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A First-Timer’s Perspective on HCIC@Home

Nov 20, 2020

This article was written by Amy M. Avery, M.A.Ed., an award-winning freelance writer with over 25 years’ experience in healthcare—including well over a decade with feet on the ground in hospital MarCom departments. Now celebrating her 15th year as a freelancer, she is honored to support marketing and communications colleagues across the US, especially with “health literate” and “plain language” messages that varied stakeholders can both understand and act on. photo of an audience watching a speaker

As a first-timer to HCIC this year, I was reminded of a long-recurring theme in healthcare: “High tech. High touch.” It’s a theme I heard on my first hospital MarCom job 30 years ago. Fast forward to the HCIC conference in November, and the theme still resonates, but in vastly different ways.

Today, the tech focus isn’t so much on medical advancements as on the digital tools we can use—must use—to do our work. The “touch” remains on the people we serve. But it also necessarily includes the people we work with, sometimes right next to, and others at all levels.

As expected, speakers focused on patients, sharing impressive and successful ways they’re using tech to reach them. Piedmont Health in Georgia detailed their experience creating a robust app for online scheduling. Results: over 107K downloads; 95 percent repeat use; 30 percent of those making appointment are new patients; and a large percent use the app outside of their providers’ office hours.

“We put ourselves where and when patients wanted us to be,” Piedmont Health speakers said.

Internal communications teams have embraced digital tools too. OhioHealth MarCom leaders shared that a private, internal Facebook page that had no chance for lift-off in 2019 became a key point of internal communication this year, to disseminate information that sometimes changed hourly.

In 2020, everything we do is ripe for disruption, and for innovation,” said HCIC keynote speaker Debra Jasper, CEO/Founder of Digital Mindset during her three-part keynote address.

Internal teams also embraced the rapid shift of adapting to the world of video calls and remote work.

“We’re all now in the production business,” Jasper said.

But we never expected the production to be at our desks. How many of us outside of video production knew what a ring light was until this year? Or that a high-quality microphone would be a desktop essential?

“The months beginning with Covid have been like running a marathon of unknown length,” said session panelist Rob Klein, of Klein & Partners. “No one can tell you how long you have to run. So, how do you pace yourself?”

MarCom teams began finding a way during the earliest weeks of Covid. In doing so, they highlighted the impact that the healthcare marketing communications professional has across the entire organization.

“We shifted from ‘marketing communications’ to simply, ‘communications’ in March,” one panelist said. Said another, “We reorganized to become ‘incident command’.” And he, a MarCom leader, became part of the organization-wide emergency response team that soon included community and government leaders.

To accomplish this work, MarCom departments turned to tech. Tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom quickly became vital. “It was like a light switch” for the value they brought in productivity and connections between MarCom staff, and eventually for entire healthcare campuses.

Though a marathon is an apt description of life since the beginning of 2020, Manley Feinberg, another keynote speaker (and one well worth hearing if you missed it), used his personal stories of mountain climbing as an analogy to inspire.

In that extreme sport and at work, he emphasizes the importance of focusing on the goal (“naming the climb,” in his parlance), having a team for support, offering support for your team, being willing to challenge your beliefs, asking the right questions, and celebrating wins. He also pointed out the power of naming the next challenge, “the next summit.”

At HCIC, speakers’ reflections gave them a well-deserved look back at important accomplishments. But for most, as Feinberg might recommend, these reflections are only a pause.

MarCom colleagues are already moving ahead to look at the next important steps: to ensure their communities get all the care they need and know they are safe doing so; to help staff and the public understand the coming vaccines; to continue to express gratitude for everyone’s hard work; and to take all lessons learned forward.

“Though it’s been one of the hardest years in two decades, it’s also been one of the most productive,” one panelist concluded.

“Like telehealth has blown up, so has our use of all these tools,” another speaker said. “We won’t go back.”

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