Curing What Ails Healthcare

Hospice and Palliative Care Blaze a Path for Needed Changes:

We’ve all heard the old healthcare adage: “The cure is worse than the disease.”

Medical education trains physicians to fight disease. Generally, that means treating the symptom that the patient is experiencing. And then the next one. And then the one after that.

How much say does the patient have in the treatment plan? Too often, very little, if anything at all.

That’s a real problem, according to Dr. Timothy Ihrig, an internationally recognized authority on palliative care who joined Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care (a SPRYTE Communications client) as Chief Medical Officer earlier this year.

Dr. Ihrig believes patients deserve to be fully informed of their condition, what it entails, the likely prognosis, and the likely trajectory of the disease. And that  patients should be involved in important decisions that can affect their quality of life.

“True palliative care” offers an important, proactive, inclusive way of addressing individual patient needs and wishes, while at the same time serving as a key driver in the effort to reduce healthcare costs.

In his blog, What’s Wrong with Healthcare? It Doesn’t Care (Part I), Dr. Ihrig begins to map out how that perspective underscores his desire to “start a movement of thought and inspire others to seek not healthcare reform but a reforming of how we care for others within the healthcare system.”

Published August 14, 2018 by Spryte Communications in Public Affairs

Juneteenth – America’s Other Independence Day

Patient Experience Relies on Understanding Diverse Perspectives

Americans love their Fourth of July holiday. After all, it’s America’s birthday – the day we traditionally set aside to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the establishment of a free nation where “all men are created equal.”

But for many, those hallowed words proved hollow. Hundreds of thousands of slaves throughout the young United States – especially in the South – would need to wait almost another century before their rights to equality were officially recognized.

Another View of History

On July 5, 1852, famed African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, himself a former slave, delivered an impassioned speech spelling out the irony inherent in the July 4th celebration:

“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn,” Douglass said. “What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim…”

It would take another 13 years, hundreds of thousands of lives, and a Civil War that tore apart the fabric of the American nation before four million African-American slaves would get their own taste of freedom.

Juneteenth – Freedom Reborn

On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger, military commander of the defeated Confederate state of Texas, read aloud General Order No. 3, telling the populace of Galveston that: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation of the United States, all slaves are free.”

Spontaneous celebrations among the newly freed African American population quickly erupted across the South as Juneteenth was born. African-American communities across the U.S. soon adopted Juneteenth as their own holiday, using it as an occasion for celebrating freedom with public events, picnics and church gatherings.

Understanding Leads to Compassion

Once we understand the history of Juneteenth and how it came into being, it’s easier to appreciate why many African Americans consider Juneteenth to be a day to celebrate not only the vision of freedom President Lincoln described in his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation but also the original promise of the Declaration of Independence.

Since our childhood, we’ve been told that America is a melting pot, comprised of people from all over the world, representing a multitude of religious backgrounds, races, cultures, customs, languages and lifestyles.

Healthcare providers face the everyday challenge of understanding how these differentiating factors may affect individuals’ or families’ attitudes toward illness, pain, coping and death. It is important to appreciate why these attitudes are held, because they can significantly influence their willingness to explore various treatment options. Hospice, in particular, can be an especially touchy discussion topic.

For example, according to statistics, African-Americans comprise approximately 12% of the U.S. population, but they make up only 7.6% of hospice patients. Ironically, African-Americans have a disproportionately higher rate of cancer and heart disease, which are among the top hospice diagnoses.

Researchers point out several reasons for this incongruity. As a rule, African-American families tend to be less trustful of the American healthcare system. In addition, because medical decisions tend to be made within the family, there may be a reluctance to consult with a new, unknown healthcare professional or someone outside the home. Finally, statistically speaking, African Americans tend to be especially reluctant to cease life-prolonging procedures such as tube feeding, organ donation, and palliative care in the hospice setting – because extending life is generally seen as something to be preferred.

