7 Principles to Guide Health Care Strategists Through COVID Chaos and Beyond

By The SHSMD Team posted 03-16-2021 01:15 PM


When crises hit in health care, typically well-laid marketing plans are pushed aside in favor of addressing the most pressing strategies and communications. An organizational North Star, however, can help guide health care organizations through challenging and unfamiliar territory.

Oftentimes, hospital leaders fall back on rigid rules when confronted with chaos, notes Carol Koenecke-Grant, principle, CKG Consulting and former vice president of strategy and marketing for Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg, South Carolina. She urges her peers to instill a defined set of principles that can carry a marketing and communications team through difficult times while continually remaining focused on the patient.

The pandemic has created unprecedented situations, and without a clear guiding light, health care invariably leans on rules-based decision making when faced with a challenge. For example, patients who were in end-of-life situations and wanted to be with their families during the pandemic could not do so because of strict adherence to hospital policies.

Seven Guiding Principles

Koenecke-Grant — a former SHSMD board member — and Brian Q. Davis, executive vice president of consultancy for Scorpion Healthcare recently explored seven guiding principles to aid peers with these issues during a SHSMD workshop. While oriented around COVID-19 and 2021’s challenges, experts believe these ideologies are simple and universal enough to remain relevant regardless of the day’s reality:

  1. Serve the patient first: Everything health care marketers and strategists do should be held up against this notion. Seek to reduce uncertainty for the patient and understand the needs of communities, especially their digital desires, which should always be prioritized over organizational requests.
  2. Go where the patient is: It is health care’s duty to serve the community with knowledge, stories and insights. Wherever patients’ attention is, hospitals must be there too, all while proactively broadcasting in service to their communities.
  3. Digital presence is a strategy, not a tactic: How a hospital holds itself out to the community digitally should tie back to its mission, vision and values. A digital presence must be seen as a strategic asset in the service of consumers.
  4. The digital front door is now the front door: All pathways that connect online must be treated with the same level of respect and focus as the hospital’s physical site. Choices must be made with intention, and the website cannot be treated as an impossible-to-navigate filing cabinet of information.
  5. Meet the patient at the intersection of need and access: Health care leaders must meet the patient where they are, when they are in need. This is no different than building an urgent care clinic on a key strategic intersection.
  6. Be accountable: Marketers must make metrics and data easily available in real time and oriented around return on investment. Even if it is a not hard return on investment, leaders should have some sense of what they’re trying to impact and revenue should be an important part of the conversation.
  7. Stay nimble and fast: Health care marketers must take into consideration their operational readiness relative to their digital presence. COVID-19 created a level of urgency to make changes that exposed the nature of many technology and service arrangements — both internal and external. If legacy arrangements are not set up to support a nimble view of digital marketing execution, they should be examined.

While these principles are simple, they are universal tools and applicable in many scenarios.

In Motion

As one example of these principles in motion, Koenecke-Grant recalled earlier days of the pandemic as Regional Medical Center struggled getting patients to come in for elective surgeries or routine checkups. It is located in a rural part of South Carolina, and it is the sole provider between Charleston and Columbia, with many patients forced to travel more than an hour for care.

Prior to the pandemic, many rural organizations had been dabbling in telehealth. But many people needing care were in far-flung geographies with no access to computers, smartphones or the internet.

While conversing with the Orangeburg County School District leadership, Regional Medical Center CEO Charles Williams realized the two were grappling with the same issues. This eventually led to school officials providing students in grades K-12 with laptops for e-learning and Regional Medical Center piggybacking on the program to treat students and family members through those same computers.

Families of students were quickly given access to resources through Regional Medical Center’s telehealth program, which might have taken much longer to implement in regular times. Koenecke-Grant said the effort has been a wild success, and it is a blueprint for how strategists should operate when guided by these patient-first principles.

Learning More

SHSMD members can read the full article in the most recent edition of Spectrum, including details about how Regional Medical Center was able to innovate quickly and foster a partnership to provide telehealth services. Nonmembers, learn more about SHSMD and join. SHSMD members can also share resources, ideas and questions with peers in the MySHSMD community.

Confronting Coronavirus: Digital Strategies Shift in Coronavirus Fight is a compilation of examples of hospitals and health systems that leveraged digital tools and technology to handle the rapid influx of COVID-19 patients.

One Thing COVID Didn’t Change: Leadership explores the qualities that hospital and health system leaders need to reassure and inspire during turbulent times.

Maintaining a Culture of Value During COVID-19 is a podcast episode from the AHA looking at value as a result of the pandemic.

Data-Driven Initiative Drives Down Disparities in Rural Health Care looks at one health care system’s multilevel approach to create demand and increase access to mammography services among vulnerable populations.

The AHA’s Rural Health Services page has more communication, advocacy, and education information and resources about small and rural hospitals and the communities they serve.