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Marketing Your Healthcare IT Project

We spoke with dozens of CIOs regarding their current marketing efforts for effectively marketing healthcare IT and the IT project within their organizations.

  1. Plan:  Every IT project needs a basic marketing plan. A simple marketing plan consists of answering several questions:
    1. Who is your audience?
    2. Who will be responsible?
    3. What is your message?
    4. What are the costs associated with promoting this message?
    5. Where will you promote your message?
    6. When will you implement your plan?
    7. Why are you promoting your plan?
    8. How will you carry out your plan?
  1. Repetition:  A one-time message just is not enough.  It takes several exposures to a message before the information is retained.  Do not just put out a flyer and consider your marketing complete.  Instead, use a variety of methods and repeat those tactics over time.
  1. Plan some more:  In addition to a basic marketing plan, make a targeted IT marketing plan.  It is important to communicate an overall plan that details and explains IT projects to the entire hospital community.
  1. Maintain objectives:  Align the strategies, goals, and marketing efforts of the IT department with those of the hospital system.
  1. Assign responsibility:  Appoint a person within your IT department to be responsible for coordinating the marketing for every major IT initiative.  This person should develop marketing plans and establish marketing committees within IT to aid in all marketing efforts.
  1. Utilize staff knowledge:  Many staff members have worked at other hospitals and can provide first-hand experience, tips, and ideas.
  1. Solicit ideas from peers:  Collaborate with IT staffs from other hospitals to gain insight into their successes and strategies for effectively marketing their IT projects.
  1. Communicate:  The IT staffs are the front-line communicators to the rest of the hospital.  Make sure you communicate to them so they are aware of IT initiatives and can share accurate information with end-users.
  1. Identify your audience:  Develop a plan to reach the various audiences within your organization.  Keep a list of your audiences to track marketing effectiveness through regular feedback and staff surveys.
  1. Differentiate:  Remember to tailor your marketing efforts to each audience.  Marketing a CPOE install to the Executive Team will be entirely different from marketing to end-users.
  1. Develop relationships:  Fortify a relationship with your internal hospital marketing department.  Discuss your marketing objectives and ask them for ideas.  By involving your marketing department early on, they can help you work with outside media sources to generate buzz and get local coverage of your project.
  1. Tap into emotions:  Highlight the emotional benefits of your IT project—less stress, better patient care, etc.  Scott Bradley, the man who led the “Just Do It” Nike campaign and transformed coffee at Starbucks, says the best marketers do not merely convey the facts; they also tap into people’s emotions.  No matter what the challenge the greatest benefit of any product or service is usually emotional.
  1. Brand your project:  Make your IT project memorable by using a slogan or abbreviated “brand” name.  Do not just install an EMR, follow the example of the University of Michigan Medical Center and make it MiChart.  Instead of Electronic Administration Process for Patient Safety, call it eMap.  One hospital used the popular milk slogan and distributed posters titled, “Got CPOE?”

  1. Utilize your CMIO (Chief Medical Information Officer):  They can be your spokesperson to the doctors.
  1. Utilize your CNO (Chief Nursing Officer):  They can be your spokesperson for the nurses.
  1. Utilize your CEO (Chief Executive Officer):  For big projects, make sure your CEO is completely sold on the effort and promotes the IT project in every way possible.
  1. Utilize your vendor reps:  Often IT is the gatekeeper between application representatives and the affected departments.  Invite key players to talk with vendor reps.
  1. Ask permission:  Before you send an email to an entire department, or schedule a training session or informational meeting, meet with senior management to get permission to market to their staffs.
  1. Get face time:  Emails are convenient, but they do not trump some good old fashioned one-on-one marketing and communication.
  1. Listen:  Set up monthly “forums” to allow staff to voice their thoughts, ongoing issues, and long-range visions.
  1. Address issues:  If there are problems with a project, get the message out quickly.  Ensure that all staff members know how to communicate glitches and the actions taken to resolve the situation.
  1. Use their language:  Stop using techie-speak!  If your audience cannot understand you then communication of the message is pointless.
  1. Customer service:  Your hospital staff expects great customer service from the IT department.  Develop a formal customer service training program for your IT staff.
  1. Keep promises:  If you market a message, be sure to deliver on that message.  If the message has to change, (i.e. Go Live date change) make sure you communicate what and why the date has changed.
  1. Get champions: Every IT project needs non-IT champions who will promote the message.  Champions are often super users, or those who have been with other systems and have experience with the initiative.
  1. Feature VIPs:  Most IT departments are working in the same things: CPOE, EHR, ICD-10, clinical documentation.  Chances are there is more than one non-competing hospital nearby that would welcome the opportunity to trade a staff member for a day to share “lessons learned” on hospital IT initiatives.

