2019: The year smartphones scan for food poisoning?

2019: The year smartphones scan for food poisoning?

Siri, what movies are playing?

Siri, did the Spartans win?

Siri, what's the square root of 64?

Siri, can you call my husband?

If you're an Apple aficionado, all of the above should sound familiar. Every month, Siri gets an average of 10 billion requests, and if food scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst are successful, you'll soon be able to ask one more.

Siri, will that food make me sick?

According to NPR, researchers are eager to develop a smartphone device that will identify harmful bacteria like E. coli and salmonella — both of which can cause foodborne illness.

The problem? Currently, testing takes at least 24 hours and some serious technology. Scientists obtain samples from things like raw spinach and chicken skin by rinsing the food and collecting the water. Then, to get a big enough sample, they wait for the bacteria to multiply.

The solution? Experts in Massachusetts are experimenting with a $30 microscope attachment that would reveal substances in 30 minutes. The safe, simple process would be as follows:

  1. Dip a small, chemically coated chip into potentially contaminated water. Let it sit for half an hour.
  2. Clip the microscope attachment to your smartphone camera.
  3. Point the microscope at the chip.

The team is determined to make it easy, as an undergraduate student participating in the project said, "I think the average consumer will be able to figure it out without much trouble."

They're also determined to make it benefit almost everyone, especially those using it home kitchens and during natural disasters (to test drinking water).

While this technology is very preliminary and still "several years from market," it's based on the overarching goal of making safety more accessible. And who can't appreciate that?

For more healthcare happenings, subscribe to our Healthcare Checkup — a monthly email filled with industry insights and best practices.

Weekly Recap - December 14, 2018

Woman using a mobile phone.

Answer Me

When consumers post comments, they expect a response. In a recent survey of 532 U.S. social media users, most participants expected companies to use social media to respond to consumers' social media comments about the brand. And quickly. Most (76%) expected companies to respond to comments on social media, and 83% expected the responses to appear within one day (Clutch.co, 1 November 2018).

+Millennials have even higher expectations. 80% expected brands to use social media to respond to comments, 90% within one day. Almost half expected brands to respond within an hour. What's at stake? Only reputation. 45% of participants said they would "view a brand more positively if it responded to negative comments on social media," and 72% were likely to recommend a company if they had enjoyed a positive social media experience with it.

Mobile Missteps

Mobile-paying Millennials are more reckless with their personal finances. American Millennials who use their phones to make payments are more likely to misstep, financially, than their peers who don't make mobile payments, per a recent study by George Washington University School of Business (Qz.com, 9 November 2019). Millennial mobile payers are more likely to use financial products such as bank accounts, credit cards and retirement accounts, but they're also "more likely to overdraw their checking accounts, use credit cards expensively, borrow through alternative financial services, and withdraw from their retirement accounts," according to the study report.

+Maybe mobile makes it too easy to spend? "In the data we do not have information about what explains that behavior but making payments easy and mindless may induce people to spend more," said professor Annamaria Lusardi, the study's lead author. 25% of Millennials who use their phones to track spending had overdrawn their checking accounts — versus 20% of those who don't track their spending via smartphone. Young depositors need personal finance education STAT.

Get Physical

Millennials shop online but they also enjoy physical stores. Millennials weren't supposed to shop at brick and mortar stores, and now they're being credited for reviving them. They like to toggle between online and IRL, hunting bargains and being social.

+Nearly half (48%) of Millennials shop in brick-and-mortar stores at least once a week, according to a Euclid survey (SG.Finance.Yahoo.com, 18 November 2018). They are also more likely than either Gen Xers or Boomers to hit the malls on Black Friday. And while they make 54% of their holiday purchases online, when Cyber Monday rolls around Millennials are more likely than other gens to shop in-store.

Media In 2019

What marketers can expect in 2019: Media consumption. As we near the end of the year, we begin to question the year to come. What is next? What can we do to prepare? Specifically, where is media going in 2019?

Tele No

Online patient portals: Why aren't patients using them? A recent report from researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health revealed that 63% of patients surveyed were not using online patient portals. With 90% of health care organizations offering portal access to their patients, why are so many patients ignoring them?

Online patient portals: Why aren't patients using them?

