Managing Reputation with Bylines

Tap into Doctors’ Expertise to Build Thought Leadership Creds

When SPRYTE learned that a pediatrician at Holy Redeemer Hospital was seeing a spate of concussions relating to youth sports, we sprang into action to warn parents on signs they need to look for. The resulting article under Dr. Avi Gurwitz’s byline ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer “Expert Advice” column in the Sunday Health section, which is seen by 194,000 readers (not counting online). The twist? Concussions aren’t limited to football, but can be sustained in many spring sports too.

The first-person, “bylined” article by a healthcare professional can be a boon to your organization’s reputation. Whether it appears in a local newspaper or regional lifestyle magazine, getting your physicians’ skills and knowledge out to current and prospective patients should be a goal of any healthcare communicator, and creating thought-leadership articles is a great way to do it. The “third-party endorsement” you gain upon publication is invaluable, as it tells readers that your doctor truly is an expert, and what he or she has to say merits editorial space.

Where are Your Patients Coming From?

Start by determining where your organization’s or practice’s patients come from, and targeting the publications that reach them. Research them, and if you’re already reading them pay attention for opportunities that may be a good fit for your physicians. Daily and weekly newspapers, for example, might run regular health columns called “Expert Advice,” “The Doctor is In,” or “Things To Know,” sometimes in the Sunday health section or a recurring healthcare supplement. Notice whether they use doctor-contributed content, and in what format.

Finding topics is the easy part. Just about every physician has a few hot-button subjects they’re passionate about, or vital information they want patients to know, and are usually happy to share them if you ask. Some might be “evergreen,” but as a communications pro, you might also think seasonally, and offer ideas well ahead of time that fit in with subjects editors and readers will be thinking about. Sparing your back when doing spring gardening or landscaping can be an attractive topic in the first quarter, while minimizing risk of heart attack when shoveling snow is a natural for the winter months.

Once you’ve settled on an idea, you’ll need to flesh it out into an article query. Most editors won’t commit to running your doctor’s article until they actually see it, so you might be writing on-spec, but if you learn the publication’s editorial guidelines and adhere to them, particularly word count, you’ll increase your chances of publication.

Writing for Reputation

Schedule an interview with the doctor, so you can gather and assimilate their knowledge on the subject, determine the key points to make, and even get a sense of their “voice.” Additional background research might be required to write a fully formed article.

Once you’ve written the draft, you’ll have to send it back to the doctor for their review, along with any other internal eyes that might need to see it. But because the article is appearing under their name, the physician should have final say on the content. Be sure to add a one- or two-sentence biography of the author at the end, and offer a high-resolution head shot to the editor in case they run them.

Bylined articles can be a powerful form of reputation marketing, and as such an effective way to influence patients and prospective patients. And, like the Dr. Gurwitz column, they can deliver valuable information on any number of health topics, letting consumers know you’re a community-minded organization.

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.

Growing Thought Leaders

Engaging Internal and External Audiences Key

Like growing a lush garden, developing a reputation for your practice or individual physicians as thought leaders takes cultivation. It’s no easy task. No matter how much your physicians know, no matter how impressive their credentials, you have to disseminate that knowledge consistently in a way that will appeal to their peers and other professionals.

The good news is you don’t have to go it alone. By engaging internal audiences such as colleagues and staff, and nurturing relationships with influencers in your specialty, you can create a web of authority around your physician that goes well beyond what you can accomplish individually.

Using the Intermountain Healthcare’s Cardiovascular Clinical Program as an example, Jason Carlton, the organization’s social media manager, shared advice for developing content and guiding docs to become thought leaders during the Public Relations Society of America Health Academy held in Orlando earlier this year.

Conference as Content

The Cardiovascular Clinical Program sought to enhance its reputation as a top-tier research center in order to attract other cardiologists and practices to potentially partner with. The social media manager does this, in part, by leveraging its physicians’ speaking engagements at professional conferences. These events offer a prime opportunity to engage industry peers, and as a result its content – including blogs, video interviews, and posts from “brand ambassadors” – is oriented toward those audiences.

Importantly, Carlton notes, the process should begin well before the conference itself. His recommendations include:

  • Have doctors and staff prep blogs ahead of time to post during the event.
  • Distribute a news release about your participation and key points of your presentation to local press, being mindful of any embargoes from the conference organizer.
  • Distribute the news release on one or more online distribution sites (e.g. EIN, EurekaAlerts) for search engines to find.
  • Repurpose content of the release for tweets to gin up interest in the weeks and days leading up to the event.
  • Set up Google Alerts for your practice and other key terms relevant to your topic or the conference, and save links as they arrive for more shareable content.

During the Conference

The conference floor is ground zero for content gathering. Carlton recommends the following:

  • Live tweet during the conference, particularly during your doctor’s presentation, to deliver up-to-the-minute information to other professionals. Enlist other physicians in your practice, including your brand ambassadors, to do the same.
  • Collect content from other presenters and exhibitors. This might include presentation decks if available, and links to others’ studies and reports. This can all be great shareable content.
  • Gather intelligence for future posts during speeches. Take pictures and get names of the people in them.
  • Be your own media. Conduct video interviews with your physicians and their peers, either in a studio if available or simply in front of your own booth. Share the clips on your practice’s website and social media, or even Facebook Live, using relevant hashtags and handles. Ideally, clips should be 2-3 minutes long.
  • Identify influencers. Frequently, these will be other presenters or workshop leaders. Tweet what they’re saying, including their handles (researched in advance). Follow them and share their posts. They will likely return the favor.

By delivering a steady stream of quality content, you can gain eyeballs of other professionals and unlock potential working opportunities. But the process takes time and effort. If you involve both internal and external resources, and expand your view of what constitutes great content, you’ll go a long way toward building your practice’s expert creds online.