JCL flyer

  1. Explain:  Make sure there are elements of your marketing campaign that say why your initiative is happening.  Thoroughly explain meaningful use, ICD-10, and how a paperless hospital is more efficient and cost effective.
  1. Spice it up:  Try all different communication methods.  Through trial and error, see what works best and what gets the best response from your audiences.  If you do not market your IT project, people will start guessing what it means and often those guesses are wrong.
  1. IT department newsletter: A newsletter is a great way to get your messages out.  Give your newsletter a creative name—one hospital’s IT newsletter is titled “In Touch with Tech.”
  1. Brochures: Professional marketers swear by the effectiveness of print materials and advise that at least one printed document accompany every marketing campaign.  Use brochures to provide detailed information on the whole IT project.
  1. Posters: Although posters provide less information, they can be used to communicate important project information and improve awareness.
  1. Banners: Place banners over employee entrances or on poles in the staff parking lot.
  1. Behind closed doors: Where can you reach people where you have their undivided attention?  The bathrooms!  Place flyers in the bathrooms.poster
  1. Table tent cards: Place informational cards in the cafeteria or lounge tables.
  1. Soup du jour:  Ask your cafeteria if they would be willing to feature a meal named, “The CPOE Special” or something clever.  Use every opportunity to remind people of IT projects.
  1. Bulletin boards:  Place flyers and posters on bulletin boards in staff lounges, break rooms, etc.
  1. Pins and stickers:  Develop a decorative pin or sticker that employees can wear proudly after completing training on the current install.
  1. Pay day:  Attach an informational clipping to staff paychecks.
  1. IT department annual report: Not only do these reports detail long-range budgets, initiatives, and customer perceptions, they also communicate current IT projects.
  1. IT department blog: Use a blog to highlight milestones and provide updated information on IT projects but be prepared to receive comments- both good and bad.
  1. IT website: Another great way to post updates on IT projects and plans.
  1. Email:  Although overused, emails are a great way to reach a large number of people at once.
  1. Mailboxes:  Use the hospital mail system to distribute project flyers, brochures, postcards, etc.
  1. Employee intranet:  Use the intranet to communicate IT messages to employees.Intranet MiChart
  1. Sign-on messages:  Have an IT message when a staff member logs onto the computer.  Provide a countdown to Go Live or a project status update.
  1. Screensavers:  Create a unique project screensaver.
  1. Social media:  Utilize your organization’s social media initiatives to promote important messages and regular updates.
  1. Videos:  Develop informational videos to be played on the in-house television station or on YouTube for public access.
  1. Radio:  Develop an informational radio spot to be played over the hospital’s radio for elevators or lounge areas.
  1. Move the Help Desk:  Station the Help Desk in the cafeteria for a day.  This will make staff more aware of what the Help Desk does and is vitally important during new IT projects.
  1. Set up camp:  Place IT project displays or informational “booths” in cafeterias and lounge areas.
  1. Go to the fair:  IT fairs have proven to be an excellent way to communicate IT projects.  Plan to have an IT fair or education day that allows staff to come to a central location to understand what projects are underway.
  1. Pop quiz:  Create a monthly contest to quiz employees on their knowledge of the ongoing IT initiative.  Provide logo items, gift certificates, free cafeteria meals, etc. as prizes.
  1. Have fun:  A group of staff members singing “CPOE” to Village People’s “YMCA” song will be viewed repeatedly on your website or on YouTube.  (Yes, it’s been done!)
  1. Photos:  Don’t use stock photography.  Your hospital may have its own photographer or someone on staff who can take professional-level pictures.  A picture of your hospital’s actual doctors and nurses will get more attention than a generic stock photo.
  1. Bring IT to life:  Consider a mascot or character to further the branding of your major initiatives.  One hospital, when implementing an EMR, developed a character called “Elmer”- Electronic Medical Record.  Elmer began as an infant and progressed through childhood and adulthood as the project progressed.  The nursing staff was able to identify with the character and stay informed of the project status.  Before Go Live, an IT staff member dressed up as Elmer and visited all the nursing stations!
  1. Training sessions:  Provide various times for staff to be trained on new systems in both group and one-on-one sessions.  Use these sessions to provide information as well as project updates.
  1. Thank you notes:  Follow up with a handwritten note or email after training meetings thanking attendees and inviting them to ask questions and offer suggestions.
  1. Get out there:  Have your IT staff members make rounds to promote projects.  One CIO requires his staff members to log their rounding hours and turn them in on a regular basis.
  1. IT ambassadors: In addition to doing rounds, consider assigning “IT Ambassadors” as resources to specific departments to report information and provide feedback to IT.
  1. Make your presence known:  IT reps should not just sit quietly in the back of meetings- make sure everyone knows IT is there and available for questions.  Bring food to attract everyone’s attention.
  1. Provide a script:  If you are unable to attend a department meeting, develop a scripted presentation that managers can show that details the IT initiatives and how it will affect their respective departments.
  1. Get on the agenda:  IT should be included on the agenda for all Board and Executive Team meetings to provide project updates.
  1. Newbies:  New employee orientations are a perfect opportunity to inform new staff of IT projects.  Work with your HR department to ensure that an IT staff member is on the agenda during orientation and is able to distribute IT materials to new staff.
  1. Night owls:  Remember that not all audiences work routine 9-5 hours.  Be sure to reach out to the night shifts to keep staff members informed of IT projects.
  1. Town hall hospital meetings: IT projects are important and should be featured as a regular series of town hall informational meetings.

