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Ian Petty

The Heart-Pumping Scoop on Stories

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Note: This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday newsletter. Want content like this delivered to your inbox before it hits our blog? Subscribe here.

The Big Story: Storytelling Makes Hearts Beat As One

Turns out Disney and Amazon were on to something with their virtual watch parties. Want to sync up with friends? You can do it without ever laying eyes on them. A group of biomedical engineers, psychologists and neuroscientists found that people’s heart rates “rise and fall in unison” when experiencing the same story, even when they’re in separate locations.

(No subscription to The Wall Street Journal? Here’s another option. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, here’s the original study.)

What it Means for Your Health System

We know. “Storytelling” has become so much a part of the marketing and communications jargon that it’s easy to skate right past it. There’s an entire industry of speakers, consultants and tools focused on helping organizations get their message across. We’re doing it right now.

And yes, this new study itself represents the perfect story: hard data about a compelling subject, wrapped in a romantic narrative. Elegant science showing that people in distinct locations can be brought together in a profound way through something so simple. This paper simultaneously proves and embodies the point.

Funny thing is, we came across this study while working through your feedback from last week’s survey on misinformation. (See our Special Report dropping next week.) Your comments reiterated the effectiveness of storytelling when it comes to misinformation. Because what we’re seeing today are dry facts presented in absolute terms by white coats on one side, with clever, substance-free narratives (some might say, “Lies”) appealing to emotion on the other. People are dying because the clever narratives have done a better job claiming to connect dots and explain the world than the dry facts. In effect, they’ve made hearts beat together as one. As Jarrard Inc. Partner Kim Fox asked rhetorically, “What’s easier to absorb – a bold headline or a list of data points from a scientific study?”

In other cases, like many of those we’ve highlighted in this newsletter (Power to the PatientsINHOSPITABLEthe Lown Institute report on community benefitscriticism of healthcare M&A), there’s legit data backing up a deeply emotional appeal centered on individual harm at the hands of a big, unaccountable villain.

To be clear: It’s not misinformation that sells. It’s the order and emotional release provided by misinformation that gets people to buy in. Facts be damned. But if you have facts to back the story? Even better. Think of it this way: Story is the Trojan Horse that lets the data in.

So then, how do we use this for good? Narrative is an effective structure to get a point across; are you using it for what you need to accomplish?

Are you sure?

In our experience working with clients across the healthcare spectrum, there’s a tendency to drift to one extreme or the other. Human nature, right? Providers either showcase the Hallmark movie story or the bar chart and trendline. An effective campaign, though, lies in finding Both/And. Marry critical health information with a great narrative and deliver it through a messenger with high credibility. The result is this video from Miami Children’s Hospital. Dr. Burke gives a tour of an emotionally fraught situation while dropping in vital facts like his team’s certifications and experience so subtly you barely notice it’s happening.

We’ll challenge you to take a moment and really evaluate how your team approaches storytelling. Again, it’s easy to pay lip service because it’s so ingrained in marketing 101. Don’t let that happen. There is powerful, evidence-based practice taking place across your organization every day. Patients are leaving your facilities better off than when they arrived. Your care teams are using cutting-edge technology to care for people. Sometimes, they’re ingeniously developing new techniques on the fly because that’s what it takes to save a life. Don’t skip past that. Look down at the numbers and find the trendline. Then, look up at the people walking by who represent that trendline in real life. That’s the marriage of data and story.

Let’s simplify it even further. Maybe we’re taking this too far but think about how your hospital operates and talks about its work.

On the one hand: Is there anything going on that would lead a group of people, watching on TV, to simultaneously sit up and say, “Ohhh, that’s bad”?

On the other: Are you showcasing the good work you’re doing in a way that would lead a group of people, watching on TV, simultaneously sit up and cheer?

We always say that if you don’t tell your story, someone will do it for you. That’s the risk. And that’s the opportunity.

This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday Quick Think newsletter. Fill out the form to get that in your inbox every week.

Mad Dash to Digital Turns to a Trot

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Note: This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday newsletter. Want content like this delivered to your inbox before it hits our blog? Subscribe here.

