Sharing Your Story through Effective Communications
The second Tuesday of the month, practice managers and industry service providers gather for an educational Nashville Medical Group Management Association (NMGMA) meeting to hear from experts on a variety of topics designed to improve the efficiency and success of medical practices. In January Erin George, senior advisor for Lovell Communications, and Michael Hutzel, chief creative officer at FoxFuel Creative, shared insights on effectively telling an organization's story from brand integrity and digital engagement to media outreach and reputation management.
With the specialized and highly regulatory nature of healthcare, the tendency is to think of the industry as being different from other consumer experiences. Yet, whether it's a medical practice or a clothing store, the doors only stay open as long as customers continue to walk through them.
When it comes to building a brand, Hutzel said the old adage - 'It's not a sprint, it's a marathon' - applies. "I think for a lot of people when they establish a new business or medical practice, they do a lot of great work on the up front," he said. "And then, what can be forgotten in the long term, is you have to constantly be looking for ways to get your message out there and refine it."
While it's important to make sure the practice's logo is everywhere, it's equally important "to make sure it's in a quality environment," Hutzel said. Using Apple as an example, he pointed out the company takes as much care in their packaging as with their commercials because every element is meant to convey their corporate axioms of quality and sophistication.
For medical practices, Hutzel suggested thinking about what you want to convey to a patient coming in for a service. How do you want them to feel? What would you like them to share with someone who asked about their experience? Hutzel said everything from forms filled out upon arrival to email reminders to a post-visit survey should be examples of the quality you hope to share. "All of those things are unbelievably important in today's world to make sure you are consistently saying the same thing," he stated.
George discussed ways to get your brand out into the community. The first step, she noted, is to identify who are your audiences and then consider the most effective ways to reach those groups. Most practices, even small ones, have multiple audiences - from current and potential new patients to referring physicians and provider plans. George said community relations, media relations, social media channels and an informative website are all part of an integrated communications plan.
"On the messaging piece, when you're thinking about how you talk about your practice, consistency is incredibly important," said George. "How are you differentiated from others in the market?"
However, she continued, the way you tweak and position that message varies by audience and media source. George suggested doing a bit of homework and reading other types of stories on various media outlets before sending out a pitch or press release. What works well for consumer media might not be the right fit for an industry publication. She also added, not everything has to be a formal press release. Sometimes, George said, a phone call or email outlining the idea to one or two media outlets might make more sense.
Taking a reputational hit, particularly through bad online reviews, is an increasing concern for many practices. "People are motivated to speak when they have a bad experience," said Hutzel. "Nothing can empower somebody more than anger."
When a scathing online comment happens in a vacuum, where there is no offsetting positive content, Hutzel said the power of the negative review is exponentially amplified. "They've got 100 percent of the marketplace," he pointed out. To lessen the impact, Hutzel said practices should proactively grow their digital presence by publishing content, being active on social media channels and engaging in goodwill efforts to get patients with positive experiences to post reviews, as well.
Inevitably, most businesses have to face some level of 'crisis' from the stumbling block of a bad review to much larger issues. "The most important thing is to have some kind of plan in place before these things happen," said George. "You don't want to be caught flat-footed because then you're playing catch-up from the beginning." Having a crisis plan doesn't cover every possible scenario, George continued, but it does provide a general roadmap of how to respond.
She added the first step is fact-finding to have a better idea of what happened and how it happened. Once that information is in hand, the severity of the issue might require pulling in outside resources including a public relations firm or legal assistance. George added if outside help is going to be required, making that decision early allows your communications partners both internally and externally to coordinate messaging and rapidly address the issue.
"Driving Quality in Healthcare: Avoiding the Ditch" - Paul Gentuso, MD, FACP, CPE, chief medical officer for Heritage Medical Associates draws parallels between driving a car in challenging conditions and driving quality in a challenging healthcare environment.
Attend a Meeting
The February and March meetings will be held at Saint Thomas West Conference Rooms with free parking in the Seton Garage. The luncheon program runs from 11:30 am-1 pm. To register, members should go online to nashvillemgma.org. Non-member practice administrators interested in attending an event, please email NMGMA President Laura Watkins at firstname.lastname@example.org for a guest registration.