Achieving a Unified Healthcare Patient Journey, ft. Kevin Howell, UT Health San Antonio


Healthcare is a critical aspect of our lives, and as patients, we all desire a seamless and satisfying experience when seeking medical attention. From the moment we book an appointment to the aftercare, we expect a journey that is both comprehensive and satisfactory. However, achieving a unified healthcare patient journey is no easy feat, and it requires a strategic and collaborative approach from all involved parties.

Join Kevin Howell, Senior Director, Web and Digital Strategy at UT Health San Antonio, and podcast host Alan Tam, as they explore the key elements that contribute to a successful healthcare patient journey, including effective communication, streamlined processes, and patient-centered care. By implementing these key elements, you can guarantee a memorable and satisfactory experience for your patients, ultimately leading to improved patient outcomes and a thriving practice.

This conversation is brought to you by Actium Health in partnership with the Healthcare Internet Conference.

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Kevin-Howell-UT-Health healthcare patient journey

Kevin Howell

Senior Director, Web and Digital Strategy
UT Health San Antonio

UT Health San Antonio healthcare patient journey

Alan Tam

Chief Marketing Officer
Actium Health


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Kevin Howell (00:00):
A CRM is allowing us to look at you as one person, one record in the system, and being able to engage with you depending on where you are with the system with personalized messaging that’s relevant, that is timely and meets you where you are.

Alan Tam (00:22):
Hello Healthcare. The onset of the COVID Pandemic has been a tremendous catalyst for driving digital transformation across almost all health systems in the US. As part of this evolution, many health systems have also taken the opportunity to unify their voice as well as their identity through a rebrand. But how does this approach and strategy impact not only the patient experience, but also the patient outcomes and ROI? Joining me today is Kevin Howell. He’s the Senior Director of Web and Digital Strategy at University of Texas Health, San Antonio. Kevin, welcome to Hello Healthcare.

Alan Tam (01:06):
So Kevin, I understand that UT Health recently did a rebrand and launched a brand new website actually in the midst of the pandemic. Talk to me about what was the main driving force behind that and what were some of the key objectives?

Kevin Howell (01:21):
Sure. So UT Health, San Antonio is a over 60-year-old academic medical center. We’re very well known in our market as a school, but not so much as a healthcare system. We’re opening a hospital in 2024, it’ll be the first one affiliated with UT Health, San Antonio. And we really wanted to relaunch us in the market and get consumers to really recognize us as a healthcare system. And we started a new brand campaign, the tagline is, Everything It Takes. And it was really about reintroducing us to the consumer market, consumer preference, consumer choice and having them recognize this as more than just a medical school.

Alan Tam (02:00):
Right. Absolutely. And especially in your region, there’s a tremendous amount of competition, not only from other health systems, but also retail health and digital health. What are some of the tactics and strategies that you’re using today to attract those healthcare consumers?

Kevin Howell (02:18):
Yeah, so it’s really a competitive market. So we’re in a part of town called Medical Center, within three or four blocks of our main campus is four other healthcare systems. And where we’re building our hospital is right next door to another hospital. So it’s a great place for the market because if you are sick, you know where to go, Medical Center, but it’s highly competitive. And so things we’re looking at to track how we’re doing in the market is really, we do quarterly surveys, we take a look at our website hits and unique visitors and where they’re coming from and all that sort of stuff to really track who we’re looking at and who we’re engaging with.

Alan Tam (03:02):
Right. So as part of your role as a digital marketer, talk to me a little bit more about that. How are you integrated into that whole rebrand process and moving forward, what is your role as you continue down this path?

Kevin Howell (03:16):
Yeah. So my role is a unique one when I talk to my peers because I have dual reporting into IT and to marketing.