Patient portals

A recent report from researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health revealed that 63% of patients surveyed were not using online patient portals. These portals—secure websites that allow patients to access health information and communicate with their doctors—offer many potential benefits. For instance, patients who use the portals become more engaged in their own health care and ask more questions of doctors and other providers. With 90% of health care organizations offering portal access to their patients, why are so many patients ignoring them?

Researchers offer these likely explanations:

  1. Their doctors haven't recommended them. Many patients, especially older ones, rely heavily on doctor recommendations. If a doctor never mentions the patient portal or even discourages its use, it's unlikely these patients will choose to access it. The opposite also appears to be true: Of the patients surveyed who said they did use a portal, 95% said their doctors had recommended it.
  2. They aren't comfortable using the technology. Some respondents feared that their private health information would not be secure on patient portals. Others said they preferred to speak directly with their doctors—once again, not fully trusting the technology. Patients over 40 were most likely to have these concerns.
  3. The portal isn't user friendly. Patient portals vary, depending on which vendor a health care organization uses. Some offer many features, including online appointment scheduling, real-time access to test results, online bill payment and messaging. Others are little more than a secure channel for notes to your provider. In a survey of health care website visitors, online bill paying was cited as the #1 pain point, with appointment scheduling close behind. If it's too complicated, a patient's first visit to the portal may be their last.

What can health care marketers do to encourage portal use?

  • Educate doctors. Encourage doctors in your hospital or health system to promote the portal to patients and be available for their questions and concerns. Recommend that doctors or nurses bring up the portal on their own laptop during appointments to show patients how to access their information.
  • Educate patients. It's not enough to tout the benefits of the new patient portal. Dedicate a page on your website to explain how the portal works, step by step. A one-page handout or brochure patients can take home with them is another handy reference tool, in case they forget their doctor's instructions.
  • Keep it simple. If your organization is having a lot of trouble getting patients to use the patient portal, it may just be too complicated. Consider moving to another, more user-friendly design.

Patient portals offer the opportunity to keep patients more informed and involved with their own health care – but not if they aren't used. With the right education, doctors and patients can both benefit.

Healthcare Checkup - November 2018

Healthcare Checkup

Who's the most popular girl at the tech party? How can you reduce your bounce rate? Are Facebook support groups okay? Find the answers here, as well as what marketers can expect in 2019 for Health and Wellness, Cause Marketing and Technology.

Vitamin B & P

What marketers can expect in 2019: Health and Wellness. What was hot in health and well-known in wellness for 2018 might not carry into the new year. As 2019 approaches, brands should reflect on the messages to bring with them. And those to leave behind. Here's a look at the top consumer health and wellness trends for 2019.

Heartbeat takes health tech from wearable to useful. We love wearable technology. But who's willing to crunch the numbers, study the patterns and analyze the results? This high-tech, high-touch cardiologic care provider is disrupting healthcare by meeting consumers before they have heart disease.

Marketing Supplements

What marketers can expect in 2019: Technology. Alexa became the most popular girl at the tech party in 2018. What's ahead for the Internet of Things (IoT) in 2019 and what are the key marketing challenges and opps?

What marketers can expect in 2019: Cause marketing. From #MeToo to the Times Up movement, March for Our Lives to the #NeverAgain campaign, causes and cause marketing became a huge focus for brands and consumers in 2018. Marketers can expect more of the same in 2019.

Industry Pulse

'Facebook (is) the only way': the perils – and promise – of Facebook's emotional support groups. It's becoming increasingly common for patients with rare diseases or cancer gene mutations to turn to Facebook for emotional support. But these groups often face privacy and financial concerns.

10 ways to reduce your website bounce rate infographic. Simple, concise and on target.

Monthly Dose

Looking to market to all generations but don't have the budget? Not a problem. There's one common denominator across each audience. Can you guess what it is? Download our free guide, How to market healthcare to all generations, to learn more.

Healthcare Checkup - October 2018

Healthcare Checkup

Unable to make it to SHSMD this year? No worries with our top takeaways. From socially responsible flu shots to socially acceptable breastfeeding pods to all "natural"(?) LaCroix, and more, read our Healthcare Checkup to stay in the know.

Vitamin B & P

9 key takeaways from SHSMD Connections Conference 2018. Learn why you should do more of what makes you happy, love math like you love creative, googlize your website, and more from these key SHSMD conference takeaways.

