colleague, Stewart Gandolf who contributes to improving healthcare practices every day. So Stewart, you’re now in the hot seat. First question is what does the doctor know best and what are some things that doctors don’t know? So what I want to ask you is, you talk with physicians every day in private practice and major healthcare institutions and what do they tell you?

Stewart Gandolf:
This has gone from a non-issue to an issue that the more enlightened doctors are really concerned with, right? I’ve been on our podcast before talking to Dr. Jim Merlino maybe five years ago, and the joke was the doctor would say, “I don’t care if they like me, I just wanted to get him better.” And back then, Dr. Merlino and I would talk about it like, “That kind of misses the point.” This isn’t a popularity contest, this isn’t just customer satisfaction, it’s much deeper than that. It’s what is their actual experience? Are we developing our systems in our practice, in our hospital around the patient, or is it around our efficiency? And obviously sometimes there might be conflict there. Maybe what it really would say, is that on the practice side, the practices that tend to be just striving for excellence in everything, strive for excellence in this area too, right?

Stewart Gandolf:
So they tend to be excellent in terms of care, in terms of clinical, they tend to be excellent in terms of their business, their profitability, marketing. Again we often get hired for people because they want to do marketing. They feel like their marketing should be first class. They feel like patient experience should be first class, and there’s just like any bell curve, there’s innovators, early adopters, late adopters and laggards. So I’d say you’d probably find doctors along all lines of those curves. From the hospital side you got the same sort of dynamic where people are at different levels of embracing patient experience, patient centricness.

Lynn Nye:
Do you think that there is a communication gap between doctors and patients?

Stewart Gandolf:
Doctors are always pressed for time. We can teach doctors how to communicate it better with patients. So it becomes less than a nice to have, in their busy day. But it’s going to require real motivation and will to make these changes, because otherwise you’ve got… Doctors are human beings too, it’s one of the things I talk about a lot. That I think people forget is they’re human too, with strengths and weaknesses like anybody else. And if they don’t really understand the why that they need to make these changes, they’ve got other competing interests.

Lynn Nye:
For example, we are working on a program right now in IBD with the American Gastroenterological Association, basically to teach doctors how to describe biosimilars to patients. The reason why doctors need to use the right language to the patients is, because if they don’t understand the biosimilars are expected to be as effective and safe as the originator, then they imagine that any change that they experience is due to, changing to the biosimilar. This is a very well known condition called nocebo effect, but where patients imagine that they have side effects because they’re anxious, and so on. I mean, that’s an example of why it’s so really important for the doctors to make sure that the patients understand what they’re telling them. And when you’re in a doctor/patient relationship, patients are always nervous. I’ve worked in healthcare all my life. I’ve a PhD in immunology, I know most things, but when I go and see the doctor, I walk out and I say to myself, “Oh, what did he say?”

Stewart Gandolf:
You have patients that understand, well obviously you want them to get better. Obviously you want to take good care of them. But obviously they’re going to be more likely to come back to you and refer to you if they feel like they’ve been heard. They’re going to be happier and easier for your office to deal with. Most doctors want to remain super ethical, but there is that human component to this too. Because there’s all kinds of resistance to moving forward with new stuff because A, it’s a habit that you have to break and we’re busy, and why should I even care about this? I’ve got other stuff to do, I’m late for my next morning appointment, got to go. So I think it’s going to take a real concerted effort to get a doctor to make a change. And I just feel like the why is really, really important.

Lynn Nye:
The program that you did for the Boston Pain Clinic was really interesting because you talked about it in terms of improving their business. But actually in terms of healthcare, what you did was to improve access to care. Because you drove patients to the office that probably wouldn’t have gone otherwise. For example, this company Alder that we’ve been talking with, they have a treatment and it’s a bit complicated actually because you have to have it by IV infusion. But for people with chronic migraine, this would be people that probably have eight or more migraines a month. They had a very high number, I think it’s something like 30% of patients who are migraine free when they had this treatment. And so it’s really important for patients to know about this, because then they’re going to go to their doctors and ask about it. And if they didn’t know about it, then they’re still suffering. So what you’re doing is really driving the access to care.

