Here’s a strong example of a healthcare brand living in its consumer’s world and adding value to their lives on their terms.

The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center provides confidential comprehensive medical, mental health, family planning, and health education services to young people mainly from the South Bronx and East Harlem.

Text in the City is the text messaging service for these teens attending the Center (MSAHC) in New York. The six month pilot was launched in January 2010, and is hoped to be made more widely available in 2011. The service allows teens to ask confidential questions, sign up for birth control reminders, and offers weekly ‘healthbytes’ of useful and interesting health-based advice, via text.

The program’s founder (katherine.malbon@mountsinai.org) is eager to learn from others involved in similar projects and trials. So reach out if you can be of any assistance.

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Healthcare clinics and retailers combining their services to create added convenience for their customers has been happening for some time (e.g. Take Care Clinics in Walgreens).

Now, reversing this trend, Best Buy has entered into a test partnership with Memorial Hospital of South Bend, IN to (begin to) take their hospital gift shop into the technology age.

The store will carry a limited selection of Best Buy products (digital cameras, chargers, data cards, etc.) to help patients and guests stay connected during their treatment or visit, while the hospital will keep a percentage of the revenue. If test results are favorable, Best Buy may roll out the concept to other U.S. hospitals.

What do you think, are Best Buy and Memorial Hospital really creating new and greater value for families and patients? Interested to hear your point-of-view.

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What does the future hold for healthcare brands as they begin to engage/extend their engagement with patients and communities through social media?

In this interview, part of our “Insider Insights” series, Melissa Tizon, Communications Director at Swedish Health Services, Seattle, shares her point of view.

1. How has social media impacted the way your organization does business?
Social media has added a whole new dimension to the way we engage our community. It’s been a wonderful way to stay connected with Greater Seattle and be part of the conversation. It’s also given us a new tool for telling our own story. Whereas we used to rely on traditional means, we can now broadcast our own stories via social media and engage the community in the process.

For example, last summer, we hosted a “sleep up” in the middle of the night via Ustream, Cover It Live and Twitter. Our sleep experts were on air the entire night talking about sleep issues and answering questions. More than 10,000 people tuned in (many more than we could have reached through lectures), so we feel we struck a chord and provided value for people struggling with health issues.

2. What are the key challenges Swedish is grappling with as it considers social media?
One of the main reasons we became active on social media was to see what people we’re saying about us online. Once we tuned in, it was amazing what we found. We discovered we had lots of brand ambassadors saying great stuff about us. It’s wonderful to discover compliments online, and it’s been a great opportunity to share them with our staff, say thank you to the folks who posted the comments and stay connected to them.

But from time to time, we also come across not-so-glowing comments, including service issues that need to be addressed. They can range from “I can’t get an appointment for two weeks” to the cable TV in my hospital room is out. Personally, I think it’s great to get these comments because my team and I can easily notify the nurse manager on duty and get the issues taken care of real time. We monitor social media channels on a daily basis, and we’ll escalate issues immediately if appropriate.

But I think one challenge for us and every health organization will be who owns customer service via social media? Is it the marketing communications department or patient relations? There’s a gray area between informal patient feedback sent via social media and formal complaints typically submitted in writing. This is an issue that I’d love to discuss more with my peers nationally to see how they’re addressing it. There’s been a lot of focus on HIPAA and social media. In the same vein, I’d love to see more conversation on how to handle patient feedback via social media.

3. What are your top lessons learned for implementing a social media strategy?
If you’re still getting resistance to social media from the likes of Legal, IS and HR, don’t give up. For departments responsible for managing risk, it’s natural to be cautious and not want to open up what seems like a can of worms. But my experience has been that these groups realize that social media isn’t just a fad, and that they’d rather be prepared for what may come than be caught off guard. Also, I think they want to have a hand in shaping an enlightened social media policy for your organization.

