Going Beyond the AI Hype in Healthcare Marketing ft. Ryan Younger


Season 2, Episode 11
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become increasingly ubiquitous in marketing technologies. It’s no longer enough to use AI but instead must be questioned to understand how it’s being used and what the underlying strategy is. 

Ryan Younger, VP of Marketing at Virtua Health, has built a proven marketing strategy using innovation and a consumer-focused mindset. Hear Chris Hemphill’s discussion with Ryan Younger about strategies to be more metrics-driven, agile, and better aligned with each consumer.

Video Chapters
01:36 Why AI Should Start with Health System STRATEGY
04:13 9,000+ AI Use Cases – Which Are Important for Your Strategy?
07:08 How AI Changed Virtua Health’s Tactics and Strategy
08:50 The Healthcare Marketer’s AI Wishlist – What We’d Like to See
11:10 How Healthcare Leaders Get Past AI Hype
14:30 How Consumerism Impacts Healthcare

This conversation is brought to you by Actium Health in partnership with the Forum for Healthcare Strategists.

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Chris Hemphill

VP, Applied AI & Growth
Actium Health


Ryan Younger

Vice President of Marketing
Virtua Health

Virtua Health logo

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Ryan Younger (00:00):
What if AI was working so well, but it answered the wrong question. It can make something worse or again if you don’t put the right data into it, it doesn’t naturally give you the right answer.

Chris Hemphill (00:20):
Hello, Healthcare! We are presenting from [H&PS 2021 00:00:25], right on the floor. And, we’re excited about the opportunity to be back together and talk about these extremely important issues that this conference is bringing to the table. Among these, you probably heard things about consumerism, about digital transformation, about providing an easier experience for your patients and kind of the relationships between those experiences and marketing. One other major aspect that Ryan and I actually just covered in the speech, is the relationship between, and the role that it has to play, AI in patient engagement. Ryan is the VP of marketing at Virtua Health system. Opportunity to say, hello.

Ryan Younger (01:03):
Hi, it’s great to be here.

Chris Hemphill (01:04):
Thank you. Thank you, Ryan. And, because we work on the data science side, I work along with the data science team, but Ryan is implementing a bunch of different AI tools at, and monitoring the progress from a strategic level. So Ryan, with these new technologies and with all the things that you’ve been focusing on building, from an AI and patient engagement perspective at Virtua Health, could you just give us some background on what was your interest in using these types of technologies and tools to reach your audiences?

Ryan Younger (01:38):
Sure. We always kind of start with our strategy and the one that puts marketing very much in the forefront of what we’re doing at Virtua is orienting to the consumer. And, that really drives everything we’re doing. Technology for us is really the enabler. It can help us bring things a great scale. It can help us get much more targeted. We can be much more effective. And so, that’s some of the background for how we think about things. And, we’re using AI technology in a lot of different areas, whether that’s our CRM and data analytics, our media buying, our chatbot. I mean, I think, I said earlier, there’s really no aspect of marketing anymore that isn’t impacted, I always compare it to digital marketing. You can’t really be a marketer without doing digital marketing. So we sort of take that, off of a title. We just call you marketing. I think the same thing is true of AI.

Chris Hemphill (02:40):
You know, the way that you’ve phrased that is extremely refreshing. Because, a lot of times people look at AI as a technology, let’s look into this AI stuff as if it should exist in some sort of basket, outside of the digital marketing and the digital strategies that you’re already using to reach out to your patients. So what you’re saying is that in a patient engagement context, it sounds more like… it’s not… what’s our overall AI strategy, but how does it fit into our strategy to reach out to our patients to begin with?

Ryan Younger (03:13):
Yeah, we’re often thinking about, well, how can we connect better to our patients? It’s all about getting personal, right? And so, if this can help us understand who our patients are better, the kind of messaging that’s going to resonate more with them and ultimately connect them to the services, and physicians they need, that’s what we’re trying to do. We see ourselves as marketers, of course, we’re trying to activate people, but we are more and more trying to do that with… for very good reason about getting people to access services proactively and to get care before it becomes a major problem to create more of a relationship with them, so they can count on us in all the moments that matter, but along that whole wellness journey, not just when they’re having an acute episode.

Chris Hemphill (03:56):
So there’s a number of domains that you mentioned, a little bit earlier, such as your media buying, like audience selection, data analytics, and things like that. Could you talk about like, with all these domains, probably within each of those domains, there’s 20 different AI technologies that [inaudible 00:04:13] meant to address it. So how do healthcare leaders suss out like what a valuable approach is?