Flu season ahead: Why it's socially responsible to get your flu shot. Fall is in the air, and unfortunately, so is the flu. While it's beneficial for your personal wellbeing to get your flu shot this year, it's also become somewhat of a social responsibility to do so.

Marketing Supplements

6 SEO best practices every blog should have. Google. It serves our every search. Indulges our every inquiry. And even follows us where we go (on the internet, of course). Get the quick tips on 6 SEO best practices.

5 ways marketers can stand out on Instagram. So you have a brand Instagram account... but is your creative engaging and are you utilizing all the platform features? Here are five ways your brand can stand out on Instagram.

Industry Pulse

10 things you need to know for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. HemOnc Today has compiled a list of 10 updates on topics impacting people with breast cancer, including breast reconstruction, financial toxicity and treatment.

Breastfeeding pods now trending at sports stadiums. And in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, learn about this new lactation station trend popping up in sports spaces for breastfeeding fans.

Amid lawsuit, LaCroix defends its ‘natural' labeling. Whether legal allegations that the beloved sparkling water is tainted with insecticides and other harmful substances, the brand image of LaCroix has been forever tainted with the harmful rhetoric.

Monthly Dose

Looking to market to all generations but don't have the budget? Not a problem. There's one common denominator across each audience. Can you guess what it is? Download our free guide, How to market healthcare to all generations,

9 key takeaways from SHSMD Connections Conference 2018.

9 key takeaways from SHSMD Connections Conference 2018

The weather may have been mostly grey, but the Seattle SHSMD conference illuminated us four Brogan healthcare marketers in so many ways! Here are our 9 key takeaways:

  1. "Do more of what makes you happy." says Johnny Earle, of Johnny Cupcakes, our first keynote speaker. That's how this "idea farmer" gets hundreds of people to camp outside his fake bakeries to buy limited edition t-shirts. That quote is also included on a tag in every Johnny Cupcake t-shirt. So wait, he doesn't sell cupcakes? Of course not — that would be too expected. Rather his t-shirts are displayed in pastry shelves, the store smells like frosting, ovens adorn the walls, and your t-shirt goes home in a pastry box. His specialty packaging has included ice cream themed t-shirts in ice cream boxes sold from ice cream trucks, t-shirts in push up pop boxes and a "breakfast special" themed t-shirt sold only before noon, accompanied by none other than a free breakfast. Johnny spends zero dollars on advertising. It's all about the customer experience and his loyal customers do the talking for him. Guess it's working for his multi-million dollar brand.
  2. "We have to love math like we love creative." That's a tough one for me, but Dan Lavelle, Marketing Administrator of Lehigh Valley Health Network, did a great job of trying to convince me. He espouses that the common language between the CMO and CEO is DATA . Hence, we need to be reporting on Return on Marketing Investment, Cost per Lead Ratio, Variable Contribution Margin Radio and more. We also need to start talking about the marketing INVESTMENT rather than marketing EXPENDITURE. In the end, if you can create ownership, making it "their" marketing rather than yours, you will succeed.
  3. "The promise of not getting lost" is the golden nugget of the Gozio Health wayfinding app, according to Barb Kragor, Gozio VP of Sales and Customer Services. Since Google leaves us at the hospital front door, this app provides a stress free roadmap within the hospital and beyond, including functionality surrounding restaurants, scheduling a doctor visit, one tap call, ride-sharing links, MyChart usage, etc. Start with hospital pain points, and end up with improved patient experience.
  4. "Googlize your website," claim Shawn Gross of White Rhino, and Amber Welch of Ochsner Health System. Simple, clean home page search functionality, including spell correction and Pinterest style, mobile- first layout are critical. Case in point: Stanford Health Care. Ochsner engaged in an intensive revamp, starting with research to detect user needs and pain points. The result? A highly experiential website, including personalization to 6 key personas; Find a Doctor upgrades including a "schedule an appointment now" in each doc bio page; patient portal integration; wayfinding and more. The shift from a content heavy to a transactional website resulted in a total page count drop from 12,000 to 1200.)
  5. "We love our city," smiled Ara Telbelian, Director of Brand Management and Marketing at Henry Ford Health System. Their QuickCare Clinic was designed with Detroit city dwellers and workers in mind with convenient, boutique-like urgent care services packaged in a beautiful setting in the heart of downtown Detroit. Clever ad messaging like "Home of Healthier Hipsters" appeared in innovative venues such as the People Mover monorail, ridesharing bikes, sidewalks, and large building posters. As Henry Ford focuses on radical convenience, they know that demand for urgent care increases after 4 PM. Which is why their website home page carousel changes to a "Need Care Now?" banner ad to usher consumers into the most convenient care option, whether it's an urgent care center, telehealth visit or My Care Advice Line. Next up? An Amazon skill allowing Alexa to find the closest urgent care, schedule an appointment and provide directions. As one of only a handful in the country with an Alexa access point on the horizon, Henry Ford is staying true to its innovator position.
  6. "Your website has replaced the ER as the most comment first touch point," asserts Jeff Steblea of SilverTech, Inc. and Christine Gallery, Senior VP of Planning/Chief Strategy Officer at Emerson Hospital. They educated us on the Digital Customer Interaction Strategy (DCIS), employed at Emerson, focused on making the digital experience the same as in-person care. Since it can't compete head on with the nearby Boston hospitals, Emerson differentiates with patient experience. Bringing to life their digital personas plays a key role in getting internal audiences on board.
  7. "The heart of change is in the emotions," explains keynote speaker, Christi Zuber, PhD, RN and international leader in healthcare innovation. That's because when we hear stories, our brains emit oxytocin, making us connect with the story and the storyteller. In this workshop, we created storyboards to communicate a change we are trying to make in our organization sharing our story with a table partner. We agency folks are no strangers to storyboards, so we found this an interesting exercise!
  8. "People in healthcare need to feel good about their work," avowed keynote speaker, Liz Jazwiec, RN, award-winning author, speaker and healthcare strategist. (I might also add in "comedian"!) As a former ER director in a south Chicago hospital with very poor patient satisfaction ratings, she resisted the idea of improved patient satisfaction and service — until she almost got fired because of it. She simply couldn't bear to make her staffs' jobs any more difficult. She learned that being a "heroic caregiver" makes the job more rewarding, and that there's a strong connection between job satisfaction and patient satisfaction. Her definition of heroic? Anyone remembered fondly for their work by someone else. They may not even know it or ever be recognized for it. But if they feel heroic in doing even the little things for patients, it will make a difference. She warned us to ignore negativity at work because negative people need an audience. Rather, focus on the good and embrace what's right. People in healthcare can become easily discouraged and need to feel good about their work.
  9. And last but not at all least, my personal favorite of the entire conference: "Creativity is a discipline and a choice," affirmed Eric Wahl, Graffiti Artist and Forensic Creativity Scientist. Just like gratitude or compassion for a challenging patient. His presentation was really more of a performance — part creative show, concert, video show and honest sharing about opening up our senses and inner child to creativity. In true graffiti artist style, he painted 2 huge paintings within just minutes to the beat of amazing music videos appearing on 3 large screens. A true illustration of his point of stepping out of the box. And making an emotional connection. We were given permission to open our child mind, stop deifying analytics and allowing fear to paralyze us. He believes a healthy balance of accountability with creativity results in the best competitive advantage, and "dreamers that do".

With all of the talks, the Museum of Pop Culture dinner event, and Seattle sightseeing, we left the conference feeling enlightened, entertained, educated and tired! These are just some of my key takeaways from the talks I attended, but please let us know what you liked best about SHSMD 2018.

Healthcare Checkup - September 2018

Are you charged with marketing cosmetic surgery or telehealth? Looking for an inspirational patient experience video to wow any patient caregiver? Or one for National Rehabilitation Awareness Week that will melt your heart? Check up on this and why Alexa has been invited into people's homes in this month's Healthcare Checkup.


Cosmetic Surgery Advertising: The changing face of medical marketing. You turn on your car radio, and an announcer is shouting that you can "Buy one, get one free!" And he's not talking about sandals or smartphones. He's talking about cosmetic surgery procedures — facelifts, tummy tucks, and breast augmentation.

An inspirational video to transform patient experience. Our lives are like empty hospital rooms? Watch this remarkable video by someone who was sick most of her life to see why you should empower, rather than pity, patients.


