With the pandemic as a catalyst, consumerism has driven and accelerated digital transformation and experiences in a once highly stagnant industry. From brand awareness campaigns, to engagement, to interactive digital touchpoints, healthcare marketers have been racing to meet consumers where they are and how they want to engage.
Join Scott Orstad, Vice President, Marketing at Catholic Health, and podcast host Alan Tam as they discuss the impact of digital transformation and engagement with healthcare consumers from the onset of the pandemic to present day.
This conversation is brought to you by Actium Health in partnership with the Forum for Healthcare Strategists.
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Vice President, Marketing
Chief Marketing Officer
Scott Orstad (00:00):
I think there was an expectation of consumers before the pandemic to be able to interact with healthcare as much as possible from a digital experience, both from scheduling online to checking test results, paying their bill, to even maybe having communication and dialogue with their physicians as well too. And I just think now because of what we all experienced digitally through the pandemic, it’s just an expectation now as opposed to a want, like it was previously.
Alan Tam (00:29):
Hello Healthcare. Nowhere has consumerism had a greater impact in the last few years than in healthcare. With the pandemic as a catalyst, consumerism has driven and accelerated digital transformation and experiences in a once highly stagnant industry. From brand awareness campaigns, to engagement, to interactive digital touchpoints, healthcare marketers have been racing to meet consumers where they are and how they want to engage. Joining me today is Scott Orstad, Vice President Marketing at Catholic Health, to discuss the impact of digital transformation and engagement with their community from the onset of the pandemic to present day as we exit the pandemic. Scott, I’m delighted to have you here on the podcast. Welcome.
Scott Orstad (01:23):
Happy to be here, Alan.
Alan Tam (01:24):
Scott, so as Vice President Marketing at Catholic Health, what do you do? What are some of the key areas of focus for you and what are some of those initiatives?
Scott Orstad (01:33):
Sure. It’s really evolved in the three plus years that I’ve been there. When I first joined in early 2020, I was charged with developing a system-wide team, because while Catholic Health has existed as a health system for almost 20 years, we never really always behaved as a health system. We behaved as a hospital system. And so marketing was one of the many departments that became centralized. And so I was responsible for hiring and leading a central team, a combination of brand advertising and digital. And in the process of doing that, aligned with a number of outside vendor partners to help us relaunch the brand. And this was all a plan that was developed as I started, and this was all pre-pandemic. So everything starts evolving. Later on in 2020, the pandemic occurs and all this work still needed to happen along with everything else that was going on to support the pandemic efforts.
So a year later, in early 2021, we relaunched the Catholic Health brand with a new contemporary look and feel to make it more welcoming and inviting to our consumers. And we really put that focus on it being a system approach versus a hospital approach, because we were seeing even pre-pandemic, really the front door to our hospital health system was the physician’s office. And really understanding the importance of that as to the actual hospital itself. And as we continued to learn during the pandemic, virtual visits became an even greater part of that entry point into the health system. So it kind of ended up being great timing for us. We were really looking to reposition ourselves during a time of great need when healthcare became so important to everybody, but at a time in which how healthcare is being delivered and how patients and consumers wanted to interact with it evolved greatly.
Alan Tam (03:32):
Right. I can’t believe you used the phrase great timing for the launch of your new website and your brand awareness campaigns. I think it’s highly commendable, if not a huge success story that you guys were able to start and launch during the pandemic. Tell me about some of the challenges that you’ve kind of encountered getting it off the ground during this time and how that translates to your work today.
Scott Orstad (04:01):
Sure. I mean, obviously the challenge is relaunching a brand and starting with an all new digital footprint and website is obviously a large endeavor in and of itself. Doing that at the same time during a major health crisis while you were still supporting all of the marketing and communications needs for that as well was challenging. But it really presented a great opportunity to look to see how much we could kind of push the needle a bit because at the same time, while we were working diligently on what we needed to to support the health system’s efforts during the pandemic, we retreated on any sort of kind of service line work because, again, we were trying to get that right care for folks at the different steps of the pandemic. So we were able to really focus on all the necessary work for launching the brand. And one of those key pieces was really looking at our digital footprint.
