Utilize Data to Empower Tech, ft. Cristal Herrera


In this episode, Cristal Herrera, Director, Marketing, Communications & Customer Engagement, at Renown Health and podcast host, Alan Tam, explore the dynamic interplay of data and technology in powering patient engagement and activation.

The duo dives into the need for healthcare to embrace evolving consumer expectations, mirroring advancements in other industries. The conversation also acknowledges challenges like interdepartmental technology integration and data privacy. Ultimately, Herrera underscores the crucial role of data and technology in personalizing and optimizing healthcare delivery.

Learn how you can drive and achieve success at that the intersection of data and technology when applied correctly!

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

Subscribe to receive emails when new episodes are released.

cristal herrera utilize data to empower tech podcast

Cristal Herrera

Director, Marketing, Communications & Customer Engagement
Renown Health

Utilize Data to Empower Tech podcast

Alan Tam

Chief Marketing Officer
Actium Health


Available To Stream On

Apple Podcasts
Spotify Podcasts
Google Podcasts
Amazon Music
Health Podcast Network


Cristal Herrera (00:00):
All right. Well, technology has come a long way, right? You can book a whole vacation just on your phone, and I think that’s pretty incredible. And I think as healthcare professionals, we really need to make sure that we understand expectations have changed for the consumer, and we should make it just as easy to find the right provider for you to get a referral. It should not take months. And I know access is an issue for all of us right now. However, just getting people through the pipeline and understanding some of their needs and being transparent with them of here’s the next step for you. We could make this a better experience for everybody.

Alan Tam (00:47):
Hello Healthcare. As a marketer myself, nothing excites me more than the intersection of data and technology, what a powerful combination of assets that when applied correctly and pointed in the right direction, can drive exceptional outcomes and performance. But of course, when not properly applied can be detrimental to the consumer experience and tarnish your brand to the point of irrecoverability, a dangerous combination to say the least. In today’s episode, I wanted to highlight the power and success that the intersection of data and technology can bring when applied correctly. Joining me today is Cristal Herrera, Director of Marketing, Communications and Customer Engagement at Renown Health. Cristal, I’m really delighted to have you on the podcast. Welcome.

Cristal Herrera (01:33):
Thanks for having me, Alan.

Alan Tam (01:34):
So Cristal, you have a very long title.

Cristal Herrera (01:37):

Alan Tam (01:38):
Tell me what you do as director marketing, communications and customer engagement at Renown.

Cristal Herrera (01:44):
It’s a lot of responsibility. I think that’s why we just added all those different areas to the title, but it really just stems to marketing has evolved a lot and it really is focused on our patients and consumers. That’s all we do. And I feel like marketers have been doing this for years. So to be able to do marketing communications, but also keep in mind how are you going to engage with these folks after all of your creative and messaging is the heart of what we do.

Alan Tam (02:16):
Absolutely. And as a frequent visitor to the Reno, Tahoe area, you guys have done an amazing job, to say the least, just creating awareness and building that solid brand identity. But thank you. I don’t think it was always like that, right?

Cristal Herrera (02:30):
Yeah. We’re actually the county hospital, we’ve been around for 160 years. So when it came to rebranding, Renown has been doing this for years, and most recently back in 2008, we decided it was time to get a new campaign out. Not necessarily rebrand, but focus on what are our values, what are we telling our consumers, and can we actually live up to what we’re saying? And I’ve just been so blessed to work for an organization that says what we’re going to do, and it’s just been awesome to be able to think about being the only nonprofit health system in Nevada, how we give back to the community and how we fight the good fight with them every day is the STEM of our campaign, and we’ve stayed true to that.

Alan Tam (03:21):
So I wanted to bring this back to when I started the episode with, which was data and technology. How have you leveraged data and integrated that into your campaigns, your messaging for the community?

Cristal Herrera (03:36):
Sure. Well, I love data. My whole team loves data, and I think that goes back to marketing has evolved significantly. You can’t run successful campaigns without partnering with your IT department, your engagement in call centers. And for us, that’s how we run successful campaigns is who are we really trying to communicate with? And Reno is a very unique area where we do focus on growth. We have a lot of people moving and migrating into the Reno, Tahoe area, but we also have a population that we know so much about. And when you think about population health management, letting them know of new services that are coming, new providers that we’re hiring, that data exists.

So how do we make sure that we’re leveraging that to our advantage, whether it’s their preferences, whether we know demographic information, we’re exporting some of that information through all of our secure systems to be able to engage with them with email campaigns, SMS messages, advertising. It’s been very successful and we’re excited about what the future holds because with that engagement center piece of my title, we really have been working with our call centers and really implementing and planning for a full customer relationship management system, which is completely different than marketing automation.