My second lesson learned is that it pays to be personally proficient in social media. If you’re on a marketing communications team and have not engaged on Twitter personally or are not staying current on the newest tools, I encourage you to do so. You can’t think of social media as someone else’s job. Just like writing and editing are valued skills in our work, so is having a good grasp of social media. Because we’ve played in the space, we have a better understanding of the role it can play in our integrated marketing communications campaign, and how it can compliment our PR, advertising and internal-communications efforts.

We are very fortunate that we had a new member join our team last summer. It takes a village to gain momentum and build buzz around your brand via social media, and she’s been great about getting our physicians on board, and training our managers and staff. She helps people in our organization understand what they need to be thinking about when they use social media both personally and professionally, what they can do to support the organization’s brand and she brings a keen understanding of authenticity and building trust online.

4. In closing, the organizations and brands that will thrive in the future are those that ….
ultimately, differentiate on patient experience (and social media can play a role here as well). The more you can streamline the process for patients and make the experience as positive as possible, the more successful you’ll be in the long run. For a long time, the public has accepted/put up with flaws in healthcare – long wait times, lack of communication from staff, confusing bills, difficult to navigate way finding, etc. But in the future, patients will have less tolerance for a sub-par experience, and they’ll be much more discerning about where they go for care.

They’ll vote with their feet and choose the provider that makes the experience as seamless as possible. Good service and comfortable, clean facilities are a proxy for quality in the mind of the consumer. The average patients are probably not following your organization’s key metrics for clinical quality, but they will notice if it seems like their doctor or nurse isn’t listening to them, if their food arrives cold or if the facility isn’t spotless and well-kept.

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Notice to healthcare organizations (who tend to lag in incorporating social tools into their networked practices) – “Companies using the Web intensively gain greater market share and higher margins.”

This is a major finding from new McKinsey research, the results of which can be found here in McKinsey Quarterly. It shows that a new class of company is emerging – one that uses collaborative Web 2.0 technologies intensively to connect the internal efforts of employees and to extend the organization’s reach to customers, partners, and suppliers.

Results from their analysis (among 3,249 executives across regions, industries and functional areas) show that the Web 2.0 use of these companies is significantly improving their reported performance.

In fact, the data show that fully networked enterprises are not only more likely to be market leaders or to be gaining market share but also use management practices that lead to margins higher than those of companies using the Web in more limited ways.

The chart below shows that among respondents at companies using Web 2.0, a large majority report that they are receiving measurable business benefits. Nearly nine out of ten report at least one – ranging from more effective marketing to faster access to knowledge.

Once again, you can view the complete summary findings here.

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How can your customers love you if you don’t love them?  Hint: Experience matters.

I went for my annual physical the other day (everything’s good), followed by a stop at Trader Joe’s on the way home.

Walking into the doctor’s office, I was acknowledged (can’t really say greeted) by someone who barely looked up from her computer screen. She then asked in rapid fire succession my name, if my insurance had changed and if I filled out my pre-exam paperwork. She then instructed me to have a seat (didn’t say please) in the waiting room.

Twenty minutes later, I was shown into the examining room, asked to put on my gown (don’t forget to tie from the back), and told a nurse would be with me shortly to take some information prior to my exam. Because it’s cold (maybe 60 degrees) and the magazines are out-of-date, I actually weigh myself and set the height bar (to keep moving).

Flash forward about an hour. I walk into Trader Joe’s and am greeted by an employee who says “how are you, thanks for shopping at Trader Joe’s.” He then offers me a cookie (funny timing, right after my physical). With cookie in hand, I grab a sample cup of coffee. After walking around for a couple minutes, all five senses fully engaged, I ask an employee where a certain item is in the store. Instead of telling me where it is, he walks me over. You get the idea.

It’s amazing that if Trader Joe’s, roughly an $8 billion company with 340+ stores can treat me like a neighbor — that the physician practice that I’ve been going to for years, can’t do the same.

My advice to healthcare providers, start thinking and acting like Trader Joe’s. Because they realize that customer service and customer support are marketing. And they love their customers.