We needed to relaunch our website presence. We, again, had all these websites that were competing with one another. We wanted to present ourselves as a system with one cohesive website. And as we were going through that discovery process, it started during the pandemic. And so we kind of looked at things differently than we maybe perhaps would have prior to the start of that. And one of the key things was is what are some of the consumer brands that had good digital experiences? Because what we wanted to do, knowing that patients and consumers utilize websites as a main source of information when they’re trying to research about us or find information about one of our physicians, we didn’t want to just create another hospital website. We wanted to create one that had features that were in some of the popular consumer brands that people were used to using and found very comfortable and easy to use. And as we were doing all this, we discovered how we all started interacting with different sites during the pandemic, things such as Netflix and Disney+.
And as we got to that summer and things started to become safer to leave our homes, Vrbo and Airbnb and some of the great features that all of those sites had to them, from large, dominant images to sliding menus and icons just to make everything much more packageable and digestible for consumers. We looked to emulate those features when we were creating our new website because we wanted it to be a digital experience, we saw it as the front door to not only just our health system, but our digital experience. And we’ve been putting a lot of effort into helping to make access to Catholic Health easier through the different digital touch points in which our patients, who we also see as consumers because they have a number of choices within the New York City metro market where we’re located. And so we’re trying to make access to our health system and our services as easy as possible for them. And in many ways we see that is through our digital front door.
Alan Tam (07:03):
Absolutely. And I love how you drew inspiration from outside industries and I think that’s very astute and very beneficial, especially for healthcare. I think healthcare can learn a lot from a lot of the outside industries. I’m curious what outcomes you saw from the relaunch of your website. Obviously the consolidation of websites being a health system versus a hospital marketing. What other metrics did you guys use to measure the success of this launch?
Scott Orstad (07:36):
Sure. There were a number of things we looked at. One of them was simply an efficiency standpoint because while we didn’t really curtail any of the content that we had, we repackaged it into a more consumer friendly approach. For example, we would talk about services, let’s say mammography services, but instead of in the past where we were describing six different times for all the websites, we talked about the services offered through the system and the location points in which you can access those services. So by simply repackaging the content in a more straightforward, consumer-friendly way and basing it on location, we dropped our page comp by 60%, not because we eliminated anything but just by simply making it more efficient and easier to find from a search perspective.
One of the things that we also discovered with the new ease and flow of the site, we were receiving a lot more organic traffic than we had in the past. The previous sites relied a lot on paid search to get eyeballs for them. And we immediately started seeing impact on organic, which was greatly beneficial for us because clearly everybody needs to have that right mix of organic and paid search. And it was just nice to see that it was starting to level off a bit more and that we didn’t need to rely so much on the paid efforts, which have benefit but don’t want it to be the sole source of drawing attention to the website. So that was another key thing as well too.
We also started seeing more interaction with our audience in the sense that we put calls to action on the website. We had form fills, and so we were gathering information that we could use to help provide additional information and resources to them. We had signups for our e-newsletters and things. And then we also added new capabilities for scheduling online, making access easier for patients and consumers to schedule an appointment with our physicians. So again, thinking about some of those features that we didn’t have previously and what people were used to doing because you could plan a trip, go grocery shopping, order anything you needed to do on other sites. And we wanted to try to make that experience as much as we could from a healthcare perspective and really join some of the contemporaries in the space who were already being able to offer some of those services.
Alan Tam (09:58):
So in terms of some of the metrics of these outcomes, obviously organic growth, significant. What about patient volume, appointment bookings, ROI, revenue growth?
Scott Orstad (10:10):
Alan Tam (10:11):
Scott Orstad (10:12):
There’s no question that patient acquisition and patient volume started seeing an increase from the scheduling component because we had very minimal ability prior to this website launch. And again, with the ease and use of it, we definitely saw an uptick in our scheduling. One of the other things that we’ve collaborated with IT on as well too is we rebranded our Catholic Health app and as a result of that, we’ve been pushing out information for existing users to utilize the app. And we’ve seen a much higher rate of our patients not only downloading the app, but logging into it and utilizing it to check test results and to schedule an appointment.