Honoring Differences

Healthcare communicators need to recognize that their messages may be perceived very differently by diverse audiences and adjust accordingly to ensure positive patient experience.

As the U.S. healthcare system continues to evolve to one that is more population health-oriented and patient-centered, there is a growing need for healthcare providers to educate patients, families and the general public about what they can do to stay healthier, as well as the nature of specific healthcare challenges and treatment options.

Understanding their emotions, how they think, and the reasons behind these different perspectives is vital to helping patients and families make treatment decisions that are most appropriate for their individual situations.

It’s not unlike coming to appreciate the Juneteenth holiday. The better we understand the history and background of our patients, the better we can understand and honor the views and emotions that influence their decisions and actions.

Healthcare’s Future Lies in Transformation

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel Offers a Compelling Argument

What will the future of healthcare look like? It’s an issue that public affairs commentators and policymakers across the political spectrum continue to debate.

In 1994, the late Dr. William Kissick, a professor emeritus at Wharton and the University of Pennsylvania Schools of Medicine and Nursing, identified three competing issues that the healthcare industry has struggled to address effectively. These issues – access, quality and cost containment – what Dr. Kissick called the “Iron Triangle of Healthcare,” continue to perplex policymakers and healthcare decision-makers to this day.

Recently one of the nation’s leading healthcare policy experts, Ezekiel J. Emanuel, MD, PhD, Vice Provost for Global Initiatives and Chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, offered some important insights into where the national healthcare system is heading, and what it might mean for the Philadelphia region. In part he rejected the conventional notion that it is possible for health care systems to only achieve two of the three parts of the Iron Triangle.  He argued all three had to be achieved together. It was all part of a symposium on “Shaping Health Care” sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia and The Wistar Institute.

Lowering Costs

Finding a way to provide high-value care for all Americans – namely care marked by high quality and low costs with universal coverage – is a goal shared by providers and policymakers alike. According to Dr. Emanuel, “the only way to lower healthcare costs is to change the delivery system to ensure high quality care.”

Traditionally, one of the most significant contributors to the high cost of healthcare has been the combination of providing unnecessary services and inefficiency in how necessary healthcare services are delivered.   One example is standardization of practices so everyone – from physician to nurse to medical assistant – handles the same complaint according to agreed-upon guidelines. For instance, physicians in one local oncology practice were treating mouth sores after chemotherapy in different ways.  The practice standardized to one optimal practice that everyone followed.

Another common example is the fact that some health care groups allow their physicians to control their schedules, leading to double-booking, limited hours, and an inability to work around no-shows or walk-ins.

Creating Efficiencies

Dr. Emanuel identified 12 transformational practices that he says can help physician practices and healthcare organizations improve the quality and cost of care they provide to their patients:

  1. Scheduling
  2. Registration & rooming
  3. Shared decision-making
  4. Performance measurement
  5. Standardization
  6. Chronic Care management
  7. Site of service
  8. De-institutionalization
  9. Behavioral health management
  10. Hospice
  11. Community interventions
  12. Lifestyle interventions

Many of these practices will improve  efficiencies – lowering per unit costs by finding ways to improve a healthcare process or system, or working in collaboration with partners in a way that benefits all involved parties. Others will eliminate unnecessary and undesired services – lowering total costs.

Even seemingly minor changes can show major results. For example, streamlining scheduling practices can offer several benefits: 1) It allows practices to accommodate walk-ins without long wait times instead of sending them to the more expensive emergency room; 2) it increases provider efficiency, as physicians no longer double book or adjust schedules; and 3) it decreases the amount of time wasted due to missed appointments.

Similarly, Dr. Emanuel noted that transformational organizations are providing more services, such as palliative care, in the home. This care is initiated well before a patient becomes terminally ill and is ready for hospice. This approach elicits patients’ preferences for life-sustaining treatments, such as respirators, ICU admission, or dialysis, and tries to keep them at home for the last year of life. It also makes transitioning to hospice in the last weeks of life less abrupt. All these changes lead to care that is both less costly and more in accord with patients’ wishes.