What people ask smart speakers most. Thermostat control? Weather forecasts? Music? Shopping? News? Find out the most popular of Alexa's 45,000 skills.

A tale of two industries – When fashion and technology converge. Learn how New Balance turned the bustling New York streets into a runway and passersby into its models, as AI technology scanned outfits, found trends and most importantly "exceptions", which were celebrated on a big screen.


Push to reduce ED visits leads patients to urgent care, retail clinics – not telehealth. Brigham and Women's Hospital researchers unveil a study showing that while ED visits for low-acuity conditions has decreased, people are not replacing the ER with telehealth.

Covenant HealthCare Turns to an Almost-Forgotten TV Format to Introduce a New Kind of Health Care Delivery System. If you're challenged with marketing telemedicine, check out the award-winning  VirtualCare TV spot and campaign rationale for our client, Covenant HealthCare.

Video: Celebrating ability with dancers using wheelchairs and prosthetics. How to celebrate National Rehabilitation Awareness Week in style? Watch this uplifting video created by Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Michigan to find out.


Looking to market to all generations but don't have the budget? Not a problem. There's one common denominator across each audience. Can you guess what it is? Download our free guide, How to market healthcare to all generations, to learn more.

An inspirational video to transform patient experience.

An inspirational video to transform patient experience.

"When you pity people who are sick, you take away their power."

This from a wise-beyond-her-years cystic fibrosis patient, Claire Wineland, with her proclamation that we need to change the way we treat sick people. She should know, as she spent a lot of her childhood in a hospital room and claims she was "100% content and happy with her life". In fact, the majority of her happiest moments were when she was sick in the hospital. Maybe because she always decked out her room with cool furniture, throw pillows and twinkle lights that illuminated not only hers, but the lives of all the doctors, nurses and staff who would come by to check it out. Maybe because she did not tie her undying joy to how healthy she was. Maybe because she put her pain and suffering to work with the founding of Claire's Place Foundation, in support of families living with cystic fibrosis.

"Everyone in the medical community gets so stuck in this notion that a hospital room is this cold, sterile, white place where we go to be sick — and that that's all it can be," said Claire. She claims our lives are like empty hospital rooms. We all have the capacity to turn an empty hospital room into something beautiful. And that no matter what, we can make our lives a piece of art. Like hers was.

There will be no more medical staff visits to Claire's New York loft-style patient room, as she passed away earlier this month at the young age of 21. But wouldn't it be awesome if her inspirational video could be included in sensitivity training for doctors, nurses and PAs? If we could transform the patient experience by empowering patients, rather than pitying them? If we could think the way she did when creating our next healthcare marketing campaign?

Watching her short video may be the most memorable thing you do today. It was for me when I caught it on Facebook last week. Let us know if it touched your heart.

For more on the patient experience, check out our blog, Patient Experience Dept. RX: Empathy Specialist Consult.

Blog Category: 

What people ask smart speakers most.

What people ask smart speakers most.

I was enjoying dinner with friends a couple years back when the hostess asked Alexa to play 80s music. There were only eight of us seated around the table and nobody was called Alexa. So I wasn't surprised when the room didn't suddenly fill with dance music or new wave.

But the hostess invoked the mystery guest again, this time a little louder and with a slight edge. "Alexa, play 80s music!" Tears for Fears obliged, "Shout. Shout. Let it all out…"

Roland Orzabal had only started the first verse when the hostess rebuked: "Alexa, not so loud."

"Nice party trick," I thought, as other guests answered my questions before I'd uttered a word. "We use ours mostly to connect with Nest," someone commented. "I got one for Christmas," chimed another. "Haven't even taken it out of the box yet. Where am I going to put that thing?"

Nearly four years later, the voice-activated tech is still playing the hits more than most anything else.

Music is the most popular request smart speaker owners make, according to a recent Voicebot.ai survey of 1,200 U.S. adults. News is the second most common command, with distant topics including "how to" instructions, retail store information, history, movies, sports, among others.

Information Topics Most Requested on Smart Speakers 2018

Consumers also use their smart speakers to control other smart-home devices, like thermostats, lights and locks; and ask for information, like weather forecasts or news updates. The ways in which consumers can use Alexa continue to proliferate as third-party developers create additional Alexa skills—apps that give Alexa even more abilities, connecting her to more devices and even websites. Currently, 45,000 Alexa skills are available.