And so that’s another key metric that we’re seeing as very important to us as part of the whole relaunch of our digital experience is having higher engagement and usage of the app, which is also very much promoted on the website as well, just so we have kind of that cross connection because we want to make the experience as easy as possible. So again, seeing that significant increase in patient appointments being scheduled online and through the app is also making that experience easier and more flexible when they get to the office itself for the actual care.
Alan Tam (11:33):
So of all the things that you’ve described, which one do you think has had the most impact and has worked the best?
Scott Orstad (11:41):
I think right now where we are, it’s the ability for the scheduling online because it allows our patients to do what’s convenient for them. If they still want to call the office and make an appointment, they can do that. But if they want to be able to do it at a time that’s convenient for them and looking at times that are available for them, that online scheduling component allows them to have that sense of ease of access but also control as far as how they want to do that. And I think that has been critically important for us. We’ve started primarily with the online scheduling with our primary care physicians, but we are looking to expand it to our specialty areas too where we can do that as well, because we’ve just seen exponential growth in our online scheduling and it’s something we want to continue to see, again, because of the ultimate benefit it provides to our patients.
Alan Tam (12:31):
What would you say are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned as you’ve implemented all of these technologies and processes so far?
Scott Orstad (12:41):
The key is having a collaborative relationship with IT, and I think it’s critical because they have to be a partner at the table with this. And I’m fortunate I work in an organization where there’s a strong collaboration between marketing and IT. We have a MarTech steering committee. And so we really look at the ways in which we can collaborate together and then also recognize how we can positively influence operations as well too. Because we can create these great touchpoints for patients to access our system and we can make people aware of it, but operationally it needs to work. And so that’s something else where we’ve been able to have some great buy-in as well too, because it really is a collaboration of the three areas that really is rooted specifically with that IT and marketing collaboration.
Alan Tam (13:30):
That makes a lot of sense and I’m happy to hear that. Definitely silos is one of the biggest challenges and problems in healthcare. And hearing you guys knock that down and starting to chip away at it is very nice to hear as a healthcare consumer.
Scott Orstad (13:46):
No, it’s definitely something that starts right at the top. Our CEO is a physician by training, but he believes passionately in having a positive patient experience and he recognizes that there are disruptors out there that are trying to make the experience easier. And he wants us and has challenged all of us to look at ways to make access to care easier for our patients, knowing that, again, that they have choices. We’re one of three health systems on Long Island. We have quality competitors from New York City, major academic medical centers that people can choose to seek care from. So we know they have choices and we want Catholic Health to be that choice. And we recognize that access is an important way to help have a positive patient experience.
Alan Tam (14:33):
Absolutely, and that makes a lot of sense. I do want to shift gears a little bit here as we talk and focus on the healthcare consumer. I’m curious, from your perspective, what are some of the trends that you saw evolve and come about during the pandemic that seems to be continuing on as we exit the pandemic?
Scott Orstad (14:54):
I think there was an expectation of consumers before the pandemic to be able to interact with healthcare as much as possible from a digital experience. I think it’s not only just a hope, it’s now an expectation and they want to be able to do it in as many ways as feasible as possible, from scheduling online, to checking test results, paying their bill, to even maybe having communication and dialogue with their physicians as well too. And I just think now because of what we all experienced digitally through the pandemic, it’s just an expectation now as opposed to a want like it was previously.
And I think the other thing that a lot of us were trying to get patients and consumers to engage in prior was the idea of virtual visits. And it’s definitely something that has become more well adapted. And while we don’t still see the same number of virtual video visits that we did clearly in 2020 and early ’21, what we’re still seeing scheduled is significantly higher than what it was pre-pandemic. So there is still a desire and appetite for consumers for that, and a lot of that is going to be rooted in convenience. And so that’s why, not surprising at all to us, that it’s something that is so highly sought out.