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You can’t excel across all service lines. You certainly can’t support them all. But despite this (forgetting all the politics and compromising), internal teams keep churning out new branded services.

Here are eight questions that will start your organization on its way to building a stronger portfolio that builds maximum relationship value for your audiences and maximum financial value for your organization:

1. Strategic Fit. Does the portfolio help achieve and support your longer-term strategic priorities?
2. Support Priority Businesses. Does it support the businesses that contribute to driving volume and reputation?
3. Brand Value. Does the portfolio reinforce and help build brand equity?
4. Brand Synergy. Is there a clear relationship between the brands?
5. Customer Value. Does the portfolio meet the needs of your customers?
6. Customer Opportunity. Do your brands invite the customer relationships you want?
7. Other Stakeholders. Does the portfolio meet their needs; and not sacrifice business and brand priorities?
8. The Organization. Do the brands work together to build value back to the organization?

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SAFE IN COMMON is an online global community of healthcare workers, educators, patients, community leaders, industry and advocacy groups who’ve joined together to enhance and save lives by raising awareness about needlestick injuries, providing support to those affected and bringing about the safest and simplest injection practices to people around the world.

In tandem with our client Unilife, we officially launched SAFE IN COMMON today.

It’s an important initiative, as 1.3 million people die annually from unsafe injection practices, and another 600,000 suffer needlestick injuries. By joining SAFE IN COMMON, you can support its mission by contributing to blogs, participating in surveys, sharing needlestick stories, signing the Manifesto, and promoting injection safety. You will also receive e-news updates, and have unlimited access to its online resource library.

If you’re involved in healthcare — or if you know someone who has ever suffered a needlestick injury — visit SAFE IN COMMON. Consider joining the community. Share it with others. And help us save lives.

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I just facilitated a brand workshop with different cross-functional teams of a healthcare system. It was a chance to get them excited about, and aligned around, an upcoming organization-wide initiative.

At the end of the session, we circled back to a Top 10 Brand Fitness checklist – which I thought I’d share here. FYI, we handed out this checklist on the back of a “faux” new business card. At the end of each day over the next few weeks, we asked participants to refer back to the checklist – to keep them thinking about brand and actively engaged in their organization’s upcoming initiative. Here’s the list:

1. Driving Ambition.  Is your organization clear on what it wants its brand to become; and what it ultimately hopes to accomplish for communities and patients?

2. Strategy & Alignment. Does your brand influence the total operation of your organization to ensure consistent brand behavior in your market and consistent brand experiences for communities and patients? Does the brand align with business strategy, as well as organizational structure, systems and cultural style?

3. Brand Positioning
. Does your organization clearly and simply state how it wants to be perceived among communities and patients in a way that stands out from the crowd, that goes beyond healthcare and service lines to what really matters to people?

4. Customer Reflection. Does the brand have personal relevance to your target customers? Does it build an image and reputation, drive preference and behavior. Is anyone in the organization listening/watching for cues to deliver more value for customers as they interact with you?

5. Loyalty Beyond Satisfaction. Many people wrongly assume they’re essentially the same thing. But satisfaction relates to the results of a process, while loyalty is a much longer-term proposition relating to a relationship. In an increasingly competitive marketplace where consumers have more choices, recommendations from family and friends carry a lot of weight and loyalists have a much bigger voice than those who are merely satisfied.

6. Brand Delivery. Is your brand positioning delivered through every action and form of communication that the organization has at its disposal; does every aspect of the corporate or product “experience”deliver the brand in tangible and intangible ways?

7. Cut-Through Noise. Does your healthcare brand cut-through the noise of your market and competitors, to engage and retain your best customers?

8. Co-Creation. Do you open up your healthcare brand to community and patient participation, to allow customers and your organization to continue to thrive?

9. Leadership Commitment.
Do senior leadership actions reflect your brand promises and positioning?

10. Internal Commitment & Demonstration. Is internal brand-building on the organization’s agenda; across all facilities and service lines? Are there programs in place to help you actively deliver on your brand, or is brand building reduced to a manual?

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