Kevin Howell (03:25):
So I wear both hats at our organization. And so being a digital marketer is a new role for me, I spent 20 years in IT in various different industries and so IT, I’m very comfortable with, but marketing is been learning. And marketing was my primary customer in previous roles and so I’m very familiar with how they operate and how they do, but me being actually responsible for it is a new thing for me. So it’s been a bit of a learning curve, I’ve had some great mentors and some great teachers along the way.
And our role is really to make sure that we are presented online in the most positive light possible. And so that’s reputation management, data management. And so some of the things that we’ve been doing is when we first started this rebrand, we were going to launch this big campaign to reintroduce us to the market, our websites didn’t really put the best foot forward. So first thing to do was to create a new landing pages. But your landing pages are not the only place that consumers will look for you. They’re doing Google searches, they’re looking on ratings and reviews, they’re using Google Maps and Apple Maps as the Yellow Pages and they’re really looking for you all over the place. And so one of the things that we identified was that depending on where you looked us up, you may get a different phone number, a different address, different hours of operation and we wanted to clean all that up so that when you saw us online, it was our best foot forward.
So we worked with a partner vendor to syndicate our data out, phone numbers, addresses, hours of operation, all that sort of stuff. We’ve published over 70,000 data points in the last 12 months. And so where previously we had to go to Google Maps, update the phone number, go to Apple Maps, update the phone number, go to Yelp, update the phone number, it was very time-consuming. And so now I feed it into one database and that database syndicates it as many different places as they possibly can. We did the same thing with our ratings and reviews. We partnered with our post-visit survey vendor, they had several years worth of history of people leaving positive comments, positive reviews on our providers, but those weren’t making it out to the internet.
So when you looked us up on Google or Healthgrades or any of the other review sites, maybe we had one or two reviews on one of our providers. So it didn’t take more than one bad review or bad experience to tank that whole review rating, when they had 12, 18 months worth of positive reviews. And so we worked with that vendor to syndicate that out. So I think the reoccurring theme is syndication. We’re syndicating the data out, we’re syndicating the reviews out and really making sure that we’re presenting our best foot forward.

Alan Tam (05:48):
Right. How long has that whole process taken you guys?

Kevin Howell (05:51):
Yeah. So we’re moving very fast. So I joined UT Health, San Antonio about 18 months ago.

Kevin Howell (05:58):
And so this rebrand kicked off about 18 months ago. And so that’s what we’ve been doing for the last 18 months, is putting all the parts and pieces together to make sure that we’re represented appropriately online.

Alan Tam (06:09):
Right. So what I also found interesting was your dual reporting structure both into IT and marketing. And I think that’s a very interesting place to be, to be able to understand both organizations. What are some of the challenges and barriers for both as part of this process now that you see it from both sides?

Kevin Howell (06:29):
Yeah. So I think being on both sides has really cut a lot of barriers. So I hold a governance meeting every other week with both leaders. They can see our whole portfolio, they see what we’re working on, where we need investment, where we need people and all that sort of stuff. And so we make decisions together, the three of us, our chief marketing officer, our CIO and myself. And so that’s helped out clear a lot of red tape and move things forward a lot faster.

Alan Tam (06:54):
Right. So one of the things as a marketer I always gravitate towards is metrics, KPIs. What are some common core metrics that you guys are using today, both from the IT side and the marketing side to ensure that you guys are aligned and in sync and moving this project forward?

Kevin Howell (07:11):
Yeah. So our KPIs are probably what everyone else is using, unique visitors to the site, engagement times on some of our pages, our provider directory has got a really large engagement time. We’re looking at our social media impressions, social media engagements, click-through rates, all that sort of stuff. And then we partner with a survey vendor to survey the market and figure out how the consumers in the market are perceiving us. Are we having the desired effect as far as consumer awareness and consumer brand preference and all that sort of stuff?

Alan Tam (07:43):
So are you having an effect?

Kevin Howell (07:44):
We are. We’re moving the needle, it’s a hard needle to move with so many healthcare systems in our city, but we’ve done a lot of things over the pandemic, including having our providers be on the Five O’clock News to give updates about COVID. Some things that are not digital, we hire touchpoints with our brand to make sure that people recognize us as a healthcare system and not just a school.

Alan Tam (08:05):
Right. So I know that you’re trying to grow, but how has this impacted existing patient experience and their care journeys?

Kevin Howell (08:14):
Sure. Yeah. So we’ve got a good problem to have in that we’ve got more demand than we have capacity. And so that comes with your own patient experience challenges. Launching this rebrand, we sent a lot of volume to the call center, various degrees of being able to handle that volume. So a great lesson learned is make sure you’ve got your call center in the loop when you’re going to launch a rebrand and make sure that they can handle the additional volume. And just making sure that the brand is really everyone’s responsibility. So everyone from the front desk clerk to the janitor, to the doctor, the president of the university, brand is everyone’s responsibility and we got to make sure we’re putting our best foot forward.

Alan Tam (08:57):
Right. What were some of the best practices that you’ve learned? I’m sure there’s many of your peers who are in the midst of going through a rebrand or healthcare is always moving in terms of going through a rebrand, what are some of the best practices or even some of the pitfalls that you would avoid moving forward?

