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Mayo Medical Labs: Designing Digital Communications for a Changing Healthcare Market [Podcast]

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer
Brent Westra

Brent Westra

[SHSMD17 Speaker Podcast Series] In this segment of our 2017 continuing series, Stewart Gandolf, CEO of Healthcare Success talks with Brent Westra, Marketing Segment Manager, and Andrew Tofilon, Marketing Segment Manager at Mayo Medical Laboratories. The topic of this podcast is Brent and Andrew’s presentation at the SHSMD marketing conference on their topic titled: Designing Dynamic Digital Communications for a Changing Healthcare Market.

As healthcare continues its dramatic transformation, the new currency is insightful information. New care models, disruptive technologies, personalized medicine and alternative payment models are all challenging the conventional thinking of patients and practitioners. The industry is continuously seeking credible sources of information to navigate this change. Late last year, Mayo Medical Laboratories launched Insights, an online publication about changing market needs. This is the story of change.

Andrew Tofilon

Andrew Tofilon

In this session, Brent and Andrew will share their journey, both the successes and mistakes as a case study and template that our colleagues can use toward tailored communication change.

Stewart, Brent and Andrew discuss how the Mayo Medical Laboratories serves patients and clients through laboratory medicine and pathology, the evolution of their online publication and how it addresses changing market needs. This insightful conversation—and the upcoming SHSMD17 presentation—touches upon:

  • Communications hub and seven key areas of content marketing
  • Community-based medicine and close-to-patient testing
  • The reference lab arm serving 4.5 million patients worldwide
  • Partnering with IT to better achieve communications goals
  • Modifications and updates to the target audiences

STEWART GANDOLF: Welcome gentlemen, we’re excited to have you join us today. For those in our audience who may not be familiar with Mayo Medical Laboratories, please tell us about it.

BRENT WESTRA: We are the reference laboratory arm of Mayo Clinic. We work with lab tests of other institutions from across the nation or around the world. We serve about 4.5 million patients worldwide each year, 23 million tests performed annually, launch about 150 new tests each year, and we offer a menu of about 3,000 tests and pathology services.

ANDREW TOFILON: Organizationally, we are part of Mayo Clinic in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology with 61 subspecialty laboratories that support the spectrum of testing for the Mayo Clinic group practice and for our clients. Services include point of care testing and a broad range of capabilities.

STEWART: How does Mayo Medical Laboratories position itself in the market? Are you used just for the tough cases? And tell us who your ultimate customers are.

BRENT: We believe strongly that lab testing should be done as close to the patient as possible. So we help our clients—our hospital partners—to launch tests. For example, we may help them set up testing in their facility and bring a particular test in house.

ANDREW: We believe strongly in community-based medicine, and we have a lot of business models and support programs. Our 4,000 clients worldwide range from large, academic medical centers, to health systems and to specialty practices. About three to five percent of the testing cannot be done in a local community and only in those cases do we have them send it to us.

STEWART: Your presentation at SHSMD is titled: Designing Dynamic Digital Communications for a Changing Healthcare Market. Give us an overview sketch about what you’ll be talking about.

BRENT: It’s a case study of sorts about the big changes that we underwent here at Mayo Medical Laboratories, beginning with a legacy publication. Backing up further, about five years ago, Andy and I wanted to add flexibility to our website that had rigid update timelines.

We needed something more flexible to get news out in a more quick and efficient manner. One of the things we wanted to do was create a blog. We asked if we could start a real-time news site, and that—a blog under a different name—was approved. The root of it was to gain greater flexibility over the (then) manually updated page.

ANDREW: And, about a year ago, our marketing team also inherited a publication that we’ve been publishing since 1971. It’s been a communications tool for new tests, science and service updates and the like. That gave us the opportunity to think more broadly about what this content hub could be.

Our talk at SHSMD is going to go over our journey to figure out what we wanted for our web platform, as well as the actual design process, and the seven key areas of content marketing that our INSIGHTS platform facilitates.

BRENT: The previous publication had a printing, postage and mailing budget. Our story is about changing that the hub—what we did, the decisions we faced, what we learned and the process that presented options and opportunities in refreshing and expanding the online communications tool.

STEWART: Tell us about your target audience for the blog. Who are you targeting with this content?

ANDREW: Our original model was business-to-business, so the lab-to-lab relationship continues to be important for us to nurture and reach through INSIGHTS. In addition, we’ve diversified in an effort to speak to the C-suite level, the supply chain, insurance and payors, clinicians who order the tests, and specialty practices throughout the community.

BRENT: With 3,000 options in our test menu, our content needs to be diverse—from operationally based articles to narrow and deep-niche specialty content.

STEWART: What are some of the concepts that apply to hospitals? Also, what are some of the takeaways that you want to provide for attendees?

BRENT: One thing is to de-couple the editorial web from the operational web. Operationally, you have HIPAA compliance, plus you have the editorial side of things. We learned how to uncouple, control and divide those elements in a way that achieves greater flexibility.

ANDREW: We are aware that a blog reaches patients and consumers as well. Patients want to know what tests are available and what interpretations mean. Sometimes, patients get test results before the clinician and they’ll look online for information that may apply. Although they are not our primary target audience, we still need to communicate effectively that the reader's provider is their best resource.

STEWART: What were some of the biggest surprises and biggest obstacles that you encountered?

BRENT: One of the things that we didn’t really think about was that our planned timeline and expected launch date was extended by internal and operational considerations. Our preliminary estimate, based mainly on content considerations, was not correct and we should have made that assessment later in the process.

ANDREW: Another key point that we encountered is that initially, we wanted this to be a group project. We wanted everyone to be involved and everyone had a say. But as we learned, things this complicated cannot be a group project. You need buy-in from the group, you need diverse thought and expertise, but at the end of the day, you need a small and empowered team to get things done.

BRENT: Once we were able to get going with a little bit of budget, we were faced with make-versus-buy decisions. Finding the right resources helped us move the project forward toward the vision that we had.

STEWART: What parting ideas do you want to leave with our audience?

ANDREW: Remember that you know your business the best. There are a lot of marketing companies and resources that will try to push you toward the vision that they have for your project. But you need to be true to what you are trying to accomplish…what your organization, culture and DNA is about. You need to find the right partner to make your vision the reality.

BRENT: One more final thought would be: don’t be afraid to try new things and make adjustments. For example, at the outset we thought that video would be king. But we found that video can be intimidating and that we achieved skyrocketing buy-in and acceptance by making a shift to audio.

Our presentation at SHSMD 2017 will be Wednesday, September 27, at 8:30AM.

STEWART: Thank you very much for joining us. We’ve learned a lot and we appreciate your time.


This article and podcast are part of the Healthcare Success continuing education series featuring speakers at AHA’s Society of Healthcare Strategy and Market Development, 2017 SHSMD Connections. Conference attendees should plan to attend the Mayo Medical Laboratories presentation at 8:30AM, Wednesday, September 27.

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