Alan Tam (04:57):
Absolutely. What have been some of your challenges here? Obviously you all have done a fantastic job, but I’m sure that there’s been many obstacles in the way and bumps in the road. What’s been the biggest one?

Cristal Herrera (05:10):
The biggest challenge has really been, one, funding. It’s a big project to undertake in change management. It’s you need some of these systems and getting all the processes together and getting all the operators on the right page and telling the same story, singing the same song, I think has probably been the most challenging, but most rewarding when you get the ability to explain to operators, here’s what a shared service could do for you, not just marketing, IT, the engagement center, all of the call center agents, we’re all here to support our customers and let clinicians do what they do best, and that’s helping people heal and taking care of them in a clinical way.

Alan Tam (05:54):
Right. And as I talk to many health systems, a lot of them are going through rebranding and continue to building up their brand. For those that are perhaps a little bit behind or in the process of, what are some of the key lessons that you’ve learned through your efforts here that you can share with your colleagues to help them be more successful?

Cristal Herrera (06:15):
Well, key lessons for me just in marketing, in communications and in life is ask questions. If you want to know what people want you to market or what products they’re looking for, just ask. So focus groups, and it goes back to data regardless of what you’re getting. Sometimes it’s not what you want to hear, but it helps you change direction, it helps you refocus your vision. But I would say just ask questions.

Alan Tam (06:43):
Okay. So now let’s insert the technology piece. How has technology, especially in the last few years, come into play for ever-changing consumer expectations and demands?

Cristal Herrera (06:58):
Right. Well, technology has come a long way. You can book a whole vacation just on your phone, and I think that’s pretty incredible. And I think as healthcare professionals, we really need to make sure that we understand expectations have changed for the consumer, and we should make it just as easy to find the right provider for you to get a referral. It should not take months. And I know access is an issue for all of us right now. However, just getting people through the pipeline and understanding some of their needs and being transparent with them of here’s the next step for you, we could make this a better experience for everybody.

Alan Tam (07:37):
How has it impacted? What has been the biggest impact from a technology side to a campaign that you’ve worked on?

Cristal Herrera (07:46):
Yeah. Well, my team is excited. They’re all working with technology every day. So in that front, I think we’re in a really good place. The challenge has been is showing our operators, here’s how a marketing team helps with your operations. Yes, still go into your EMR and put your notes in. But when it comes to engaging a customer outside of their clinical care, that’s what really builds brand loyalty. People already love their provider because they are focused on what they do best and that’s taking care of the patient. But how they engage with the brand is where other teams really come into support. So we found the biggest challenge is really showing operators your patients are also our patients and we’re here to help you.

Alan Tam (08:37):
So what piece of technology do you think has been most impactful for you?

Cristal Herrera (08:43):
Well, for us it has been marketing automation. I think we have leveraged it as best we can and making it feel like a customer relationship management system. But now the big power and some of the things that Renown Health is focused over the next two years is fully implementation of a customer relationship management system where our marketing team can feed information of just behavioral data that we gather from whether our website, our email campaigns or advertising information, and that information will feed into the CRM system to help our call center agents have more meaningful conversations.

And we see this in retail all the time, and I believe healthcare professionals have been talking about this for years as well. But we focus more on the marketing automation piece and not in the full holistic 360 view of a consumer. So whether they called and they had a complaint or compliment, that’s good information to know as you’re engaging with a consumer. I think it helps with the next step of their journey.

In a clinical sense, some of the population health management pieces, we serve a wide range of areas, so it’s a hundred thousand square miles from Salt Lake City, Utah to Sacramento, California. Not everyone comes to a doctor regularly. We start to gather information about where they live and that information and how you communicate changes the message significantly. And I think it’s marketing 101, like meet your patients where they’re at. So the more we know about them, the easier it is to personalize the message and use the technology to our advantage.

Alan Tam (10:30):
I’m curious, is the CRM initiative being driven out of marketing? Is it being driven out of a partner organization that you’re working with?

Cristal Herrera (10:39):
So we’re really fortunate at Renown where under the marketing and communications and a customer service division, we have marketing communications, we have our patient service excellence department, and we also have our engagement center, which is known as the call center. We actually rebranded the call center to be called the engagement Center. It’s essentially people talk about the website being the front door. They’re really our front door. Any call to action on our campaigns has always been call this number.