Performance Measures

The pathway for healthcare providers to truly transform also involves the use of real-time performance measures, Dr. Emanuel said. Standardizing clinical practices and treatment procedures based on measurable qualitative data is vital to reducing costs and improving outcomes.

While some physicians may insist that “their” way is the best, organizations need to convince them to adhere to guideline-driven standards. Paradoxically, one effective way to persuade doctors to adapt to standardized measures is to task them with developing the standardized practices and encourage adherence through financial incentives.

At the same time, organizations need to improve their risk adjustment skills in order to continue to improve their healthcare management practices. Risk adjustment is defined as “a statistical process that takes into account the underlying health status and health spending of the enrollees in an insurance plan when looking at their healthcare outcomes or healthcare costs.”  This ensures physicians who see sicker patients are not penalized.

The ultimate goal is to transform the U.S. healthcare structure into a truly patient-centered, efficient and cost-effective system.  Dr. Emanuel notes that the Philadelphia region is a leading example of how organizations are learning to work together to achieve those goals. He said he is confident that by 2030, the entire world will be looking at the United States to understand how healthcare transformation is accomplished.

Consumerism: The Future of Healthcare

Patient-Focused Care is a Growing Challenge

Even before the advent of the Affordable Care Act, a primary goal for healthcare providers has been to get consumers more involved in their own healthcare decisions.

From the now-defunct federal Health Systems Agencies (the original HSAs), to Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), to Flexible Spending Accounts, to Health Savings Accounts (the new HSAs), to the more recent Accountable Care Entities, engaging and empowering consumers to make informed choices about their healthcare needs has been both an ongoing objective and challenge.

Healthcare communicators, who are at the heart of providers’ consumer relations and community relations efforts, need to understand what’s driving this important movement.

 

Key Drivers of Healthcare Consumerism

In a recent webinar sponsored by Thomas Jefferson University’s Jefferson College of Population Health and IBM Watson Health, Dr. David B. Nash, dean of the college, noted that the two biggest factors driving the evolution of healthcare consumerism are utilization and costs.

Dr. Nash pointed to data from 2015 showing that the total expenditure for healthcare in the U.S. topped $3.2 trillion, accounting for 17.8% of the country’s gross domestic product. Per capita national health expenditures amounted to almost $10,000. Almost 60% of those expenditures were tied to two areas of spending: Hospital Care (32.3%) and Professional Services (26.2%).

One key problem, he noted, is quality. More “socialized” national systems found in Canada and Europe provide consumers with better quality at a better price compared to the U.S. health system. At the same time, U.S. consumers are shouldering more of the total healthcare cost burden, including unanticipated costs. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, U.S. workers’ share of health insurance premiums grew 221% since 1999, while premiums themselves increased 203%.

From a healthcare finance perspective, it’s an unsustainable situation. Empowering consumers to exercise more control over their healthcare spending is part of the solution.

 

More Education, Transparency Needed

Unfortunately, too many consumers don’t understand what they’re paying for – or how they’re paying for it. Lack of awareness about insurance terms, processes and pricing tend to inhibit patients from getting involved more directly in their healthcare decisions.

“If you can’t define what a copayment is, you won’t be an empowered consumer,” Dr. Nash explained.

Consumers want to understand what is happening, but available data can be overwhelming. Many are turning to social and public sources for information, but lack the ability to translate the data in a meaningful way that would help their decision-making.

 

Social Determinants of Health (SDOH)

Other key factors driving the evolution of healthcare consumerism are social determinants that describe conditions in which people live, learn, work and play – all of which can have significant impact on an individual’s health risks and outcomes.

Poverty, not surprisingly, is the number one social determinant of health. Those without insurance, or access to regular healthcare checkups inevitably fare worse in terms of early detection of adverse conditions and ensuing complications, chronic health issues, and life expectancy.

A recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation survey asked American physicians what kind of prescriptions they wish they could write to assist patients with social needs. Among their top answers: Fitness Programs (75%), Nutritional Food (64%), and Transportation Assistance (47%). For doctors whose patients were predominantly urban and low-income, the responses were just as telling: Employment Assistance (52%), Adult Education (49%), and Housing Assistance (43%).

 

Engagement is Key

To help address many of these needs, many health systems are increasing their focus on community-based care, meeting patients closer to where they live and addressing their individual needs. This trend can be seen in a number of ways:

  • Increasingly, large regional health systems are affiliating with traditional community hospitals, based on level, type of condition or geography.
  • The popularity and prevalence of retail clinics continues to grow, as health systems see a means to deliver lower-cost local services beyond primary care.
  • Bedless hospitals are springing up – newer entities that are often multi-specialty and offer traditional hospital services except for inpatient care.
  • The BCBS Institute is partnering with the ridesharing company Lyft to address transportation-based SDOH. The Institute and Lyft will work together to coordinate rides in neighborhoods with limited public transit access and low rates of vehicle ownership.
  • The growing popularity of telehealth, mobile technology and digital therapeutics, that allow physicians to provide lower cost care and regularly monitor their patients’ progress almost anywhere at any time.

In addition, spending more time with patients – encouraging them to ask questions, taking time to explain procedures, treatments and options – can be a major factor in improving healthcare outcomes individually and in the community. Healthcare insurance professionals can also play an important role by working closely with consumers to make sure they understand options and nuances involved in their insurance decisions.

Healthcare communicators have a major role to play as well, by paying close attention to the evolving nature of healthcare consumerism and working with their colleagues – healthcare administrators, physicians, nurses and other medical professionals, as well as their allies throughout the community – to reach out, identify and educate consumers to ensure as many as possible get the care and support they need to live healthy, happy lives.

Social Workers Bring Help and Hope

For Them, Caring is a Calling

“Never, never, be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

What is it that makes social workers tick? With March being National Social Work Month, we at SPRYTE thought what better time to delve into some of their motivations and inclinations?

For healthcare communicators, who are often tasked with showcasing the conscience of their organization – whether through corporate social responsibility programs, employee communications, or thought leadership initiatives – understanding how and why social workers do what they do can help shine a bright light on the path ahead.

For Episcopal Community Services’ Neibert Richards, MSW, LSW, it was always about caring and people.

“I originally went to school to major in nursing, but soon after I arrived, the school decided to phase out the major,” she recalls. After that, she was undecided as a major. That’s about the time she was introduced to the opportunity presented by social work.

“The biology and all the other classes just weren’t fitting with what I wanted to do,” says Richards. But the idea of helping others was clearly a guiding force.

 

A Caring Tradition

Those roots run deep. Her father was a minister. Her mother, a teacher. There were four children in all. The family moved to the U.S. from Guyana when she was eight.

“Family was always a huge factor for me,” Richards says. “I was always longing for connections, wanting to know who my cousins are. I was the one who always had an issue when someone couldn’t come to be with the family for the holidays.”

Soon after getting her Master’s in Social Welfare, she joined Episcopal Community Services (ECS), where she signed onto the foster care program. Today, 22 years later, she is Director of Permanent Housing at ECS.

 

Changing Times

Over the years, there have been many changes in the way social workers are viewed, she says.

“I think the career path is better organized. Social workers are viewed more as true professionals.” she says.

Hopefully, that view will supplant what Jeanne Morrison, MSW, Support Services Director for Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care in Philadelphia, says is probably the biggest misperception people have about social workers.

“Lots of times, people use the term ‘social worker’ for someone who is actually a caseworker,” explains Morrison. “Especially in child welfare situations, there is a belief that it’s the social worker who is there to take the child away.  The reality is that the social worker’s goal is to keep families together whenever possible.”

 

Looking at Strengths

Morrison notes that social workers are trained to evaluate clients from a strength standpoint – whether it’s the family, an individual, or a group dynamic. The initial goal is to identify existing strengths that can be built upon to help address certain issues that the client is facing.