But for the most part, consumers with smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home don't use the devices for shopping. Per the Voicebot.ai research, 26.1 percent of consumers who own such devices have used them to make a purchase, and 16 percent of owners do monthly "voice shopping" using their smart speakers.

Sources who have seen Amazon's market intelligence say that the percentage of voice shoppers is significantly lower, with only about 2 percent of consumers with Alexa-powered devices (mainly Amazon Echo speakers) using them for shopping in the first seven months of 2018, according to Gartner Iconoculture research.

Their intelligence also suggests that most consumers who have tried Alexa for shopping didn't do it a second time (TheInformation.com, 6 August 2018). Still, 20 percent of Amazon Echo owners have used Alexa for shopping-related information, like finding deals or tracking purchases (that were probably made on another device)—just not purchases.

While voice-activated search may be off to a relatively sluggish start, brands are nonetheless optimistic. More than 1,200 brands have built apps and products that rely on Amazon Echo and Google Home (Gartners.com, 23 June 2017).

Regardless of whether consumers use smart speakers for little more than play lists, it's impossible to deny their popularity. Amazon is expected to have sold 128 million Echo speakers by 2020 (RBC Capital Markets, 9 March 2017); by 2022, 55 percent of U.S. households will own always-listening voice speakers (Jupiter Research, 11 August 2017).

Before taking your brand boldly into the smart speaker space, consider the nuances between typed search and audible search. Claiming organic territory is always worth the effort and will inform Alexa Skills or other advertising applications.

Like to stay in the loop? Get the Brogan Weekly Recap.

Healthcare Checkup - August 2018

Is the patient medical bill part of your consumer journey mapping? With 83% of Americans finding high medical costs a big problem, it should be. Are you communicating properly with your burgeoning multi-cultural audiences? Taking advantage of Instagram Stories? Thinking about self-driving autos as your next nontraditional media vehicle? Learn about all this AND find out what a "clinical quarterback" is in this month's Checkup.


What your healthcare journey map is missing. Your healthcare system is a marketing marvel. You've mastered and meticulously addressed every step of the consumer journey. Except one. Learn how and why it could all be undone by a couple pieces of paper delivered by a mailman.

Closing the multicultural-consumer healthcare gap. Multicultural consumers conceptualize and experience health and wellness through a distinctive cultural lens that is ill-suited for the one-size-fits-all attitude adopted by the majority of the American healthcare system. With $1.3 trillion in multicultural healthcare spending, connecting with this burgeoning audience is key to marketers.


How autonomous vehicles are driving the future of advertising. As the conversation about self-driving cars shifts from "if" to "when," it's important to set your brand up or success in this new era. If the next great media channel is the self-driving car, will you brand be ready to kick it into gear?

7 Instagram Story features you should be using. Since launching in 2016, Instagram Stories has increased in popularity with nearly 400 million Instagram Stories every day. Here are seven features your brand should be using.


Everyone deserves a holistic, patient-centric health care system. Aetna's president, Karen Lynch, summarizes the results of the company's Health Ambition Study. Learn how "clinical quarterbacks" work with members to create personalized, holistic care plans to answer consumer needs and achieve true transformation.

Americans are closely divided over value of medical treatments, but most agree costs are a big problem. According to new Pew Research Center survey, 83% of Americans, regardless of their income, say a big problem is that the high cost of medical treatments makes quality care unaffordable.


Looking to market to all generations but don't have the budget? Not a problem. There's one common denominator across each audience. Can you guess what it is? Download our free guide, How to market healthcare to all generations, to learn more.

What your healthcare journey map is missing.

Image of a patient and physician discussing treatment.

Your healthcare system is a marketing marvel. Your team is working every relevant consumer channel to connect, engage and convert patient prospects. Leadership has entrusted you with more than the push and pull of advertising mechanics, recognizing marketing as integral to the consumer experience.

Your marketing team now sits elbow to elbow with the overseers of quality, service and cost—directors of service line clinical excellence and integration, regional clinic and market operations, provider services, continuum of care, clinical pharmacy, clinical review, health plan operations, quality improvement, among others.