Alan Tam (16:14):
Makes sense. Now, given these trends, what would you say your strategies and focus are between acquisition and retention and nurturing? How have these trends impacted those programs?
Scott Orstad (16:28):
Sure. I mean, we’re trying to interact with patients as much as possible from a digital perspective because we really want to get to that right message to the right person at the right time. We use a lot of the big kind of mass media tactics when we were launching their brand, but we’re really trying to hone and focus that message right now. And for us, I would say it’s kind of a 50/50 split. New patient acquisition, always important. Going to be a priority for every service line. It’s going to vary at time based on the service.
But I think we also recognize too coming out of the pandemic that leveraging our existing patient population and continuing to have a dialogue with them is equally as important because they’re already in the family and we want to keep them there. Many of them delayed care during the pandemic. And so we think it’s critically important to continue to provide outreach to them about helpful health tips and hints and quizzes and just trying to stay engaged with them to be proactive in their healthcare and the different types of screenings and tests that they may need at different stages of their life. And so we see activating our current patients just as important as acquiring new ones because, again, they’re already part of the family and there may have been some care that they delayed during the pandemic that they still haven’t sought out for yet.
Alan Tam (17:54):
So when it comes to consumerization of digital experiences, where and how do you start? When you guys focused on all this digital transformation, where? Where do you start, outside the website, obviously and consolidation?
Scott Orstad (18:10):
Sure. I think you have to kind of pick one priority at a time. I think you kind start off with a big brainstorming session on all the different ways in which you’d like to increase access, but I think you have to kind of pick that one first priority. And I think online scheduling was really that one for us that we felt was critical because it’s something that already existed in healthcare. Zocdoc has been a tool that’s been out there for a number of years that health systems align with and have relationships with. And so we just wanted to further utilize the capabilities of our EMR and the online scheduling capability there. So I think it’s really kind of looking at where all the big ideas are and then kind of prioritizing them. And in most cases, you also look for some of those kind of quick, easy wins as well too. But I think the key is prioritizing so you can start moving as quickly as you can, and that really helped to get the wheels in motion for us.
Alan Tam (19:08):
So how are you guys using data today to drive patient engagement and messaging and activating patients?
Scott Orstad (19:15):
We’re really using it to kind of educate our internal constituents about why these tools are needed because there are a lot of folks that are like, “Well, why do we need to have scheduling online? Why do we need to make our schedules available? Why do you want our patients to download this app and interact with us?” And as we are able to show the data about how our patients are interacting with these things and clearly going up on a regular basis, there’s now that understanding of why these tools and technologies are needed because our patients want and expect it from us. It’s not just a nice to have. And the data helps us support these initiatives and other ones that we’re looking into, from signing in for an appointment before you get there. Much like the airline experiences. We’re piloting kiosks in our medical practices as well too, to have kind of that electronic check-in as well too. So this way you’re not necessarily going to the front desk and having that human connection at that point, but you can do it, again, from that convenience standpoint as well too.
Alan Tam (20:17):
This all sounds really good, and I’m very happy to hear that you guys are moving towards this. What continues to be the barriers here for you to making this extremely successful?
Scott Orstad (20:31):
I think, like everybody, while we’re trying to prioritize everything, things can only move so quickly. There’s only so many resources to implement them. So it’s weighing the checks and balances there of trying to do it as swiftly as possible, correctly, with the resources that you have, both from a human capital aspect as well as the budgetary aspect as well too. We know that they all will ultimately have a positive return on investment for us because of the patient satisfaction and the efficiencies that they’ll ultimately bring to us. But it’s just trying to do it as quickly as we can because, again, of how large and multifaceted healthcare is. Sometimes we’re not as nimble as other industries are. So I think that continues to be the natural challenge that we see is we have so many things we want to do, it’s just being able to implement them as quickly as possible.
Alan Tam (21:30):
So as you talk about all these new projects, as you’re talking about these barriers and leveraging data, how is your MarTech stack evolving and coming into play to support these initiatives and your efforts?