She says the effort is a true collaborative partnership between the social worker and the client.

To do that effectively, it’s important “to meet people where they are,” she says. “In order to identify their hopes and plans, you need to understand things from their standpoint. You can’t expect people to come to you. If you do, you’ll get nowhere fast. But if you can understand and meet them where they are, you can start identifying their hopes and dreams from that stanpoint.”

 

Next Generation of Social Workers

Emily Blumenthal is a student at the George Warren Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis currently working toward her degree in social work.

She says the holistic perspective that social workers are trained to utilize is one of the things that led her in this direction.

“As a social worker, you’re trained to look at the environment the individual is in – you need to pay attention to who they’re surrounded by, family, friends, whatever is going on. It’s important to get the whole perspective,” she says.

Blumenthal is currently in the midst of a practicum with Perinatal Behavioral Health Service working with pregnant women with mood disorders or depression, doing screenings and providing information in a clinical setting. Following this, she will move on to another practicum (focus to be determined) that will last about a year. The experience will provide her with a broader base of training and insights that will assist in a future career decision.

She says her ultimate goal is to go into counseling, perhaps working with young adults, couples, and young famiies. But she’s confident that her background and training in social work will enable her to choose from a number of options.

 

Remembering what’s Important

For ECS’ Neibert Richards, that diversity of opportunity is one of social work’s greatest strengths.

“Social workers are a lot of people who care about helping others, giving someone a helping hand to advance to the next stage of life so they can move in a positive direction,” she says.

“They’re the ones, walking the streets, counting the homeless every year for HUD,” Richards explains. “They’re the ones who have no problem going into a home that’s drug-infested, letting someone know that we have a bed here, the kids can come. They’re trying to get them to think beyond this life that they’re in. It isn’t easy for them. Social workers do it because they care.”

For healthcare communicators, when you’re telling your story, caring and people are usually good places to begin as well.

Don’t Let Facebook Trip up your Social Marketing

Solution: Keep Your Digital Content Relevant

Fake news isn’t just a Washington catch phrase. It can be a harbinger of doom for healthcare organizations’ social marketing efforts, especially in the case of Facebook.

With the world’s top social media site recently updating its algorithms to devalue fake, spammy content, click bait (“You won’t believe what happened next!”) and “engagement bait” that has little relevance to anything (“Vote for your favorite flavor ice cream!”) – thereby limiting its exposure on timelines – our friends at Chatterblast, a Philadelphia social media marketing company, broke it all down and offered tips for navigating the new landscape.

The good news for healthcare communicators, who are typically conscientious users of social media for their practices or health systems, is we have a wealth of valuable information from doctors and other highly credible sources we can share. So long as we remain relevant to our audience, and continue to eschew fake, suspiciously or ambiguously sourced content, we’ll continue to get Facebook loving for our social marketing activities.

Read Chatterblast’s full blog here. And remember, SPRYTE is always standing by to help with content optimization to keep you from running afoul of the new standards.

 

Winning Patients’ Hearts with E-marketing

SPRYTE Helps Heart House Show its Love, and Expertise

Love is in the air this Valentine’s Day, but for one SPRYTE client, matters of the heart are a year-long occupation.

Heart House may not be anyone’s destination for a romantic dinner, but the South Jersey cardiology group is striving to be an important part of its patients’ lifestyle year-round. Its 31 doctors at seven locations are authorities in the latest techniques in cardiac care and interventional procedures, so when it comes to healing broken hearts, there’s no one you’d rather talk to.

In 2017, Heart House, seeking to build its brand, create loyalty among patients, and inspire referrals, enlisted SPRYTE to for e-marketing support. Our centerpiece is a bi-monthly newsletter, The Heartbeat.

