From time to time, I get the opportunity to interview leaders in healthcare from various viewpoints. Recently, I had fun speaking with my old friend Michael Boblitz about his role in shaping the strategic healthcare marketing plan of his organization in two big ways:
Michael Boblitz is the Vice President of Planning and Business Development for Gwinnett Health System, a center about 30 miles north of Atlanta, Georgia, with approximately 550 beds and $800 million in operating revenues. Listen to our conversation below, and keep reading to see my key takeaways.
In the initial planning stages of a healthcare marketing strategy, it’s easy to make a list of 20 different things you want to focus on, but, Michael Boblitz says, “You realize pretty quickly that an organization only has so much bandwidth to cover the day-to-day operations, which is a lot of work for most health systems.”
It’s easy to throw out a lot of ideas, but it takes discipline to step back and think about the long-term goals of a healthcare organization and which steps will really get you there.
Boblitz has worked for several hospitals and health systems over the years. When he first comes in to a new organization, he thinks about what it strives to look like in about 3-5 years. “Then,” he says, “I really work hard to get a majority consensus across management and physician leadership about what that vision should look like.”
This may mean gaining input from the CEO, but at Gwinnett, this involved assembling top management and physician leaders in what Boblitz calls the Planning Council. This council decides on the top overall priorities for the next 3-5 years before choosing what steps to take in the coming year.
Most healthcare marketing strategies try to tackle too many things at once, spending a lot of time and money without planning for the long-term benefit or ROI of each marketing effort.
Once you know what you want to do in the long-term—that’s when you can start to focus on your priorities for the next year. A well-represented management team can help to narrow down and compromise on what the priorities should be over the next year in your annual healthcare marketing plan.
Boblitz gave me a good example of how that compromise might come up: “Let’s recognize there’s a lot we want to do over the next 3 or 5 years—but this next year we have to find some way to meet in the middle and focus on these few priorities...So let’s say we’re not putting a lot of attention on oncology this year; next year, we’ll just make sure that’s at the top of the list.”
So what are the most successful initiatives Gwinnett has put forth in their own healthcare marketing plans? Those that were focused on the patient experience first and foremost.
One of the most important conversations going on in healthcare today has to do with healthcare consumerism—the idea that patients expect care to be a lot more patient-centric, like customer service, because they have more options than ever before.
One of the things that shocked Boblitz when he first came to Gwinnett was how often he heard the phrase, “Our emergency department is our front door.” While Gwinnett has a well-established trauma and emergency medicine departments, Boblitz realized this approach completely excluded the elective marketplace.
That's where he came up with the idea for a Consumer-Oriented Ambulatory Network. “We had to change from the historical approach of delivering healthcare as providers want to deliver it, to understanding consumer behaviors and delivering medicine the way consumers want it,” Boblitz says. “The key is to make sure we don’t disrupt quality at the same time.”
Boblitz gave me a great example of how a patient-centric marketing plan can put patient experience first. Gwinnett had been working on a number of service lines, including spine surgery and spine care for quite some time, but they seemed to be competing with spine surgeons on every corner.
“As I started to speak to these physicians and started understanding the experiences of consumers,” Boblitz says, “I realized that while there are a lot of surgical opportunities and capabilities, the pathway is really just someone showing up because they have back pain.”
The patients didn’t necessarily want surgery, or at least they hoped they didn’t need it. What they wanted was someone to guide them through the appropriate care plan. They also wanted immediate access to care. The new Back Pain Center at Gwinnett allows patients 24-hour access to appointment scheduling, along with a customized care plan that may include physical therapy or a podiatrist visit rather than automatically resorting to surgery.
“We’re still a great emergency medical trauma expert,” Boblitz says, “but we also have these convenient access points throughout the community that people have started to love.”
My number one takeaway from our conversation: healthcare is changing no matter what—it’s just a matter of whether you’re being proactive or reactive.