Written by Rachel Cross

Every minute of every day, Americans use 4 million gigabytes of internet data, Google conducts 4.5 million searches, and 188 million emails are sent. ( 1)

Those massive numbers are broken down into a more digestible picture of the country’s technology usage when one considers that the average American checks their phone once every 12 minutes (that’s 80 times per day) ( 2), devotes more than 10 hours a day to screen time(3) and spends almost two hours a day on social media.(4)

When it comes to reaching consumers – and voters – where they’re at, it’s no wonder big brands and political campaigns have turned to digital media opportunities like social media, chatbots, mobile apps, search advertising and video as an increasingly important part of their overall strategy.

While the health care industry may have gotten off to a slightly slower start, many Texas hospitals and health care organizations are now following suit – harnessing the power of digital media to impact positive change. Whether it’s improving patient care, educating consumers about the importance of preventative care or engaging voters and legislators on the issues that impact a hospital’s ability to provide care, digital media is reshaping the health care landscape for patients, providers and policymakers alike.

Using Social Media (and Influencers) to Promote Preventative Care

In an age where “Instagram influencer” can be a full-time job, lifestyle brands have shifted their focus from heavy ad buys on television to more “organic” promotions by individuals who have a pre-established creditability with a large audience. Political campaigns have adopted the approach as well, highlighting endorsements by popular celebrities to sway their fan base in their preferred direction. Here in Texas, Baylor Scott & White Health is using that same approach to educate local communities about the value of preventative health care.

Last year, the marketing team at Baylor Scott & White approached Shelly Janac, a social media influencer in College Station, with a proposal: use her audience, a large following of women between the ages of 35 and 55, to encourage women to schedule their mammograms and to bring a friend or relative to have one done as well.

Jacob Sloan

“It was the first time Baylor Scott & White had used influencers to market on social media,” said Jacob Sloan, director of marketing technology and digital engagement at Baylor Scott & White Health. “We saw an opportunity with the #ThePowerOf2 campaign to reach people on the networks and social platforms they’re participating in and facilitate a peer-to-peer conversation about the importance of mammogram screenings. Adding the ‘challenge’ aspect of the campaign by utilizing the hashtag and encouraging people to talk to their friends and family about it, helped start that conversation.”

Shelly Janac

Janac was thrilled to be a part of the effort. “I use Baylor Scott & White and I’m a big proponent of women’s health and mammograms, so I totally wanted to be on board. It’s one thing to hear it from your doctor, but sometimes, it’s better to hear it from other women who truly believe in it and have reasons why they believe in it,” she said.

While a sizable following is preferred, Sloan emphasized that it’s not just the number of followers that counts. “You have to look at demographics,” he said. “Who are the people who need those services? Is it the individuals who need that service currently or who are coming into an age where they will? For us, we were looking for an influencer in that age group, with good, solidified connection – not just the person with the largest number of followers.”

Quote by Jacob Sloan, These days, people have tuned out billboards and they aren’t necessarily watching live TV, so we’re looking at social media to be an area where we can engage with our key audiences and create connections

With 69% of U.S. adults active on Facebook and growing usage across platforms like Instagram and Snapchat (5), it’s become necessary for Texas hospitals to incorporate digital efforts into their marketing campaigns.

“These days, people have tuned out billboards and they aren’t necessarily watching live TV, so we’re looking at social media to be an area where we can engage with our key audiences and create connections,” said Sloan. “We still participate in traditional marketing but have found a lot of benefit in having a robust digital component and integrating the two strategies.”

While implementing a digital strategy into a marketing budget focused on traditional placements like print, television or radio may seem daunting at first, that integration becomes easier over time as marketing teams and communications professionals begin to see return on their investment with real-time data that underscores content relevancy, audience engagement and allows quick changes based on split-tests and ad performance. Split-testing allows marketing teams to test two variables – audience demographics, creative, messaging, etc. – against each other to achieve the highest return on investment. Using this data, marketing teams can quickly optimize ad campaigns around the highest performing message. Over time, these seemingly small changes can lead to major cost-savings.

“We like that we can see how people are engaging with the content and understand what they’re looking for. It feels a lot more fluid and interactive – especially when it comes to health. We’re living in an age where people are constantly looking at digital apps and tools to improve their overall wellbeing – counting their steps and joining wellness communities – this is just another part of it,” said Sloan.

line chart of who uses social media

Deploying Digital to Improve Patient Care and Consumer Convenience

At Houston Methodist, the health system’s innovation center has been working to develop and implement a variety of digital tools to improve patient care and customer satisfaction.

Michelle Stansbury

“We're trying to take a complex health system and make it more accessible to our patients,” said Michelle Stansbury, vice president of IT innovation. “Patients are demanding convenience, and they're demanding it like they never have before. They're already experiencing it in their daily lives, so why can't they have it in their healthcare environment?”