Wooing Patients beyond Valentine’s Day

Knowing that consumers always like validation that they’ve made the right health care choice, SPRYTE developed The Heartbeat to be a friendly, quick, easy-to-read piece to reinforce that Heart House is a patient-focused practice concerned with delivering care as conveniently as possible. It also conveys that Heart House is on top of current trends in cardiac care, and its physicians are knowledgeable and highly skilled. Specifically, the newsletter:

  • Creates a positive brand impression of Heart House among patients and staff;
  • Keeps the practice name top-of-mind among patients and prospects;
  • Gives patients peace of mind that they are well cared for, and Heart House is committed to helping them thrive.

To do all this, each edition is divided into three sections: a lead story highlighting news and practice initiatives benefitting patients; a cardiac “factoid” with a compelling, easy-to-digest illustration highlighting current trends and epidemiology; and an “Ask the Doctor” feature, shining a light on a new or innovative device or technique in cardiac treatment. Each piece is short and to the point.

For recipients, the first two editions of The Heartbeat were love at first sight. Each enjoyed a 30 percent open rate, nearly twice the 17 percent open rate for physicians, according to a study by Constant Contact.

K.I.S.S. (Keep it Simple Stupid)

If you’d like to show your love to your patients via e-marketing, here are some things to keep in mind:

Make it about them, not you. Newsletters full of boastful material about that award your doctor or practice won will get relegated to the delete folder quickly. Include useful information or advice that patients can take to heart and improve their health, lifestyle, or patient experience.

Keep it simple. Short blocks of text go a long way with busy readers. Make each item a 1-minute read or less, punctuated by eye-catching graphics. The less scrolling readers have to do, the better. You are striving for a quick, robust brand impression.

Put your brand front and center. Include your logo and tag line or value proposition in the banner, and repeat it at the bottom. Be sure to include contact information and office locations.

Link to your social media. Every e-marketing platform allows you to include links to your social media feeds, so use them. And make sure your newsletter has highly visible Share buttons, so readers can spread the love.

As SPRYTE and Heart House have learned with The Heartbeat, putting tender loving care into your e-marketing effort can pay off by ensuring your patients only have eyes for you.

No Online Presence? That’s Anti-Social!

Your Medical Practice Needs Social Media

It seems that just about everyone is on social media these days. Some cannot get enough of it while others detest it. Regardless of how you feel about it as a healthcare communicator, you can no longer deny its place in modern society and have to view it as a valuable tool. It’s like the old saying “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Current numbers suggest social media is used by more than 80 percent of the population. This percentage has been increasing by about 5 percent every year.

With this in mind, SPRYTE Communications recently partnered with South Jersey Holistic, the practice of Polina Karmazin, MD, a medical doctor and area expert in the field of homeopathic medicine. South Jersey Holistic had a loyal but somewhat small patient base and no real presence outside of its physical location. Through consultation, a plan was developed to build a social media presence. With Facebook still reigning as the most popular social media platform, this was our starting point. In addition to building out the profile and preparing content, a routine was created under which postings would go up daily and in support of the practice’s core treatment offerings.

In 90 days, the practice’s Facebook following grew from 0 to 138. The page currently has 156 followers. Boosted posts were also used with great success. One in particular reached nearly 25,000 Facebook users within 25 miles of South Jersey Holistic’s hometown of Voorhees, N.J., and resulted in 199 post clicks.

Face It: Social Media Influences Decisions

Social media has come a long way. No longer just for posting photos and thinking out loud, platforms such as Facebook influence decisions such as buying a car…or finding a new doctor. That is the real game changer. There has always been a social aspect to buying and, historically, word of mouth was the main means. The personal recommendation was, is and forever will be more powerful than any paid marketing.

There is a pervasive myth in which Nordstrom allowed a customer to return snow tires despite the fact they did not sell snow tires. Whether factual or not really doesn’t matter. That the story has been re-told thousands of times is meaningful and supports the Nordstrom “customer-first” brand. That anecdote took years to reach the ears of those thousands of people. Today, one post has the ability to reach more people in a matter of minutes. We have truly moved from word of mouth to word of click.