Stewart Gandolf:
You know a lot of people that do marketing for providers, honestly what they’ve told me is, they really wanted to be a doctor, they wanted to be a clinician. And for me, that’s just not me. I’ve never wanted to be a clinician. I’m not a frustrated want to be doctor. I love doing what I do. I love marketing. I thought I was going to be an engineer, because I’m very analytical, but I fell on the market and I just love the way of motivating people to action, that’s the part of marketing that’s exciting to me. So while most people think I’m creative, what I really love doing is motivating people to action. So what makes me feel good at the end of the day, is that we really do help people get care that need care. And part of what we do is translate the clinical side to patients in ways that the patients can understand and hits the appropriate emotional hot buttons. When talking to them in consumer friendly language, in a way that makes them raise their hand and say, “Hey, I have that specific need or problem.”

Stewart Gandolf:
So from that standpoint, I feel like we’re improving care. In fact, I’ll give you an example, I’ve met with a practice in Oregon, and they came to us when they were little. They were two doctors and they were thrilled at the idea of getting a new patient every day. That was a stretch for them, to get a new patient every day. And today now, they get 20 new patients a day. And they’re still a client of ours, I hadn’t talked to them for awhile and they were talking about how over the moon happy they are. In any event, I went and I flew out and I did a new marketing plan for them because clearly, even though they’ve been an ongoing client of ours, we should look at the business anew, now that we’ve grown their new patient count by a factor of 20. And the coolest part of that was, when they were driving me around after the meeting was over, he said, “See this town, you guys have helped us improve health care in this town.” And that was really a cool thing, and that really kind of drove home what we do.

Stewart Gandolf:
But it doesn’t stop there, it’s like the idea of being able to leverage this stuff, first of all, getting people to raise their hand when they need care is crucial. And then secondly, how can we use technology? Being able to remind people to be able to… Whether it’s through apps, or email reminders, or texts, or whatever, patients are in a communication world. So how can we use technology in a way that feels like it’s natural, part of their life, not intrusive, to help get them to comply with what they do? We’re a healthcare marketing company, we’re also a digital company. Most of the work we do is digital. So how can we leverage the power of computers to reach these patients, stay in touch with these patients, get them to comply. But at the end of the day, remember our mission is to help get people better.

Lynn Nye:
Oh, that client that you were just talking about, I think you said they’re in Oregon, and so are they a specialty practice or are they a primary care practice?

Stewart Gandolf:
So Lynn yes, no this particular case was a primary care business, but it works with specialists. We work with surgeons who want to do, for example, GERD surgery or vein surgery. We work with gastroenterologists who are interested in doing different cases like endoscopy’s, colonoscopies, hemorrhoids. One client we talked to you about recently was… Actually did so well as a campaign it got a Google case study, was for migraines. And migraines are just completely debilitating, and I’m not a migraine sufferer, but I’ve heard people can get on the verge of suicide when they have chronic migraines and it seems like nothing works. People that have had chronic migraines typically are feeling like nothing helps them, whether the doctor is treating them… The doctors, the client or presumably the same thing with a pharmaceutical. When you’re weave the message correctly in terms the patient can understand, not only profitable, it’s also ethical in that it’s helping people get better care.

Lynn Nye:
So for example, this company Alder that we’ve been talking with, they have a treatment and it’s a bit complicated actually because you have to have it by IV infusion. But for people with chronic migraine, this would be people that probably have eight or more migraines a month. They had a very high number, I think it’s something like 30% of patients who were migraine free when they had this treatment. And so it’s really important for patients to know about this, because then they’re going to go to their doctors and ask about it. And if they didn’t know about it, then they’re still suffering. So what you’re doing is really driving the access to care. If you are a pharmaceutical company and you have a new treatment. How do you scale this? What are some scalable strategies that you could help Pharma companies with using the services from healthcare success?

Stewart Gandolf:
I think a lot of it comes down to applying marketing processes that we use with our clients to be more informant. What we find with the marketing that we do in our world, we try to be nimble. First of all everything we do we test, track, and adjust. So if we do an appeal for something that is working, or not working, if it’s not working we make an adjustment, we try it. So we’re able to be pretty nimble, from a pharma standpoint, and then we really do look at results and see, is this message resonating?