Houston Methodist recently rolled out a product that would replace the older system of receiving phone calls for reminders with whatever a patient's preference is. “Nine times out of 10, we’ve found that our patients prefer to receive a text. It’s an opportunity for two-way communication. They can text back to confirm the appointment or reschedule, and more of them than you would expect are even sending us emojis to let us know how happy they are with the new system,” Stansbury said.

The innovation team has focused heavily on virtual healthcare and chatbots and, as the digital world continues to evolve, is now researching ways to better utilize voice-enabled technology.

In many ways, the Houston Methodist team views innovation as a necessity. “If we don't wake up and do something, we'll find ourselves in the same situation as Blockbuster and other companies that weren't paying attention to transformation in their industries,” Stansbury said. “A year ago, nobody would have guessed that Walmart would become a major health care player, but they're here. So as health care organizations, we have to commit to disrupting ourselves or realize that we’ll be disrupted by somebody else.”

chart of most-common ways people access news

Advancing Health Care Policy – Online

While there have been clear benefits to using digital media to educate people about the importance of preventative health care and to improve the patient care experience, the clearest returns on investment can often be found in the advocacy space.

Whether it’s educating the general public about health care policy or encouraging supporters to contact their elected officials, many advocacy organizations have found that utilizing their digital media presence is a vital component of advancing public policy.

The 2020 elections are predicted to set another ad spending record with the BIA Advisory Service estimating that $6.55 billion will be spent on local political advertising in 2020. Of that total, over-the-air TV is expected to account for 47% and digital media is forecast to make up 21% of political ads. By contrast, cable TV is expected to allot for 14% and radio will hit just nearly 5%. (8)

bar chart of digital and non-digital advertising revenue

While much of that spending will be done by the candidates themselves, and the political action committees who support them, a large portion of the political spending on digital media will be placed by interest groups and advocacy organizations – attempting to cut through the noise and reach voters, and legislators, about their issues.

One such example is The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future – an alliance of hospitals, physicians, health plans and other health care leaders working to lower costs, expand access to care and improve quality while educating Americans on why a one-size-fits-all plan like Medicare for All is not the answer.

Lauren Crawford Shaver

“The Partnership is focused on facts and substantive research when it comes to the unaffordable costs of new government-controlled health insurance systems, the threats they pose to patients’ access to the high-quality care they need,” said Lauren Crawford Shaver, the Partnership’s executive director. “We seek to highlight these facts for Americans in every way possible, and certainly our robust digital strategy is an important part of that effort.”

That digital strategy has been a key component of the group’s education efforts: PAHCF has spent more than $223,000 on political ads on Facebook since May 2018 (9) and $73,500 on Google advertising in that same time period.(10) The organization’s digital strategy “has enabled us to provide the facts to Americans who are trying to make heads and tails of the proposals they are hearing about,” Shaver said.

The Texas Hospital Association has also increased its digital efforts over the last year with the launch of the THA Advocacy App. THA launched the advocacy-focused mobile app launched in December 2018, prior to the 86th Texas Legislature, to engage THA members on critical legislative activities and lead important change with lawmakers.

Aisha Ainsworth

“Texas hospital leaders are inundated with emails every day, and we needed a more effective way to cut through the noise to reach them,” Aisha Ainsworth, advocacy communications manager at THA, explained. “The THA Advocacy App makes it easy to contact your lawmakers, access advocacy resources and learn about HOSPAC, THA’s political action committee.”

During the 2019 legislative session, the THA advocacy app surpassed more than 400 downloads with many of its users utilizing the library of position papers and quick access to Texas hospitals’ public policy priorities. As the 87th Texas Legislature approaches, THA is looking to capitalize on what worked last session and continue growing its grassroots advocacy through digital means.

“We want to ensure that we’re providing the timeliest, most relevant information in the most effective manner possible. Whether it’s push notifications from the app, an email in your inbox, an updated web banner, a post on your Facebook timeline or a tweet on your Twitter feed, we’re committed to making sure hospital leaders never miss an important update or an opportunity to take action on legislation affecting Texas hospitals,” said Ainsworth.

chart of 5 simple things hospitals can do to boost digital efforts

1. DOMO 2. Asurion 3. Nielsen Company 4. GlobalWebIndex 5. Pew Research Center 6. "For Local News, Americans Embrace Digital but Still Want Strong Community Connection," Pew Research Center, 2018 7. eMarketer and Pew Research Center 8. Forbes. The 2020 Elections Will Set (Another) Ad Spending Record. Brad Adgate 9. Facebook Political Advertising Archive 10. Google Transparency Report