Testimonials can be Incredibly Valuable

While it’s up to the organization to ensure a positive patient experience, social media can be harnessed to encourage positive reviews…and be subject to critical ones too. With all channels offering the ability to tag others, re-post/retweet and share, testimonials, ideally factual ones, can go a long way on social media platforms. These can be valuable to stimulate conversation and create buzz.

But once you have a social media presence, it must be monitored and engaged with. Messages and comments should be addressed quickly. You never want less-than-complimentary commentary hanging out there without a response. Even positive comments should be acknowledged, with something as simple as a thumbs up. This will demonstrate that you are engaged with your followers.

Let’s Get Social in 2018!

Facebook offers ease of use and is still the most widely used. Twitter has recently expanded its character limit and is therefore more friendly (note: just because you can now use up to 280 characters doesn’t mean you have to). Instagram is the most photo-centric. If you have compelling visuals, Instagram is a great place to be but should be considered complementary to the others, not used in place of them.

Regardless of which combination of platforms your medical practice decides to use, make it a goal in 2018 to establish your social media voice. Like South Jersey Holistic, you’ll quickly learn how powerful it can be!

SPRYTE’s 2018 Hospice Predictions

Consumerism Drives High Touch and Tech

The past few years have seen a number of issues and innovations gain prominence in healthcare and the hospice industry.

Individualized, patient-centered care, technological advances and a growing ability on the part of patients to actively compare healthcare providers are three of the key trends that healthcare communicators – especially those who work in the hospice industry – are likely to encounter in the months ahead.

 

Focus: Understanding the Whole Patient

Beginning January 1, 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began paying physicians to engage in advance care planning conversations with their patients to help them understand and make decisions about their end-of-life treatment preferences.

In the first year, approximately 575,000 Medicare recipients took advantage of the new benefit, according to a Kaiser Health News survey – almost twice the number expected.  Expect that number to increase in 2018. At the same time, look for an effort to broaden the focus of the conversation.

Dr. Tim Ihrig, Chief Medical Officer for Crossroads & Palliative Care (full disclosure: a SPRYTE client), says such conversations should go beyond discussions about extreme treatment measures and do-not-resuscitate orders. Instead, they should empower patients to consider what is most important to them from physical, medical, emotional and spiritual standpoints and use that as a basis for envisioning how they want to live their final days, weeks, months or years. Helping patients understand how palliative care can enhance the quality of their lives as they reach the final stages should be part of that evolving conversation as well.

Healthcare communicators need to understand the growing importance of patient-centric, value-based care to help educate patients and their own staff about best practices and what to expect.

 

More Ability to Compare and Contrast

Over the past few years, the CMS has developed a series of websites aimed at providing consumers with information that will enable them to begin the process of comparing healthcare providers in various sectors, including Physician Compare, Hospital Compare, Nursing Home Compare, and Inpatient Rehabilitation Facility (IRF) Compare. The websites offer a way to compare providers within a geographic area (and against national averages) based on specific quality metrics.

In August, 2017, the CMS launched Hospice Compare. The goal was to allow users to sort through hospices based on quality metrics, such as the percentage of patients who were screened for pain, or difficulty breathing, or whether patients’ preferences are being met. Almost immediately, however, the site became the focus of complaints that incorrect information was being provided – incorrect addresses, phone numbers and profit statuses were among the problems identified.

CMS administrators say they are working hard to correct the bad information. At the same time, they say additional quality metrics will be added to help users make more informed choices as they compare hospice providers. Look for a more accurate and robust Hospice Compare website to appear – eventually. (No clear timeline has been established.)

In the meantime, healthcare communicators need to be alert to new developments and be ready to provide accurate information about their own organizations on a timely basis.

