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How to Market Patient Education to Support Patient Experience

A marketing strategy helped Children’s Wisconsin drive patient education, an effort that improved patient relationships and patient experience.

At Children’s Wisconsin, parents of newborns have a lifeline. Through a targeted customer relationship management strategy, the healthcare organization has been able to direct key patient education and care access information to new parents in an effort the organization said improves the overall patient experience.

“It's all about that patient experience and retaining patients just to reaffirm that mom or dad or caregiver’s decision of choosing Children's Wisconsin as their pediatric provider,” Richard Hanson, marketing manager for Children’s Wisconsin, told PatientEngagementHIT.

In an age of digital healthcare driven by consumerism, organizations like Children’s Wisconsin know they can’t simply expect on customer loyalty. A healthcare organization needs to develop a relationship with that customer—or patient or family—and true to the digital boom in medicine, most patients want that relationship to be fueled by technology.

In November 2019, DocASAP found that patients want their communication with and access to their providers to be convenient and technology-driven, or else they might not visit the provider. Later in 2020, separate data from Forrester and Cedar showed that more than a quarter of patients would switch medical providers if they experienced poor digital communication.

Hanson knew that when he joined Children’s Wisconsin three years ago. The healthcare organization didn’t have a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, which Hanson said was a shortcoming considering the system’s goal of building out patient relationships in the primary care space.

“Children's is also trying to grow its primary care footprint,” Hanson explained. “I came from a previous health system where I did a lot of patient engagement type work, and immediately wanted to start building a marketing automation campaign to welcome new parents into the Children's Wisconsin system, specifically primary care.”

Hanson identified new parents specifically because there is great potential for patient-provider communication and relationship-building. A parent himself, Hanson said there is a lot new parents don’t know, and they yearn for that support from their medical providers. This was a clear opportunity for Children’s Wisconsin to develop an automated marketing campaign designed to provide information and education to new parents or caregivers.

“And that's what started the baby's first year, the newborn campaign,” Hanson noted. “The series of those emails targeted to parents at very specific times throughout baby's first year, letting them know that we're here for you, here are important resources, here’s how to access care, after hours care, and some of the digital health and resource tools that we have.”

Children’s Wisconsin partnered with Healthgrades, the company known for its online provider reviews but which also provides technology solutions to create the patient experiences needed to garner good reviews. Through that partnership, Hanson and his team designed email campaigns that visually reflected other design elements across the Children’s Wisconsin digital suite.

The marketing team was also in charge of building out the actual patient messaging, which Hanson said was a challenging task. These are marketing campaign messages, not one-to-one patient communications with their providers. These emails can’t diagnose or even provide specific clinical directives.

“We were very careful to talk about certain aspects throughout baby's first year,” Hanson explained, offering up examples of how the emails addressed common, general questions without providing a diagnosis. “At that purple crying stage, what does that look like? That's a topic we address in that three month email, what's normal. This is how it happens. Here's why it happens. We have some of that information in there.”

Hanson and his team also worked with medical directors at Children’s Wisconsin to discuss different early childhood milestones in a safe and responsible manner.

“We also have some milestones like crawling, things like that, but we were very careful,” he emphasized. “It took a lot of time with our language to state not every kid develops at the same rate, and there's nothing to be concerned about. But when they have started crawling or moving round, here's some additional exercises to think about, maybe start thinking about baby proofing the cabinets.”

The campaign has largely been a success. The campaign emails have an 86 percent open rate, far beyond typical marketing campaigns and something Hanson credits to the program’s focus. Children’s Wisconsin was keenly focused on patient experience and relationship-building, not new patient acquisition.

“That's the power of the campaign,” Hanson remarked. “It's not new patient acquisition. It is more of that affinity campaign to connect with our current patients, make them feel good about choosing Children’s, and now once in the system, letting them know what other opportunities are available to them.”

That relationship-building is important for creating patient trust and ultimately patient loyalty, which in the long run will have a positive financial impact for the hospital.

But in the short-term case of this marketing campaign, it meant more readers trusted the emails waiting in their inboxes. And because those readers were new parents who actively sought out patient education, Hanson said they were eager to open.

It also helped that Children’s Wisconsin marked the sender as the individual primary care clinic within the health system. Patients were getting emails from Bayshore Pediatrics, for example, and not the Children’s Wisconsin system at large.

“Open rates are high because parents would see that, saw it was great content, that it was tailored for them. Open rates jumped immediately off of that,” Hanson recalled. “And then engagements through clicking, jumping off then to online schedule appointments.”

Again, building out this CRM strategy with new parents was judicious because it let Hanson and his team work out best practices with a very open and willing audience. There are other opportunities within the health system for those best practices to be applied, and Hanson and the rest of Children’s Wisconsin are in the process of identifying them and transitioning.

“We're trying to dig in a little bit deeper now, what other campaigns could we build for those more serious care patients, those parents, just to let them know how they can access education, teaching sheets, all that sort of good stuff,” Hanson stated. “And all of that work just kind of boils down into patient experience and cultivating that relationship with a caregiver or mom and dad to let them know Children's is here for them.”

One such area is the NICU, where Hanson said parents of newborns who required critical care upon birth have an added set of care instructions they need to know.

These babies might be on a bit of a different growth trajectory that wouldn’t make them and their families a great fit for the traditional newborn CRM program. Parents might need to do things a little bit differently for the first few months of the child’s life, opening the opportunity for Children’s Wisconsin to launch a new automated marketing outreach campaign.

“And that's another campaign we're really starting to kick the tires on,” Hanson noted. “How can we distill all the information parents receive upon NICU discharge? How do we build that information digitally and then use the email campaign to make it accessible and retainable for parents?”

There’s also the issue of COVID-19 and the way that disrupted care for children across the country. Researchers have found that pediatric patient access to care tanked during the pandemic, which experts agree is a crisis for childhood health and development. Well-child visits are important for developmental checks and early intervention, not to mention keeping the child on track for vaccinations.

A directed patient outreach campaign has been important for getting those patients back into the office now that the world is beginning to open up again.

“We've been doing some broad communication to get people in when appropriate, reinforce our urgent cares, reinforce the importance of yearly physicals, checkpoints, stuff like that,” Hanson said.

The organization has also prepared a system for if and when vaccines become available to children. Notably, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved for children over age 16, and Children’s Wisconsin will be providing information on that when those children have been prioritized for the shots.

Importantly, these new types of campaigns are going to spark yet another content strategy session across Children’s Wisconsin, as Hanson emphasized the importance of crafting a careful and measured message.

“That content review is very critical to this to make sure that we're aligned with clinical care guidelines,” he stated. “It gets vetted through different care teams. It takes time. But I also think that's important to making sure when we're talking to patients that may be might be a little more vulnerable or need that information, we're sending them the right information at that right time.”

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