Together you carefully shepherd patients from ailment to diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Your website is a magnet for search inquiries. Your CTAs have been strategically mapped and pixels placed. Your email automation program is set to distribute just the right amount of content at just the right time. Your digital retargeting campaign is gently reminding prospects to consider your hospital, your medical staff, your plan, your value.

Your system is poised for greatness—Press Ganey, HEDIS, CAHPS and Medicare 5 Star quality greatness.

And yet it all could be undone by a couple pieces of paper delivered by a mailman.

How a bill can undermine even the most rigorous health consumer journey map.

Earlier this year, Kaiser Health News and NPR launched a crowd-sourced investigation into healthcare bills. Since that time, the news organizations have received hundreds of reader submissions—rate crushing, brand diminishing, reputation devastating submissions.

Called "Bill of the Month Club," editors choose one entry to prove assorted healthcare injustices. Like inefficiency and inflated costs. A recent entry from an Oklahoma patient featured a $15,076 price tag for a few implanted screws, and sparked a social media frenzy (NPR.org, 19 July 2018).

The patient, 57-year-old Sherry Young, a retired mother of two on disability had undergone two operations on the same day to treat a shoulder injury and a debilitating foot problem. The second procedure involved removing a part of bone from the center of two toes and reconnecting them with four surgical screws. The total cost of both procedures and a three-day hospital stay was $115,527.

Two weeks after she was released, Young received word from her insurance company that her hospital stay had not been approved. The patient panicked, fretting that she would be responsible for the cost. She requested an itemized bill which, among other surprises, included $15,076 for four screws that measure 2.8 millimeters wider and 14 millimeters long.

Young dug deeper, requesting the part number for the screws so she could contact the manufacturer and learn the list price. Reporters for NPR and Kaiser Health News also dug in, publishing this.

At last count, the story had been shared nearly 7,000 times, with many Canadian commenters weighing in, too. In one thread, Richard Bott of British Columbia suggested, "When health is considered a for-profit commodity, this is exactly what will happen in an unregulated system."

Consumers and providers are responding to the concrete example with critiques and calls to action. "It's so important to ask healthcare entities for itemized receipts!" tweeted someone from the Kansas City Direct Primary Care Twitter account.

No one is asking how Young has fared after her surgeries. Is she walking better? Has her quality of life improved? How was her clinical experience? Did she have to wait long to see a specialist? Did the medical staff treat her like a person and not a condition? Were the rooms nicely appointed? How was the food? How long did it take for her to recover? Would she recommend the surgeon? The hospital?

Healthcare costs are making consumers more anxious than ever.

The cost of healthcare is now the biggest driver of consumer financial uncertainty—bigger than covering the monthly bills, paying a mortgage or being able to afford retirement, according to CEB Iconoculture research. And the threat is far reaching, impacting the young, healthy, fully employed and fully insured.

According to CEB Iconoculture research, consumers are increasingly stressed out about healthcare costs.

For marketers within the healthcare industry, prioritizing consumers' understanding of coverage and options, providing care throughout the patient journey—especially billing—and creating tools that help consumers better plan are critical next steps.

Of course the implications extend well beyond healthcare. A majority of consumers (67 percent) worry that their lifestyles could be significantly impacted by just one job loss, market crash or health problem (CEB Iconoculture State of America Survey, September 2017.) Healthcare worries are especially troubling, with 64 percent of consumers citing concerns that unexpected medical issues could jeopardize their financial security.

Increased healthcare costs have already impacted consumer spending. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (February, 2016), household healthcare spending increased between 2010 and 2016, while spending on housing, food, transportation, entertainment and clothing all decreased. Consumers are bracing for further household budget cutbacks if healthcare costs continue to climb.

Consumers are preparing to cut household spending if healthcare costs continue to climb.

Consumers aren't optimistic about healthcare costs. Nor should they be.

Since the early 2000s, employees have been increasingly shouldering more and more of the cost of healthcare coverage—copays, higher premiums and deductibles. Most expect costs to increase annually come benefits renewal. In fact, premiums for family coverage have increased 55 percent since 2007 and the average deductible for insured workers has climbed 67 percent from 2017 (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2017).

It's not surprising consumers are stressed out about the cost of healthcare. But what can healthcare marketers do about it?