 

Technology’s Role Will Continue to Grow

Many people are still surprised when they learn that hospice is not a place, but rather a program designed to help patients with a terminal illness live peacefully and painlessly as they reach the end of life. The growth of telehealth will make the delivery of hospice-related services more accessible and reliable than ever. Nothing, of course, will supplant the value of in-person visits by a nurse or care provider. But the availability of round-the-clock medical monitoring and telecommunications with patients or family members will enable a higher level of quality care for those who are homebound, who lack family support, or who live in very rural or isolated locations.

Other technological advancements in the area of virtual reality are already helping to educate providers, support staff, first responders and family members about what it’s like to experience some of the conditions and challenges faced by patients who are elderly, infirm, or dealing with dementia. In fact, during 2017, two of our healthcare clients – Crossroads Hospice and Holy Redeemer Health System – staged “virtual dementia tours” for the benefit of caregivers and family members. Special programs such as this allow healthcare providers to showcase their special knowledge while providing an important educational public service – always a great opportunity for communicators.

Additional technology-driven developments are underway – programs to better track opioid use and abuse, enhanced data-driven analytics to help providers in the areas of tracking, documentation and reporting, and improved work management systems that enable providers to offer more timely, efficient care to their patients.

No doubt, 2018 will be an exciting time. As always, healthcare communicators will need to be alert and constantly aware of the fast-paced developments taking place in their industry and how they can impact their own organizations.

Published January 2, 2018 by Spryte Communications in Public Affairs

Great Stories = Great Earned Media

Seek Human Angles, Community Activity

It’s the age-old question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

There are many ways to argue it of course. At its most basic, sound is vibrations in the air and whether or not there are ears there to hear it is irrelevant. But this blog is not about arguing the merits of old philosophical dilemmas. Rather, it’s about bringing attention to your organization’s events. And some might argue that if you have an event and no one is there to witness it, it really wasn’t an event at all.

But how do you go about getting the media to your events? It is incumbent upon you to get inside the mind of the viewer and the journalist and think about what’s newsworthy. We know the more salacious the better, and if anything bad or controversial occurs rest assured they’ll be out in force, possibly with helicopters. But if we’re being honest we also know that the media generally seek balance and will engage with a story that is interesting or has “feel good” value. These qualities, along with community outreach initiatives and technological breakthroughs can elevate the reputation of your hospital, health system or facility, and draw in journalists, so start by focusing your efforts there.
The Plan of Attack

A recent SPRYTE example illustrates this approach. Responsible for the promotion of the 2017 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Philadelphia Marathon, SPRYTE employed two of our tried and true tactics, the media advisory and the story pitch, to gain a tremendous amount of media coverage over five months, culminating with the AACR Philadelphia Marathon Weekend Nov. 18-19.

Media advisories were used for pep rallies and announcements, and pitches employed for feature stories. These included the story of U.S. Army Sgt. (Retired) Earl Granville, an Afghanistan vet and wounded warrior who ran the Dietz & Watson Half Marathon Nov. 18 on a prosthetic leg. It was a powerful story that begged for media coverage…and received it, from NBC10, CBS3 and Fox29.

Breandan Lyman also got media loving for his two unlikely paired hobbies: distance running and competitive eating. The frequent Philadelphia “Wing Bowl” competitor was featured in Philadelphia Metro the week leading up to the Marathon. These are just two of the many powerful and quirky stories that have value. You can view these and other Marathon earned media results at this link.

 

The Best Laid Plans…

Alas, it is possible to work everything just right and still miss out on media engagement. For instance, your charitable fundraiser can easily get bumped by another story such as a house fire or local scandal. That’s the nature of the beast. You can’t count on the coverage until you see it on air or in print.

 

Media is Not the Enemy

As we alluded to above, it’s easy to think of the media as that ogre that shows up to call attention to something bad, but this thinking is limiting and not altogether true. The fact is, media want newsworthy content. Giving them what they crave helps them as well as you. Once your story gets covered, it is free and, via social media, possibly viral publicity, ready to be merchandised and shared through your own social channels and other communications tool, as discussed in last week’s Insights blog.