And now we’re really finding ways to integrate self-service tools for our patients, whether it’s live chat, a chat bot, if they want to be communicated by a phone call, direct mail. Again, there’s nothing wrong with some of these traditional channels, they’re still very relevant, but we’re finding other ways to engage with our consumers so they don’t have to call us all the time and anything that they want to do on their own, we want to give them that latitude to do so. The CRM project is really stemmed from the engagement center and the marketing department, and now we’re starting to bring in IT who understands all of the electronic medical record and systems and connections that we have to make to make our campaigns more effective.

Alan Tam (12:00):
That makes a lot of sense, and I’m really interested to hear as you’re focusing on this type of technology implementation working with engagement center, which I think is fantastic. Obviously a lot of that is being driven by data, driven by consumer behavior and trends. I’m curious, within your population, the community that you serve, what are some of these consumer trends that you’re seeing that’s evolving and how are you guys going to be tackling that?

Cristal Herrera (12:31):
Yeah, so for some of our mature populations, I often hear, “Oh, they don’t use my chart. They don’t use technology.” That is a lie. They absolutely do and they love it. I have seniors and actually even younger than that, 55 and up, they come to our events with, “Here’s my QR code,” and I just get so excited that they feel a sense of pride that they went to our website, they signed up, they filled out the form, they printed things out, or better yet, they don’t print them out and they have it saved on their phone as a pass. So when I hear that, that’s one of the trends that I’m seeing is yes, traditional is still important in some sense, but people are adapting to their environment too. I think we’re all a product of our environment and you just can’t get away from technology.

So our mature audience has really embraced technology. They’re using the patient portal, and I think one of the things that Renown did really well is we actually, for the pandemic to get your vaccinations, we had you use our patient portal. That was how we were going to drop tickets. That was how we were going to manage it, and it really boosted the level of activation for our patient portal.

Alan Tam (13:47):
Wow, that’s incredible. I would assume that you would get a little bit of backlash as you made that transition, but it’s very great to hear that you had some amazing results there. I also really enjoyed your QR codes story because as you’re talking about that, I think especially for seniors who as we exit the pandemic, you go to restaurants nowadays, and a lot of the times the menu is the QR code, and I’ve gotten anecdotal feedback that seniors love that because oftentimes they can’t read the menu, and so they use a QR code and then it’s on their phone and they can zoom in to the tech.

Cristal Herrera (14:24):
It’s wild.

Alan Tam (14:26):
Yeah, that’s amazing. So as you’re implementing these new campaigns, these new initiatives and projects, what are the core metrics that you and your team are using to measure how you’re progressing and whether or not something is successful?

Cristal Herrera (14:43):
Right. Well, I think it’s a joint effort, like I mentioned between the marketing department and the engagement center, and the three main metrics we focus on is appointments scheduled, actually fulfilled and billed. So, did a patient schedule it? Did they actually go in and see their provider? And did they pay for their visit? Those are three main areas that we’re focused on. Right now with our technology, that’s a lot of manual reports that we’re pulling across different systems, and that’s one of the things that we do hope to gain with a CRM to be able to track it in a more efficient way. For the time being, when we measure the success of a marketing campaign, this is where our team focuses more on key performing indicators. So what’s the click-through rate? Are the emails and phone numbers that we’re sending to accurate? Those metrics still matter, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to get our patients to come see our doctors and providers.

Alan Tam (15:46):
Right. So when I talk to many healthcare leaders, oftentimes they have different definitions of CRM and marketing automation. I’d love to understand where in your mind does CRM start and stop and where marketing automation starts and stop, and what are the integration points?

Cristal Herrera (16:04):
Yeah. When I think about marketing automation, it’s really engaging a consumer with content, and it’s making sure that we have certain touch points when they feel like they want to be communicated by a brand. And a CRM system is more, this is what internal teams use to better serve a patient. So when I think about the difference is CRMs used to actually understand all the information and data points from multiple systems throughout the organization so IT can have access to it, the engagement center, our revenue cycle team, marketing and communications, that is a hub of a gold mind for how you segment that information and then make it actionable. So a CRM would feed the marketing automation system for us to develop great campaigns.

After the campaign is over, that information should feed back into the CRM so other teams can see, wow, Alan is engaging on the website, he’s engaging with emails, he’s engaging with the brand in some fashion, or you are calling our service excellence department to talk about what a great experience you had, that should be documented within your record, not just all of your medical information, because the next time you call our call center to schedule an appointment or get a referral, the call center agent says, “Hey, Alan, we see you’re a loyal customer.” I mean, what hotel doesn’t do this? Right? I think healthcare could just be as patient friendly as retail is. So that’s what the difference for me is is most teams will use a CRM system to feed information and make other teams around them better and make our customer experience better.