Marketing does not control healthcare costs. Marketing can control the message.

Billing is an integral part of the consumer journey—especially when it comes to healthcare. Unlike most expenses, consumers are unusually vulnerable when they become patients. They have little or no control over their circumstances. They may be faced with a life altering or life threatening condition. Cost may be on their mind, but it's dwarfed by emotions and concerns about aspirations, livelihood, family, future.

This is a job for marketing. You know better than anyone else how to communicate with this audience. They are the same prospects you carefully profiled, attracted and converted to prefer your healthcare system. You know where they live, work and play; what they value and most desire. You mapped their journey but neglected to include a primary human need—financial security.

Completing the patient experience cycle begins with the end. For starters, review your system's billing process and assets. The bill may be their last and most lasting impression. The goal here is to empathize with the patient throughout their journey. It's not only the right thing to do; it's the best thing for your brand. Advocate for patients and they'll reward you with loyalty and referrals.

Four ways to optimize the healthcare consumer journey.

  1. Invite the Billing Department to the Customer Experience Team. Invite them to present the process and bring sample bills. Accounts Receivable should align with your brand promise, from the design of assets to messaging and customer service. Consider random audits, an internal version of Bill of the Month Club.
  2. Help patients plan and save. Patients are often overwhelmed with the emotional aspects of healthcare. In advance of procedures and treatment, reach out and have a frank discussion about cost. People often feel as though they're getting the runaround as they're handed back and forth between providers, specialists and insurers. Geisinger has introduced ProvenExperience, which offers refunds to patients based on their interactions with doctors, staff and the clinic overall.
  3. Use layman's terms, not legalese. Patients struggle enough with the medical terminology used to describe their conditions, treatments and recovery. Using simple language will go a long way in improving the patient experience and helping care-avoidant consumers feel more confident. ClearHealthCosts is a journalism project working to shrink the gap in consumer understanding by shedding light on the hidden costs of healthcare.
  4. Invite patient reviews. Develop a succinct, but thorough script to follow up with patients after the bill has been sent. The script should include opportunity for patients to ask questions about the details of the bill and conclude with an overall evaluation of their system experience. Conclude by asking patients to rate their experience using an automatic text- or email-based program that triggers an immediate response.

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Weekly Recap - August 3, 2018

Mini-Me says one billion dollars, and Apple says 1 trillion. Technology could save your life, doctors are 3-D printing organs to give a hand in the operating room. Nobody really knows the extent of the impact that technology has on kids, but we're about to find out. 7 ways to utilize Instagram stories to get the most attention on your page. How giving back can build your business.


4 things retailers should learn from Apple as it nears $1 trillion market cap. Apple Inc. stock jumped to another record high Wednesday, bringing its market cap ever closer to the $1 trillion market cap that no other U.S. company has ever achieved. All this after the release of strong iPhone sales and better-than-expected fiscal Q3 results and outlook. In addition, CEO Tim Cook who is easing investor concerns about a potential impact on demand in Apple's key growth market, said he's "optimistic" that the U.S.-China trade war will "get sorted out."

Hospital turns to 3-D printing technology. Replica organ models, however, like those printed by biomedical engineer Greg Gagnon in an office in Baystate's intensive care unit, can get him as close to reality as possible without actually cutting a patient open. With support from the hospital's administration, self-taught Gagnon is singlehandedly changing the way Baystate surgeons plan their work.

Tech's impact on kids: Lawmakers push for research. The studies will explore a handful of mediums, from social media, apps and games to movies, mobile devices and virtual reality, and their effects on infant, child and teen cognitive and physical health. The research would also inform parents and policymakers about issues today's youth face in the digital age, including bullying and depression, according to Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts who introduced the bill.

Meanwhile, back at the RANCH

7 Instagram story features you should be using. Instagram Stories was the platform enhancer we (and brands) never knew we needed. It has become a powerful way for brands to inspire and engage with users. Since launching in 2016, it has increased in popularity with nearly 400 million Instagram accounts using Instagram Stories every day.

Why cause marketing should be your top priority. Teenagers have a voice and they are not afraid to make it heard. 68% of teens believe corporations have a larger obligation to the good of society. More than 25% of teens have been to a rally or boycotted a company. Teens are watching, which is why your involvement and contribution to the greater good matters.


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