MyChart iphone app

  1. Lunch and learns:  Schedule lunch and learn sessions for all new projects.  Again, food always attracts people!
  1. Giveaways:  Everyone likes free stuff.  Give away items that are useful and effectively communicate your IT message: a Go Live date or the Help Desk phone number.  Save money by asking vendors if they are willing to supply some merchandise items.
  1. Bribe:  Entice staff members with gift certificates or small prizes for completing a series of tasks: training, attending a Go Live meeting, completing a quiz on the application, logging a certain amount of hours, etc.
  1. Case studies:  Research trade publications and websites for relevant articles and share the information with staff members.  Ask your vendors to provide case histories of how their applications have improved other hospitals.
  1. Amp it up: As the Go Live date approaches, the intensity of your marketing efforts should increase.  On Go Live day, no one should be saying, “I didn’t know it was going to change over today!”
  1. Petting zoo:  Schedule a hands-on “petting zoo” prior to all Go Lives to allow staff to familiarize themselves with the new application.
  1. ID IT:  During Go Lives, make sure IT members are easily identified by a brightly colored IT t-shirt, vest, or button so they can answer questions and quickly address any issues.GoLive IT shirts
  1. Promote project successes: Make achievements a big deal the whole hospital can celebrate by promoting awards, local and national recognition, and overall system benefits such as saved money, time, and improved patient care.
  1. Utilize the web:  Be sure to continue communicating improvements and future IT initiatives through the hospital website, employee intranet, emails, social media, etc.
  1. Reward:  You have successfully completed a Go Live- it’s time to celebrate all your hard work!  Set up a dunking booth and allow IT staff to dunk the CIO and other top brass!
  1. Don’t fear marketing—Remember, the Titanic was built by experts and Noah’s Ark was built by amateurs!
We would like to express our sincere thanks to all the CIOs who shared information about their marketing plans and samples of their marketing pieces.