Stewart Gandolf:
And what the greatest thing about digital is… I’ve been a direct marketer since the beginning of my career, so direct marketing essentially compared to branding, branding’s about saying your same message over and over again and eventually people get it. With direct marketing you spend a hundred bucks if you don’t make four hundred bucks immediately something’s wrong, try something else. So it’s kind of a different mindset, it’s very, very much about driving results. When you’re doing mail for example, as your test, it take months to get any feedback from the marketplace, right? To do a mailer, to concept it, to design it, it takes a month, and a lot of money to get it to work. Even in newspaper ads, or radio ads takes a lot of time to get done. With digital you can plan different approaches up front and sometimes within a couple of days… You can test different headlines, for example, find out what really resonates with patients. And that scales like crazy because if it… Especially with the pharma because when you find that magic combination of variables you can scale it out and we do that.

Stewart Gandolf:
We have clients right now with various campaigns we have, that we… Even though the doctor or hospital isn’t in multi-States, the appeal is so strong that people have come from out of state to get care. That’s very scalable. I often think about, just as an aside here, I see the Tamiflu commercials that come on TV always, a lot. And I haven’t seen it lately, but they’ve used the same commercials that I’ve seen, where they’ve got this great big guy and his great big… And it’s trying to explain the flu. Explain the difference between Tamiflu to Theraflu, to pretty much everybody I know they think they’re the same thing. There is no understanding at all that it’s a pharmaceutical that it doesn’t just mask the symptoms, it actually treats the virus. That message, just in my experience, I’m not privy to their research, but in my experience this hasn’t gotten out.

Stewart Gandolf:
So for me, what’s exciting about the kind of marketing that’s possible is, you can test this stuff and see rather than for longterm trends, to see if consumers are relating to one appeal or the other to at least get that much. So if you’re doing different ads, different appeals and see which ones consumers interact with, and then once you find that, then you can double down and it scales really, really, really well.

Lynn Nye:
How can we break down the barriers between companies and institutions, and collaborate for the overall benefit of the patient?

Stewart Gandolf:
Lynn, when I first started working on patient experience, or first got involved with it, I was introduced to, from a mutual colleague, Dr. Jim Merlino, at the Cleveland clinic, back when they were first beginning their patient experience summit. I think I was able to speak at the second one and then I was invited back to speak there again. So, I’ve spoken to a couple of times. In my experience, hospitals have really taken this on, partly because reimbursements impacted by patient experience, but also just because it’s the right thing to do. And especially the forward thinking institutions, in my experience are willing to do the hard, hard work and heavy lifting to make their patient experience better. Again, not just because of the economics of it, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Stewart Gandolf:
And there’s some hospitals and decisions lead, others don’t, but there’s more than that. So Jim has moved on the Press Ganey, Press Ganey is a leader in that area. Cleveland Clinic remains a leader. There’s also the Academy of Healthcare Communication, whom I’ve introduced recently to. They are more, how to communicate with doctors. And then it’s jumping the divide over to Pharma. I recently did a really intriguing podcast with Doug Noland of Astellas, and I feel like there’s various experts in each of these areas.

Stewart Gandolf:
Even though the most of the work with Press Ganey has been on the hospital side, they know people so that there is cross pollination of ideas to everybody’s benefit. Everybody can learn from each other. My viewpoint on this at least is the hospital side, the doctors side, the Pharma side, device side, they’re pretty siloed. But I think that the idea of kind of coordinating care even in a more holistic way. Because at the end of the day, the patient’s the star of the show, or at least should be. And rather than being a specimen for all these disparate treatments, if it’s really part of a whole, I think it leads to better care. It’s more ethical and probably a lot more profitable as well.

Lynn Nye:
Thank you Stewart for letting me interview you today, on the Health Care Success Aria Agency podcast and on behalf of Stewart Gandolf, I’m Lynn Nye of Medical Minds, and thank you for listening.


Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer at Healthcare Success
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Success, one of the nation's leading healthcare and digital marketing agencies. Over the past 20 years, Stewart has marketed and consulted for over 1,000 healthcare clients, ranging from practices and hospitals to multi-billion dollar corporations. A frequent speaker, Stewart has shared his expertise at over 200 venues nationwide. As an author and expert resource, Stewart has also written for many leading industry publications, including the 21,000 subscriber Healthcare Success Insight blog. Stewart also co-authored, "Cash-Pay Healthcare: Start, Grow & Perfect Your Cash-Pay Healthcare Business." Stewart began his career with leading advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson, where he marketed Fortune 500 clients such as Wells Fargo and Bally's Total Fitness.



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