Scott Orstad (21:44):
Sure. So we have a monthly MarTech steering committee meeting where we talk about some of the new technologies that are out there, how they may or may not benefit us and our patients. And we look to evaluate which ones do we want to pursue and which ones are worth testing. When the committee started about a year ago, there were a number of projects that IT had already been committed to or asked to research, and many of the projects marketing wasn’t aware of at the time. It was okay because there wasn’t necessarily an interaction, but in many cases some of the technologies that were being reviewed clearly had beneficial from a marketing standpoint. So it was just great to be able to help to influence the decision either for or against why some certain technologies were needed or to figure out that we had some duplication in some services.
One of the other things that we’re really looking at too with all the different digital technologies that we had that were previously being handled in a silo mentality is what’s the messaging that’s going out to our patients? Do we have duplicative messaging going out from IT or pop health or whomever or all these different other touchpoints? And so we’re looking at all of those to make sure there isn’t that duplication and really looking at the messaging itself. Is it friendly and inviting to our patients? Is it understandable? Is it at a comprehension level that makes sense? And so these are all the things that we’re starting to look at right now to really come across as a cohesive brand and system with a singular voice that our patients and consumers can appreciate.
Alan Tam (23:29):
What gaps continue to exist there still?
Scott Orstad (23:33):
Sure. I think that there are still some systems and processes that are going on that we may not be aware of. And I think as we further develop the work of the committee, we find out about new programs and services that we maybe weren’t aware of before that were going on or ways in which our patients were being communicated with from a digital perspective. So I think those are some of the things that we’re still uncovering. I think we’re pretty close to discovering all of them at this point, but there’s still a couple things here or there where we’re learning about new ways and in some cases, duplication of things. And so again, clearly we want to streamline that. We want to make the experience as seamless and straightforward and easy for our patients. And that’s some of the exciting work that is happening through this collaboration with IT and our MarTech steering committee efforts. And again, looking at that stack of the technologies that are right for us and our patients.
Alan Tam (24:34):
That makes a lot of sense, and thank you for sharing that and giving us a little bit of insight. So what’s next? What’s next for you?
Scott Orstad (24:43):
I think with all of the frenetic speed in which we’ve been able to implement a lot of these new program services, rapidly deploying different technologies, I think really the next step for us is to take a step back for a second and really analyze the data that we’re getting from all these things. What are the stories that it’s telling us, and really help it to influence even more in the future what other types of new technologies or programs we implement? Because I think three years ago we didn’t really have a lot of data.
We’ve brought in a new amount of processes and technologies that are measuring those interaction and provide us with a lot of data points. I think we just need to take that step back, look at the data, see what it’s telling us to help guide us for the future decisions that were a combination of the limited data and gut checks and what we knew from what was the right thing to do, when we can really let the data guide us even further to make even smarter and more spot on decisions in the best interest of our patients.
Alan Tam (25:50):
That makes sense, and I really look forward to seeing all of that come to fruition. Scott, thank you so much for sharing these insights and perspectives.
Scott Orstad (26:02):
Alan Tam (26:03):
If people in the audience want to continue the conversation and get more of the insights and pick your brain in terms of, “Wow, how did you guys do it?” What’s the best way for folks to get ahold of you?
Scott Orstad (26:14):
Sure. The best way to get in touch with me is simply by email. I’m still an active email user and things, so it’s the best way to kind of reach out. And also to balance out through a couple of different offices and locations, email’s definitely the best way.
Alan Tam (26:31):
Do you want to share that email?
Scott Orstad (26:33):
Sure. It’s email@example.com.
Alan Tam (26:43):
Wonderful. So for those of you in the audience that want to continue the conversation with Scott, he has an insane amount of insights and successes to share. Highly recommend you reach out to him and learn a little bit more. I don’t know of many health systems that launched their brand-new brand awareness campaign at onset of a pandemic and have been successful. So if they can do that, imagine what Scott can help you with. So with that being said, thank you so much for everyone listening in today. And until next time, hello.
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