Ryan Younger (04:18):
You know, we’re thin, we are a department of about 20 to 25 people, smaller than some of the other places. And, we might only have one person in each of those areas. And so, we develop, we recruit, we’ve got a great team and they’re able to bring things forward a lot. We also partner with companies and we have people that help us with media buying, that help us develop natural language processing, that help us with CRM. And, we partner with them, they’re all an extension of our team. And, that allows us to… we think, kind of leap from on some of the competition or we like to think of it as outsmarting them or stretching our dollars more.

Chris Hemphill (05:06):
That really re-emphasizes the point that you were making earlier. That, it’s not just a technology play, because the question was kind of around, how do you go around? How do you go about selecting the right technologies? But a lot of your answer was predicated on partnerships and the people that are at these firms to help use these algorithms or use these approaches to further your… the needs and strategy that you’re focusing on.

Ryan Younger (05:29):
Yeah. As an organization, we’re so focused on listening to the consumer, on having the consumer drive our action and leadership is very aligned in our strategic plans and what we need to grow. And, they’ve given us a lot of empowerment for how we then do that. And, technology is a huge enabler in that process, but it’s all rooted in a very aligned strategy, in a very supportive culture and metric-driven, they want to see the results of what we’re doing.

Chris Hemphill (06:02):
So let’s talk about that too. You said they’ve given you a lot of empowerment. I think, that it was Uncle Ben on Spider-Man that said, with great empowerment comes great responsibility.

Ryan Younger (06:11):
For sure. Yeah. Great empowerment. But, with a huge expectation that we’re going to show results and if something’s not working, we’re going to stop doing it and we’re going to do something else, but we’ve got to have data that shows what we’re doing is working, that each dollar that they’re investing in marketing, frankly, is something that they’re not investing on the clinical side, or on some other kinds of infrastructure. So, we try to use those dollars really wisely and we’re certainly held accountable. It’s a great leadership team.

Chris Hemphill (06:47):
Excellent. And, when it comes to making sure that we’re making responsible choices, we’re using the data effectively, are there any kind of examples of things that, like these AI or analytics approaches have led you towards, or maybe even campaigns that you found out were not such a good idea to launch? I’m wondering, if that’s resulted in some newer impacts…

Ryan Younger (07:08):

Chris Hemphill (07:09):
… that.

Ryan Younger (07:09):
I think, we’ve had a lot of success in a service line-driven approach. We’ve kind of shown that when we needed to bring people back to care, especially following coronavirus, that we were able to do that with cardiac services, with breast care services, with orthopedics, and many others and also even within coronavirus, with getting people to get vaccinated. And so, a lot of that activation has worked really well.

Ryan Younger (07:40):
Now, I won’t say that everything always goes so smoothly. We might find out that a particular message or a particular subject line, or an audience wasn’t as defined as it could have been. And, we’ll refine from there. But the overall campaigns, I can’t say that we’ve had an unsuccessful one yet. And again, we’re still pretty new to the journey. At Virtua, I’ve only been there three years, but we didn’t have CRM prior to that. It was… we stood up the first system and we’ve been at it for about two years. We’ve recruited a team, that is just excellence and is pushing the boundaries. We have a great partner with Actium Health, for example, and we’re innovating together. And I think, we’re all along this journey that’s really working well.

Chris Hemphill (08:23):
Excuse me. So, this is great to hear and I love your focus on pushing the boundaries, because even, like you outlined a scenario where there hasn’t been an unsuccessful campaign yet, but I would imagine that there’s still some boundaries, some different things that you’re hoping that AI might be able to do in the future. Curious about, what might be on your wishlist, or what all these tools and technologies could do.

Ryan Younger (08:51):
On my wishlist, I guess, I’d love to see them continue to get easier. Just like, you have to train the models to get smarter and better. We’ve got to train ourselves with the work that goes into them, and sometimes the planning for a campaign requires significant lead time, because we’re trying to get buy-in from a lot of different groups. We’re trying to pull a lot of data together, make a lot of sense of it. And, I don’t think any of it is easy. I don’t think it just, you snap your fingers and machine learning just puts out the right answer. I think, you’ve got to challenge things. You’ve got to look at assumptions. You’ve got to do a lot of legwork behind it as well. And so, it would be great if we snapped our fingers and the right model popped out and everything happened automatically. But, I don’t think, it quite happens that way.

Chris Hemphill (09:40):
Yeah. And, that’s a good focus to have, because with the other stakeholders involved in, the diverse interests and needs they might have, an operational stakeholder versus a clinical stakeholder versus a marketing, or in finance, etc there are a whole wide range of questions to be able to answer in that. So, not just the algorithms, but the experience around the algorithms, I would say, is very much in the forefront here. If I would’ve talked about AI in 1999, it would be a total different experience than talking about it right now. So, back then, it was a kind of a distant promise with like some vague ideas around it, whereas right now it’s pervasive in everything that we do. I’ve pulled my phone out, it’s predicting what my next text is going to be. So, I’m curious about like, with the proliferation of AI, with all this tech available, there’s a lot of hype around it as well.