Alan Tam (17:59):
That makes a lot of sense, and I like how you defined each of those categories, so thank you for that. So I do want to go back to some of these core metrics that you talked about, appointment scheduled, the actual encounters and billing. How did these core metrics then map back to your organizational KPIs and organizational level metrics? How’d you translate that back to your leadership team, say, Hey, look, here’s the value that we’re driving.

Cristal Herrera (18:31):
Yeah. When I think about what patients can do now is they can schedule with a primary care provider, and that’s where it all starts. That’s where the healthcare journey starts. That’s where the referrals come. So when I think about appointments scheduled, here’s how many people are actually engaged in the system. Here’s the lifetime value of a patient, and then hey, they might need other services from us. We’re a comprehensive health system, so they would need x-ray and imaging lab. One day they might need a specialist so that they have a great experience and they actually went to their first primary care appointment, paid it. Now they’re in, we can serve them in other capacities, whether they need a specialist with us or like I said, some of those other services. So yeah, it’s the lifetime of a patient. Once they’re in, they’re in.

Alan Tam (19:24):
Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. So obviously tremendous success, but probably still lots to do. What continues to keep you awake at night at the moment?

Cristal Herrera (19:38):
Man, what’s keeping me awake is all of the cyber attack conversations that I’m having with our compliance team, our legal team, and quite frankly, I mean you know this even as a consumer, the information everyone has on us is a little scary, but we expect this level of customer service. We expect this instant gratification of I got this information, so I give you data to get it. I just think there’s a lot to think about how data and technology start to impact our entire lives, not just healthcare. So that keeps me up at night a little bit, just having those conversations with compliance and legal because those aren’t fun.

Alan Tam (20:29):
Yeah, that is definitely a fine line to walk. So going back to the intersection of data and technology, we, as consumers expect a lot because our everyday lives have been influenced by hyper personalization, right? The usage of our data combined with someone else’s technology so that Netflix know, here’s the next episode Alan should be watching. Alan prefers a hotel room closer to the elevator. And that needs to, I feel, come out in healthcare as well because you know me, you have my medical record. Tell me what is next and what should I be doing next.

Cristal Herrera (21:08):
Right? It’s an expectation now.

Alan Tam (21:09):
Right. So as you look towards the horizon, what excites you the most?

Cristal Herrera (21:18):
I am excited about just improving our processes and being more efficient. So when you think about technology, I’m really excited about ChatGPT, like, oh my goodness, what we could do in marketing and communications to improve our processes, start blog writing, start creating new templates, translation. It’s just something that really excites me and want to make sure that our team feels empowered to try some of these new tools and start thinking about how they fit into our ecosystem. So I’m really excited about just technology’s not going to stop evolving. It’s only going to get better, and we need to figure out how to continue to change with the times and find ways to improve our processes internally and be more efficient.

Alan Tam (22:11):
It makes my heart so happy and warm and fuzzy to hear how you’re embracing that technology. You’d be surprised how many folks are resistant, especially in healthcare, resistant and fear, the introduction of new technology, especially technologies like AI. So hats off to you for embracing it and figuring out this is here to stay and we need to figure out how we can leverage this, how we can weave it into our programs, our processes to make things better. So-

Cristal Herrera (22:40):
I appreciate that.

Alan Tam (22:40):
… thank you for that.

Cristal Herrera (22:41):
Yeah, no, thank you. I will say it’s good to be conservative, but you have to explore. Pilots are my favorite thing. Let’s try it out. Let’s see how it works, and let’s be agile and adjust.

Alan Tam (22:54):
Absolutely. I’d love to continue this conversation some more, and I think many of our audience members would love to learn a ton more from you and the amazing success that you guys have done for your brand. How would they best get in touch with you if they wanted to learn more?
Cristal Herrera (23:10):
Yeah, of course. So LinkedIn, I’m online, Cristal Woodley. You can also email me at Cristalherrera@renown.org.
Alan Tam (23:16):
All right, so Cristal Woodley and Cristal Herrera, there’s two ways to get ahold of her. Thank you so much again for stopping by and taking the time to share these amazing insights with us. For those of you in the audience, do reach out to Cristal, Renown has been an amazing case study and brand and have really built up a solid identity in the Reno, Tahoe area.
Alan Tam (23:45):
So with that being said, thank you for joining in today, and until next time, hello.

Outro (23:51):
If you want more of the latest from Healthcare’s thought leaders, subscribe using the button below. Or you can visit hellohealthcare.com to get updates directly in your email.

Find the Clarity You’ve Been Missing

Learn how Actium Health is driving improved quality, outcomes, and revenue for innovative health systems nationwide.

Request Demo
Meet Some of Our Customers