Next week more than 1,000 healthcare marketing, public relations, communications and strategic planning professionals will convene in Washington, DC for the Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development (SHSMD) Annual Connections conference.  A seminal event, the conference is a great way to see what’s on the mind of professionals working at, or with, hospitals, healthcare systems, clinics and ambulatory surgery centers.

So, what is new in 2015? 

The customer experience learning track, that’s what!  This is big news.  This is the first year SHSMD is dedicating an entire track to customer experience.  This gives me hope that we may be starting to move beyond “theory” towards effective patient engagement – one of PadillaCRT’s top 2015 health care trends.

This just in (as if you didn’t know):  customers vote with their wallet.  For providers this means that their brand, reputation and experience influence where their customer goes to get care – urgent care and elective.  And as we evolve to value-based care, these factors will play a larger role in determining if a customer returns for care.

This is significant for healthcare systems for three reasons: 

    1. Brand experience is the new king.  Providers need to nurture and invest in their brand experience, holistically.  Making sure your customer understands your brand promise and leveraging key brand drivers to create deeper engagement and return customers is essential. This goes way beyond a logo or mark.  It requires an organization to create brand conviction and brand loyalists inside the organization first, before looking externally to customers.
    2. Good communication has “new and improved” powers.  Providers that understand the mindsets, routines, perceived barriers and benefits their customers believe about their organization will have the advantage when it comes to creating messaging that drives behavior and reinforces a provider’s brand promise.  “On-brand” communication cannot be the sole responsibility of the marketing/communications department. An organizations’ messaging cannot feel like it is being generated by one office/person and shouted from a megaphone.  Add to this the increasing amount of evidence that shows how good communication, especially from hospital staff, positively affects patient experience, HCAHPS scores and even perceived health outcomes by customers.  Now that’s power.
    3.  Healthcare digital finally goes personal and local. The Golden Age in digital healthcare marketing is starting to emerge.  The healthcare industry, with providers leading the way, is starting to embrace digital channels that demand personalization and help create a truly customer-centric experience. In this “new world” of: visit  navigator apps, care management apps, and lab result apps, I see a world not limited by the iron fist of a humorless legal department (to be clear, some of my best friends are lawyers) but rather a world where providers can unleash the power of digital engagement to deliver better patient experiences.

So while I anticipate spending most of my time next week digging into the intersection between customer experience and effective marketing communications at SHSMD, you may also find me getting my geek on at the Analytics & Research or Strategic Planning Sessions.  Look for me, I’ll be the one in the back nodding my head vigorously welcoming the customer experience era.

If you think there is a more important trend, be sure to find me in DC next week so we can grab a beer and discuss it.  Or you can simply leave a comment or question here.