Kevin Howell (09:15):
Yeah. So I think the biggest bang for our buck was really doing syndication. Making sure that we didn’t have to update the same data in 15 different places or more. Being able to leverage the rich data that we had in our post-visit surveys, getting that out to all the review sites was a huge bonus for us. Many of our doctors who had one or two reviews now have hundreds of reviews on those sites. And because we’ve partnered with a reputable vendor, a lot of those reviews get a verified tag on them. And so a lot of practices that got in trouble for buying reviews or paying for reviews, our reviews, if the site supports it, will get a verified tag so that it has more weight to it, being that it’s coming from a reputable source.

Alan Tam (10:00):
Right. Let’s talk about ROI a bit because that is the ultimate de facto measurement. How are you guys measuring ROI on this project?

Kevin Howell (10:10):
Yeah. So we’re looking at new patient acquisition and what areas of the city they’re from, where we’re targeting different marketing campaigns and stuff like that. But really the whole campaign’s about patient acquisition and making sure that consumer preference, that they choose us first because we feel like we’re the best and you should choose us first.

Alan Tam (10:30):
Right. Have you guys had the opportunity to actually start measuring the ROI?

Kevin Howell (10:33):
I don’t have numbers off the top of my head.

Alan Tam (10:35):
Okay, good. So what’s next as part of this project?

Kevin Howell (10:40):
Yeah. So next we’ve got an update to our provider directory coming out in the next few months. That was an area of our website where we saw a tremendous amount of engagement, people were engaging with our provider directory pretty heavily. We saw users engaging with it for over two and a half minutes on average. Which sounds great, but two and a half minutes feels a little long and so we’re working on making sure that that’s a better experience. They can find the right provider and try and get the right information to book with them. And then we’re also looking at an integrated CRM strategy. So in addition to being a healthcare provider, being an academic medical center, we do research, we do fundraising, we do a lot of different things.
And so having all those groups collaborate and work together on a unified CRM system is really where we’re going to start getting more economies of scale. And traditionally, all those groups have worked in a silo, as most institutions can probably attest. And so a unified system is where we’re going to try and make sure that when we engage the consumer, we’re engaging them where they are, whether they be a student, a patient, a family member, an employee, they’re all different. Everyone is one of those things or many of those things depending on where they are in the journey. And so we see CRM technology as a way to do that.

Alan Tam (11:55):
Right. So CRM has definitely been a hot topic for many years actually within healthcare. What’s your definition of CRM and what are your expectations from a CRM system?

Kevin Howell (12:09):
Yeah. So you’re absolutely right, CRM is a hot topic. I mean, there’s a lot of people that are looking at it with different lenses, even I’ve got a lens that I look through to accomplish certain goals. But really a CRM at its core is about engaging the consumer where they’re at. And when I say consumer, like I said earlier, it could be a student, a family member, a patient, it could be an employee, it could be a prospective student, prospective employee. All those different kinds of things are different parts of the consumer journey. And so a CRM is allowing us to look at you as one person, one record in the system, and being able to engage with you depending on where you are with the system with personalized messaging that’s relevant, that is timely and meets you where you are.

Alan Tam (12:58):
All right. So as I look at this journey, I think the term that many folks use is a patient or consumer 360. How do you know what to do next? You have all this information on the consumer, what’s next? How do you know where to move them to and where they are in their journey?

Kevin Howell (13:17):
Yeah. So first off, it depends on how they interact with us. So they may call and reach out to us for an scheduling appointment, scheduling an appointment for a loved one. They may interact with our website in a certain way, fill out a web form, when you fill out a web form that would come into the CRM and then we could engage with you depending on what that request was. They engage with us via social media and all that sort of stuff. So really it’s based on consumer feedback, you have to get your cues from how they’re requesting services from you or how they’re engaging with you to meet them where they are.

Alan Tam (13:50):
Okay. So it almost sounds like from your perspective, CRM is really around tracking that activity?

Alan Tam (13:59):
Yeah. And reporting back to it. So from a engagement perspective, that’s going to drive a lot of the future interactions and follow up and touchpoints, right?

Alan Tam (14:12):
Those touchpoints and those follow up, are those going to be part of the CRM as well or?

