Takeaways from SHSMD Connections 2017 Conference

10.04.2017 • Susan Stuehrk

Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 1.52.13 PM.pngIf you weren’t at the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development’s Connections conference (SHSMD Connections 2017 conference), this article could potentially serve as a justification letter to your leadership for attending the 2018 event.

For a first-timer and a new SHSMD member, last week provided an enviable look into the hearts and minds of marketers and strategists from healthcare organizations nationwide. While my team at NarrativeDx and I work tirelessly to help these leaders improve patient experience at their organizations using AI and qualitative data, the 2017 Connections conference illuminated real-life applications for this intelligence and where it fits into healthcare growth strategy.

With that and your lunch in hand, please dig into some key takeaways below.

He who tells the story, rules the world.
During the conference, my fellow attendees and presenters declared that storytelling is humankind’s greatest invention, and likely what separated us from our ancestral species. Jake Poore, a long-time experience leader for Disney before working with health systems to improve patient experience and to transform culture, concluded the conference in his keynote with a journey through the application of “The Disney Difference” to healthcare. He cited a Hopi nation adage early on: “He who tells the story, rules the world.” Attendees were informed that “everything speaks,” including name tags, lights, carpeting, ceiling tiles, and parking spaces - and that those little details tell a system’s story (for better or worse).

It gets scarier still: after 9 out of 10 poor experiences, patients won’t complain or provide insight into what could be improved - they simply leave, and often encourage others to stay away as well.

More than any other revelation experienced at the conference, storytelling as a means of transmitting and transforming care culture, “caring out loud” mission statements, and selling innovative strategies to live to these foundational tenants and identities to healthcare leadership is alone in its impact and benefits.

Multiple speakers made mention of videotaped interviews of patients and providers as the most powerful format through which they can tell their stories, whether to conduct experience or market research, to sell patient experience initiatives internally, or to attract new patients.

The advent of storytelling to visualize data was apparent throughout several presentations, whose positive outcomes one could physically see. Along with these results was often sage advice: “don’t wait for perfect,” iterate, and go to market with the kernels you can glean.

Speaking of...

...This is not your mother's data analytics strategy.
While there's no need to expound on just how critical it has become in healthcare to use qualitative data (and to use it wisely), it’s worth unpacking the attitudes that pervaded this year’s Connections conference towards its management, analysis, and the actions that it informs and justifies. I heard echoes throughout the conference of the grappling with quantitative data that were so emblematic of the Cleveland Clinic's Empathy + Innovation Summit earlier this year.

It seemed the verdict was in: quantitative analysis is still difficult; qualitative analysis is excruciating, to the point where it often doesn’t happen. EMR upgrades, margin squeezes, political and regulatory volatility, and an ever-accelerating caregiver exodus from these organizations can undermine many efforts to examine the "why" behind the "what" that are these numbers: experience feedback provided by patients, caregivers, and staff.

Add to that the sheer volume of data, and you’re “data-rich but information-poor,” left without actionable insights. University Hospitals warned attendees of this phenomenon while sharing how to grow volume and market share using claims data, and the lesson stuck.

Doom and gloom notwithstanding, each data-focused presentation offered a bellwether of ROI on your analytics strategy: even if you’re drowning in data, act on the insights you do find, and define the single source of truth in which to seek insights like those. Then, you’re empowered to refine and scale analyses that led you to those insights and to take data-driven action.

Industry outsiders become Innovation as a Service.
The proactive recruiting of executives from outside of the healthcare industry (namely from CPG, hospitality, and retail backgrounds) is a far cry from the "Healthcare is different" credo that has often shackled innovation in healthcare. Their hostility waning, several speakers urged attendees to engage these thought leaders as simply taking on a new role in the creation of a care experience. In his opening keynote, Dan Burrus proclaimed "Innovation as a Service" as a "future truth,” his term for an assertion based on "hard trends," themselves based on facts. In this case, that fact is the rise of high-deductible health plans causing people (not ‘patients’) to seek care in a manner closer to how they might, say, shop on Amazon, at Apple, or at Nordstrom - as a consumer. More on the implications of this future truth below. Hint: experience quite literally counts.

Organizations who have embraced this reality are growing and thriving in part due to the fresh strategies offered by their outsider peers, who don’t bear the “Curse of Knowledge.” Design thinking, retailization, and “Yes, And” versus “Yes, But” creative problem-solving to reimagine everything from capturing market share and patient experience were recurring themes across presentations by OhioHealth and Cast & Hue, Spectrum Health, Northwestern Medicine, AMITA Health and Strategy Advantage, and Sharpen Innovation.

Of particular note was OhioHealth’s urging that attempts to walk in patients’ shoes is a harbinger of failed design thinking. They experienced that this simply cannot be done. Listening to these patients with the understanding that you are not them is critical to getting the details right, details that ultimately lead to repeat business, or The Loyalty Equation.

No one identifies as a 'patient' - you're caring for consumers now.
Tired of this one yet? Buckle up. The future truth that people will act on choice as they do in other markets is in fact a present one. Investments by healthcare providers that may feel exorbitant or superfluous now, such as digitizing access to care and wellness resources, hyperlocal and even household-level segmentation and market analysis to inform the creation of new service lines or the hiring of new specialists, and simple additions like valet parking and care carts in waiting areas - addressing the moments precisely when patients are NOT interacting with caregivers or staff* - are exactly what’s needed to secure market share. Several presenters challenged attendees to acknowledge that their assumptions about their systems’ differentiation from their markets today and for the long-term may be a mistaken belief.

As if it begged reinforcement, we learned at this year’s conference that physicians must believe that any desired changes in behavior or culture are their idea, and that no appropriation of culture blueprints from leading systems or consulting groups would begat true transformation. Not coincidentally, new research by Deloitte around what they suspected is a slow rate of adoption of value-based contracts (spoiler alert: their hypothesis was confirmed) then begs the question: could we spur the shift from volume to value, and from patients to consumers, by in tying customer-centric behaviors and activities to physician compensation? Some organizations already do this, and I suspect others will start following the 2017 Connections conference.

Wait, but what about...WHY?
I want you to ask yourself - and confront a mirror if it’s handy - why were you born? Why did you choose a career in healthcare? Why are you still in healthcare? Do you even remember? Did you ever know? If you didn’t show up to work tomorrow, what would happen? What would your peers say, your patients?

All practical market development and strategy insights aside, these more existential naggings underpinned most of the 2017 Connections conference content. Culture is not something we do; it’s who we are, or it isn’t culture, and it surely isn’t transformation either. A sense of purpose and a role in the healing experience (don’t call them your “job tasks”) are absolutely essential for any of the above takeaways to positively impact your practice and your business.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these themes and others you took away from this year’s event. Reach out to me on Twitter @SusanStuehrk or susan (at) narrativedx.com.

Susan Stuehrk is the Director of Channel Sales at NarrativeDx.

*We at NarrativeDx are surprised and delighted daily by our AI engine’s recommendations to our health system clients for how to improve care experience. Is the issue Nurse Communication, or are patients in those comment sections discussing overcooked green beans being an unsettling shade of grey, a dearth of blankets in a particular unit during the winter, or sun in their eyes keeping them awake following Daylight Savings?


Susan Stuehrk

Susan Stuehrk

Director of Channel Sales, NarrativeDx

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