Should Hospitals Start Hacking Their Marketing?

Should Hospitals Start Hacking Their Marketing?

By Alex Panagiotopoulos

Multimedia from this Release

Tuesday, May 27, 2014 - 1:00pm


Hack your hospital marketing
Imagine if buying a book from Amazon required you to first visit, followed by a phone call to arrange a meeting to pick up and pay for the book, followed by a visit to a separate website to get suggestions on other books and provide a review of the book and transaction. It sounds ridiculous. Fortunately for us, has taken great care to create a single, consistent digital experience on one website from start to finish.

It’s a different story in the healthcare space. For years, many of us marketers have boxed ourselves into the “visit our website” part of the experience, where we’ve focused solely on acquiring as many customers as possible. Then, whatever happens after the customer (patient) enters the digital ecosystem is no longer our concern, leaving it up to clinical and IT departments to manage the ongoing patient experience and aftercare engagement.

Hospitals are moving away from only caring about patient volume to also caring about value. For marketers, that means thinking beyond the appointment and applying our digital savvy to every step of the process. Let’s make it seamless for patients who are used to dealing with Amazon, Netflix, and Zappos.

Along these lines, hospitals are increasingly looking to ideas from other industries to spur innovation and catch up to the rest of the digital world. As covered in the WSJ and Slate, some are holding healthcare hackathons to reimagine how they engage with patients inside and out of the hospital. Hackathons are two-day events of rapid prototyping and pitching new ideas, with a mix of outside startup-minded designers, developers, and patients joining forces with traditional healthcare insiders.

Some examples of successful hackathons:
NY Presbyterian held a hackathon to innovate its patient portal, myNYP, to “create the best online patient care experience.”

Hacking Pediatrics’ first-place hackathon winner in October was Rightbyte, a proposal by Boston Children’s Hospital nutrition staff to create an “easily searchable aggregation of recipes that are appropriate for particular food allergies and intolerances.”

Another hospital in Boston, Brigham and Women’s, recently held a “Shark Tank” pitch-off with early-stage entrepreneurs in the areas of patient experience and engagement.

To better understand how hackathons are helping pave the way for more innovation in the healthcare space, I interviewed recent hackathon stakeholders Naomi Fried, Chief Innovation Officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, Dr. Michael Docktor, Boston gastroenterologist and co-founder of Hacking Pediatrics, and Helen Kotchoubey, Corporate Director of Information Services at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

The Benefits
When discussing the value of hackathons, Kotchoubey said the greatest benefit comes from the excitement of getting designers, innovators, and developers together in a space, with the momentum of only 36 hours. Building on that thought, Fried stated, “You have to overcome the fear of failure, so we work hard to focus on the learnings that come out of the innovation process, and teach people about the innovation progress; failures are nothing to be embarrassed about. It is part of the process”

Dr. Docktor added that “[Our] hackathon opened some people's eyes to collaborative innovation and realizing we're not the experts at everything, by using the tremendous resources here in Boston… it was an eye-opener in collaborating with patients and families in the community and clinicians in the trenches, who had great ideas.”

Are Hackathons Right for Every Hospital?
All three agreed that every hospital could benefit from hackathons in some form. Fried said any hospital “that is looking to improve the way it delivers care” can benefit from grassroots efforts like hackathons. With the regulatory guidelines and day-to-day compliance issues everyone faces, Kotchoubey said there’s an increasing acknowledgement that innovation isn’t happening fast enough, adding “A lot of the technologies outside of healthcare could help us find new efficiencies.”

Docktor’s hospital already has a successful culture of innovation, but he said hackathons helped elevate it to the next level.

“We were able to think outside of our organization and were bringing collaborators from outside of medicine,” Docktor said. “No doubt every organization, hospital or otherwise, would benefit from collaboration and taking the time to intensely hack at problems in their environment.”

Planning a Hackathon
The consensus was that you should plan to spend at least three months to adequately prepare for a hackathon. According to Docktor, “One of my colleagues worked with a group at MIT called H@cking Medicine. They have had lots of experience in organizing and creating hackathons in the medical space and were tremendously helpful in bringing some of the talented resources to the event. It went from idea to reality in within 3 months.”

Innovation Beyond the Hackathon
At NewYork-Presbyterian, Kotchoubey credited Aurelia Boyer, CIO, for challenging the organization to look outside of healthcare for inspiration. Kotchoubey said, “We’ve held innovation sessions with her own IT department, and we had many projects that came out of that. We have a very progressive leadership team.”

Boston Children’s Hospital has an ongoing seed grant program where any hospital employee can apply for funds to test their ideas, and another program for innovative software and mobile app development. They can win access to the time of developers to build out new solutions.

Hacking is not just for IT
Just like IT departments and clinicians, marketers have daily responsibilities that slow down innovation and change. To create customer experiences like Amazon and Zappos, we can’t afford to cling to “the way we’ve always done it.”  By working with other stakeholders and people from outside of our industry to develop new ideas and methods we can hack hospital marketing.