Kevin Howell (14:17):
So that’s still to be determined. I feel like they should be. I mean, CRM, if we look just from an email perspective, you can engage with us in many different facets and the primary engagement for a lot of those facets would be email. And so collecting consumer preference of how you like to be emailed, when you like to be emailed, those kinds of things. And having that in a centralized database so that when our medical group needs to email you or our fundraising group needs to email you, they’re all working from the same sheet of music, they’re working together on them.

Alan Tam (14:49):
Right. Interesting. So I think email is definitely a very prevalent channel and a very prevalent method for healthcare systems to communicate with their patients and healthcare consumers. I’m also starting to hear a lot of health systems using technologies like SMS and text messaging. Is that something that you guys are exploring as well?

Kevin Howell (15:10):
Yeah, absolutely. So we are looking at SMS, we’re looking at social media engagement. SMS inherently is not secure, so is email, so you’ve got to be careful about the types of messages you send out, make sure you’re really scrutinizing the types of data going out via those channels.

Alan Tam (15:28):
So where are you guys right now in your CRM initiative? Have you started looking? Have you started implementing?

Kevin Howell (15:35):
Yeah. So we just completed a seven-month RFP process where we looked at pretty much every CRM on the market. I can’t disclose who we’ve selected yet because we’re still in contracting, we haven’t really finalized the deal just yet. But we did go through an exhaustive process to look at everything that was on the market. And what our selection committee has used in the past, several of us have previous experience with CRMs and different things like that. So it was a really exhaustive process to look at CRM technology.

Alan Tam (16:07):
Right. I’m sure. And I think a lot of your colleagues in other health systems are also looking at CRM. Now that you’ve gone through this seven month exhaustive process, help your fellow colleagues out in terms of what are some things that you’ve learned through this process in terms of, “Hey, make sure you guys do this, make sure you don’t do that.”

Kevin Howell (16:27):
Yeah. I think the biggest thing that we did was we had a really detailed requirements document for what we were looking for. And when we had demos with those vendors, we made sure we went through all of those requirements and made sure that they could demonstrate all of those requirements. Some of them had to bring in third party partners to meet some of those requirements. Not all of them do everything natively, but they definitely brought to the table those partners as part of the demo because we had it in our requirements document. So be detailed.

Alan Tam (17:01):
Right. Did those requirements change as you spoke with more and more vendors?

Kevin Howell (17:06):
I wouldn’t say they changed, we probably got more specific with our questions as we saw some demos, “So-and-so is doing it this way. How are you handling that?” That kind of thing. So we probably got more specific with our questions as the demos went on as we learned more, but I wouldn’t say the requirements changed. And because we were trying to do this for the whole university, we had folks from the education side of the house, we had folks from healthcare, we had folks from fundraising, research, and they were all at the table. And so they all had, like I said, different lenses that they were looking at this and different things that they were looking for it to accomplish.

Alan Tam (17:39):
Right. So one of the key challenges that I keep hearing from other health systems on CRM projects is who’s the driver and who’s responsible for championing this forward? You mentioned a lot of other partners that you’ve brought in. Are you the key driver and who are some of the other partners that you’ve had to bring in as part of this process?

Kevin Howell (18:00):
Yeah, so I would be the key driver for CRM. I’ve previously run CRM teams and so we’re looking to start up a CRM team that would own the product and they would be part of the digital team, so they’d be part of marketing as well as IT. And I think that’s really important because as you look at things like high trust and different security models and different things like that, having them as part of it is very important. But then you also want to have a marketer hat when they’re looking at this technology to make sure that we’re presenting the right message, it’s staying on brand and all those different kinds of things. So they’re going to have to wear two hats as well on a lot of these initiatives.

Alan Tam (18:35):
Right. How are you guys… I don’t know if you’ve determined how you’re going to measure ROI on CRM. I know that’s been a big challenge for multiple folks.

Kevin Howell (18:44):
Sure. Patient experience is a hard thing to measure ROI on. But when you look at things like your HCAP scores, your end of visit surveys, you solicit feedback from folks. Also, there’s a lot of measuring tools for your marketing campaigns. How well did this email perform? How well did this direct marketing perform? How are people engaging with you? Are they coming to your website based on click-through rates and different things with your marketing campaigns? And so there’s a lot of KPIs out there, I don’t know if we’ve nailed down exactly how we’re going to measure it, but there’s a lot that are out there and that I’ve used in the past.