Chris Hemphill (10:36):
There’s a lot of people that see, oh, if we slap AI on the back of our URL, then venture capital firms will look at us and all that. Within healthcare, there’s a really big cost to that. If healthcare leaders are purchasing tools that don’t work or have false promises or show biases, etc, then people’s lives are impact. So that makes me really curious, especially like having such experience with a broad range of AI tools and approaches, are there some common thoughts or some threads that healthcare leaders should consider to get past the hype?

Ryan Younger (11:11):
Yeah, no, that’s a really good point. There’s so many things that raise up on the marketing radar and then sort of disappear. They provide a lot of promise and in healthcare, we can’t be kind of a copycat industry. So someone hears that and they kind of go down that path, but like anything else, you’ve got to look into it. You’ve got to know what it is you’re trying to accomplish, and you’ve got to challenge those models. You’ve got to ask what’s driving them because it’s again, that old adage garbage in, garbage out. It doesn’t naturally make things work.

Ryan Younger (11:43):
What if, AI was working so well, but it answered the wrong question? And, we’ve seen that with some of the work, with bias. In other ways, it can make something worse or again, if you don’t put the right data into it, it doesn’t naturally give you the right answer. And so, I think, making sure that you have good planning going into it, that you have good measures coming out of it. And, that you’re really thinking that through, just like you do other technologies or other platforms, or how you test your creative and your brand and your messaging.

Chris Hemphill (12:21):
That’s great. And, I love the way that you’re phrasing that because I feel like a lot of people, so subject to the hype, well, they look at data as like this big, pristine thing that they can’t question and we can’t continue going like that, because that… if I make a technology that you can’t question, then it takes away your power in the relationship. So, what you’re saying, and what you’re proposing is to ask about the types of data that are being used, to ask about what types of questions these algorithms are asking, or what they’re being trained on and what kind of targeting that they’re doing, having that confidence to ask, to make sure that you’re… that these healthcare leaders are taking the right approaches with these technologies.

Ryan Younger (13:06):
Yeah. And, again, involve a large set of teams within your health system. We have so many experts on the clinical side, on the operation side, on the technology side, are you working closely with your IT department? Are you working closely with service lines and operational leaders? Because, they’re going to ask those questions as well. And they certainly know a lot about the patients that they’re seeing and who they’re not seeing and where different referral sources coming from. So, I just can never underestimate that need to create a constant dialogue and to reach out and talk to people about what’s working and have them challenge you.

Chris Hemphill (13:51):
Yeah. That’s extremely important as well, because what we’re looking for with… like these data-driven approaches, we want to use the data to confirm what we do already know, but we’re looking to be challenged. We’re looking to find the patients that we otherwise wouldn’t have reached out to, or find the strategic approaches that we otherwise hadn’t been considering. So, it only stands to reason that we should challenge our vendors and challenge the people, putting those out in front of us, and also challenge our own assumptions, if we start seeing differences in that data.

Ryan Younger (14:25):
Yeah. I mean, there’s no magic bullet, right? We’ve been in healthcare for a long time and, and healthcare is constantly evolving, constantly changing. And right now, another word that comes out a lot is consumerism. Well, what does that really mean when you unpack it and understand that yes, consumers are making a lot of their own choices now, high deductible plans are driving a lot of those choices, value-based cares, driving a lot of those changes, but, it’s constantly evolving, and right. You don’t just flip on one switch and the other one happens. You know, there’s a lot of complexities going on within that. And, that’s healthcare. I mean, that’s what makes healthcare really interesting.

Chris Hemphill (15:06):
Well, I really appreciate you sharing these insights and thoughts, and of course, appreciate you hopping on the stage and discussing this in greater detail with the audience over here at H&PS as well. For all the folks who might not have been able to see you live, or who might want to get in touch and have some discussions on this, what’s the best way to get in touch with you.

Ryan Younger (15:27):

Ryan Younger (15:28):
I mean, I love keeping a constant dialogue going and just sort of having a big network, so it can be email: ryounger@virtua.org. It can be linkedin: @ryanyounger, twitter: @ryanyounger, really creative there. Just use my name, and I just love that constant dialogue with people.

Chris Hemphill (15:49):
Great. Well, fantastic, and thank you for taking part in a dialogue with us too. And thank you everybody, who’s been watching this video to just get some perspectives on what you can do as a healthcare leader to make better decisions about AI.
Ryan Younger (16:04):
Thanks a lot for having me. I really appreciate it. Appreciate you, Ryan.
Speaker 3 (16:08):
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