How Always-On Patient Outreach Drives System-Wide Success


Q&A with Jeff Stewart
System Director of Strategic Marketing

As health systems continue to grow and compete across multiple service lines, they need strategies to help strengthen relationships with their patients. Activating existing patients and attracting new patients is the dual objective that countless health systems are tackling. Always-on patient outreach campaigns that deliver personalized messages and successfully drive patients to visits have to be a part of every system’s marketing strategy. 

The following Q&A with Jeff Stewart, System Director of Strategic Marketing at CHRISTUS Health, details some of the strategies and challenges with always-on patient outreach. Unifying a multi-faceted and geographically far-reaching system comes with some challenges. But data-driven digital campaigns have the power to unify brands and attract and retain patients as well.

Tell us about your role at CHRISTUS.

I'm responsible for all of our marketing across the U.S. including Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Arkansas as well as our overall brand. I consider the visual expression of our brand, or how we express ourselves, as well as our reputation in the communities we serve. Finally, I oversee the day-to-day marketing activities for our system.


CHRISTUS is made up of 11 health systems in the U.S. I have teams at both the corporate and local levels. The corporate level encompasses digital marketing, customer relationship management (CRM), creative services, and other traditional marketing activities. At the local ministries I have teams of marketing and communications professionals who are responsible for traditional healthcare hospital marketing. Communications, social media, and public relations are managed in a different department at the corporate level. 

What is your top marketing priority at CHRISTUS? 

It's all about access to our clinics and hospitals – that's our focus. We're constantly growing our employed physician base and getting more and more patients into our clinics. We also support new or growing services such as a new cancer institute, a new heart institute, diabetes programs, and more. We want patients to enter CHRISTUS at the clinic level because then we can earn both their loyalty and their family’s loyalty.

What are 2 key tactics you’ve employed at CHRISTUS to increase access to your clinics? 

  1. First, we redesigned our website. We added a friendlier way to schedule appointments online. Now, if you go to our website and you search for a physician, you can sort by the next available appointment to find somebody to see soon. 

    Before launching the redesign, we conducted research that showed consumers subliminally recognize when they're moving between online systems. For example, when you move from a first-party website to a hosted provider finder and then, finally, to a third-party scheduler, there are always subtle differences in usability. We wanted to move as much as possible to the first party website experience.

christus website always-on patient outreach

  1. Secondly, we now offer on-demand care. Patients can find a provider immediately and talk to an urgent care clinician by phone. There are a lot of disruptors offering this service at a very low price, sometimes through a subscription model. There are also a lot of other large systems offering this service at higher prices. We thought our opportunity was to fall somewhere in the middle. The name CHRISTUS is well-known and well-respected. To be able to say, "I can see a CHRISTUS clinician today," carries a lot of weight. 

    Paid search has helped us grow on-demand care because we can capture people at the point of intent. Around 35 to 40 percent of people using the on-demand service haven’t seen a CHRISTUS provider ever or within the last 36 months. And another 10 to 15 percent of on-demand patients don’t have a primary care provider yet. This has been an exciting way for us to grow. 

Tell us about the biggest challenge you face in your marketing efforts.

breast-cancer always on outreach campaigns

Our biggest challenges are internal. As a collection of 11 health systems, we are actively taking steps to learn how to work together as one system. One example is Breast Cancer Awareness Month this past October – there was a lot of activity to drive breast cancer screenings. There are 11 points of access to get a mammogram in the CHRISTUS health system, and many of those access points have different scheduling protocols. With the digital world we're in and current consumer expectations, we can't support that model. The default is to shift the burden of complexity to the consumer, and that limits access. These are the growing pains of adjusting to a digital world.

What steps are you taking to streamline the experience for consumers?

  1. The most important thing we’re doing is keeping the voice of the consumer close in order to inform how we move forward. 
  2. We are on a journey: by the end of 2024, we will all be on a single EMR. This transition will make things like scheduling a mammogram significantly easier.
  3. It’s also critical to look at the data. For the website, we use a tool that allows you to watch someone scroll and click. Another tool does user testing. You can listen to someone talk through their experience using the website. Demonstrating this experience helps provide the level of internal advocacy you need to get buy-in on website changes.
  4. Finally, we have call analytics. When I hear about a frustrating call that somebody had, I can pull the call recording. Generally, the traditional contact center scores really well on quality scores, but then they transfer the call and the person’s problems don’t get solved. Everybody in our system wants to solve this challenge.

How is CHRISTUS transitioning to run more always-on patient outreach campaigns?

healthcare patient outreach

I cannot understand why we've allowed months, like Breast Cancer Awareness Month or American Heart Month, to become a strategy. Mammograms and heart services are needed every month of the year. We need to be driving paid search and email all the time.

Now all of our major service lines – cardiology, oncology, orthopedics, emergency care, primary care, and more – have system-level always-on patient outreach campaigns running consistently. Then we layer in CRM campaigns that correspond. A lot of the service line campaigns drive consumers to a health risk assessment, and depending on their risk level, that person might receive an email, direct mail, or even an outbound call the next day.

Describe the core metrics you’re using to measure always-on patient outreach campaigns. 

Our leadership cares most about encounters or visits, and we get that data from the CRM. We are looking to drive patient volume and revenue growth using always-on patient outreach strategies. We can measure that with our CRM as well as understand the marketing touch points consumers had along the way. 

A good best practice is any metric that you have to explain to leadership is probably not useful. We used to spend a lot of time showing different numbers to be very transparent, but it didn't lead to increased investment in marketing. I recommend sharing numbers that connect to the bottom line. 

We have to translate certain metrics for particular initiatives. For example, prior to transitioning to a new, unified CHRISTUS website in June, we focused on unbranded organic search. We described to leadership how consumers who don't know us aren't finding us in their online searches. That was an alarm bell for leadership. Another example is our online reputation. We’ve added something to the end of our patient satisfaction surveys asking, "Would you like to leave a review on Google?" The result has been around 300 percent growth in Google reviews.

patient outreach campaigns for success

What are some of your always-on patient outreach priorities moving forward?

We want to grow our unbranded organic search. When we rank high in organic search results, it provides another channel for us to gain awareness and capture downstream revenue, which further amplifies our always-on patient outreach strategies. There’s some technical SEO involved there, but beyond that, it has to do with content. We want to continue featuring different content in our emails, including our monthly newsletters. 

Additionally, when we have a new cardiologist join us in Beaumont, for example, we want to announce that to the community.  We can target people who have primary care visits with us with no cardiology visits and give them a piece of content about why they should go see a cardiologist.  

We're also looking at other ways to keep people engaged, things like annual mammogram reminders, annual cardiology reminders, or five- or ten-year colonoscopy reminders. These efforts will help build our relationship with our patients.

Listen to the full Hello Healthcare podcast interview with Jeff Stewart on your preferred streaming platform or listen to the recording below.

About Jeff Stewart

Jeff Stewart is the System Director of Strategic Marketing at CHRISTUS Health, a not-for-profit health system with over 60 centers and 15,000 physicians. Jeff has deep expertise in marketing strategy, corporate communications, and using technology to create return on business strategies. Through his experience at multiple health systems, Jeff has also developed a keen understanding of the healthcare system and consumer healthcare needs and preferences. Connect with Jeff on LinkedIn.