Alan Tam (19:14):
Okay. So going back to the whole rebrand effort and then tying into CRM. One, do you expect your CRM to improve the conversions through the website? I think ultimately that can tie back to the ROI piece. And what are some of the other things that you guys have done on the website to help improve that patient experience and drive those conversions to go through?

Kevin Howell (19:38):
Yeah. So the website is obviously going to be the key CTA for a lot of the marketing that we send out through through CRM. And so, you get an email, you click through to a landing page. And so some of the things that we’ve done on that landing page, we’ve done online web forms. So making sure that you can request an appointment, but the only option is not to just pick up a phone, we don’t want to overload the call center. So we’ve created a lot of web forms for people to request services from us and then we can work that into the call center’s day as they move along and maybe call the patient back when there’s less call volume.
But we’ve also looked at things like chatbots. So we’ve got a chatbot on our website right now that is really version one, it’s really a click through FAQ to guide people to the right places. We’d love to make that where it’s a live chat with an agent, but obviously that takes staffing and some planning to go through with that. And then we’re always looking at user experience, user research to try and get feedback directly from our users as far as how they’re using the product, what sort of information are they looking for, and are we being helpful?

Alan Tam (20:42):
Right. I’m curious if you have a different strategy for new patient experience load, net new patient acquisition experiences versus existing patients on your website. Is there a different approach or is it pretty much the same?

Kevin Howell (20:56):
Yeah. I mean, if you’re a new patient and you want to request an appointment for an example, we’ve got a web form there, we’ve got a phone number you can call. And if you’re an existing patient, we drive you to MyChart to try and have you book with a provider that you’ve seen previously. It’s not the best experience having to switch between different products, but that’s where we’re at. I’d love to have it where it’s all one experience, whether you’re an existing patient or a new patient, it’s the same patient experience all across the board, but we’ll get there.

Alan Tam (21:25):
Is your CRM going to help address this, you think?

Kevin Howell (21:28):
I think the CRM will because we’re keeping a record on your engagements with us and we can engage you where you’re at. And so whether that be through the call center, through a chat, through a web form, the CRM is the quarterback that aggregates all those interactions together.

Alan Tam (21:46):
Right. Okay. So let’s just say you have your CRM implemented and now how do you measure the success of that project, say at the end of the year?

Kevin Howell (21:59):
Yeah. So you really look at the departments that you’ve engaged with. So one of the examples that I can give you, a previous organization, we set up a CRM for our call center and we looked at how that affected the call stats. So average time to answer, average handle time, how many calls was an agent handling per day. And we actually were able to shave about four minutes off every call.

Kevin Howell (22:21):
And so I saw a presentation yesterday where someone mentioned, “When you save 10 seconds off a call, that’s the equivalent of adding nine FTEs to your headcount.” I don’t know if that’s true, that was a quote I heard yesterday. I thought it was a fantastic quote. And so we shaved four minutes. I mean, that was a huge advantage for us. And so those are the kinds of things that we’ll look at, how more efficient are we? And we’ll always be surveying people and looking for feedback from people and trying to get feedback from the end users.

Alan Tam (22:51):
Right. So one of the other challenges that I often hear about from other health systems is partnering with the clinical side of the house, especially on the patient outcome, patient experience side. How has that type of relationship affected things that you’re working on or has it not?

Kevin Howell (23:10):
I think we’ve got a great relationship with our providers and our provider group. We’ve got a team in IT that supports them and we work really closely with them as well. And so it’s really a collaboration effort. We’re all on the same journey to make a better patient experience. We don’t always agree on what the best way to go is, but that’s part of the journey is we can come together and we can talk about it and try and make a decision as a group as far as what’s best for the patient.

Alan Tam (23:35):
Right. Absolutely. Hey, Kevin, I really appreciate all the insights that you’ve shared with us and I really enjoyed this conversation. Many folks in the audience are way further behind than you guys are and I’m sure they would like to continue the conversation as well. So if they wanted to reach out to you, what’s the best way for them to get ahold of you?

Kevin Howell (23:57):
LinkedIn is probably the best way to get ahold of me. So I can give you the LinkedIn information and we can put that in the show notes or something like that.

Alan Tam (24:05):
Absolutely. So Kevin, thank you again so much for joining us on Hello Healthcare today.

Alan Tam (24:09):
For those of you in the audience, please give Kevin a ping on LinkedIn. We’ll have his contact information in the show notes below. Until next time, hello.

Speaker 3 (24:21):
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