The Big Story: One big reason healthcare access is hard

“Healthcare brands invest enormous sums of money in marketing campaigns, websites, and apps that will never be effective until a consumer can overcome the data barriers to healthcare access.” And that deficit could have ripple effects as consumers get frustrated with providers.

What it Means for Your Health System

(2-minute read, 15-minute podcast)

Providers are juggling more challenges than ever… ICUs full of the unvaccinated. Media coverage of questionable billing practices. Disruptors from tech and retail growing their investments and pushing the envelope. The ongoing push-pull narrative regarding the effects of consolidation. Breaking through the perpetual avalanche of bad news to highlight the good is no easy task for marcom pros today.

The frustration builds when big-name companies without a history of delivering care get rosy headlines, while traditional providers face seemingly endless scrutiny from the media, regulators and parts of the public. Scrutiny – warranted or not – then leads people weary of traditional healthcare to look for someone else to do it better. Enter a company like Amazon, which fits the bill because it knows people, what they want and how to get it to them. Not because it “knows healthcare.”

Healthcare organizations are certainly aware of the challenge. Providers ramped up their use of digital tools last year, moving towards a more patient-friendly system out of necessity. But the advance has slowed, according to a recent study. Providers who lose momentum are not only missing out on a chance to streamline care, but also to counter some of the negative press pointing fingers at those delivering it.

So then how to flip the script? How do you leverage the current moment, building trust and telegraphing a better future? Here are six patient-friendly questions to ask your organization to help ID areas to bolster or to brag about:

  • How are you making it simpler to receive care? This covers tools to seek, schedule and manage care. It starts with the table stakes that so many patients complain about but few providers get right – basics like online scheduling tools and check-ins. It extends to back-office functions like billing processes that affect the underlying efficiency of patients’ care. Anything to cut down on the number of disparate tools and to better integrate those you need.
  • Where are you providing care? A silver lining to the pandemic? The rise of alternative models of care. However, that means programs like telehealth and ambulatory surgery centers are no longer differentiators in 2021. (Yep, back to table stakes.) You’ll need to push a lot further to show what’s unique about your version of those offerings. Now if your organization is one of the few which have ramped up “advanced” models like hospital-at-home or mobile care, talk about those. A lot.
  • How are you targeting care for your specific community? Put your marketing cap on for this. Depending on geography, infrastructure and patient demographics, the same tool could either help or hinder a patient’s trust and comfort. Telehealth can make sense for different reasons: time saved fighting traffic, ability to seek care when you don’t have access to transportation, ease in scheduling, expanded hours and more. And those reasons can vary for an urbanite, a rural dweller, a family with small children, an elderly person, a blue collar worker, etc. Your marketing should be precise in what it says and in exactly whom it is targeting. People will trust you more if they see you offering services and communicating in ways that work for them.
  • How are you making it simpler to understand care? People don’t trust what they can’t understand. Now is a good time to scrub your communications materials for simplicity and to clearly define terms. If you want to take it up a level, look at how your organization trains patient-facing staff to ensure they’re communicating clearly and simply with patients. Always be asking, “Are we talking to consumers in a way that helps them make a good decision quickly?”
  • How are you making the financial process easier? So much of the scrutiny of hospitals today comes from questionable or downright bad billing practices. Merely setting up a simple billing portal will not negate the previous damage caused by suing patients over unpaid bills. However, setting expectations early on about things like financial responsibilities and billing process, tools and options, will go a long way in avoiding situations that are traumatic to patients and reflect poorly on your organization. Work with your front office and rev cycle teams to educate patients on the finances of healthcare, offer proactive communications about what they could owe and yes, give them easy ways to pay.
  • How are you improving access and health equity? Your mission is to provide the best possible care for the people in your community, which means that in some way everything you do comes back to access and equity. People are paying more attention to the issue than ever before. So are you. So talk about it. Northwell Health, for example, highlighted the importance of its new partnership with Walgreens for health equity. Other benefits like efficiency and convenience were framed as contributors to access and equity, rather than standalone features. That’s a playbook worth copying.

Want more? Check out the 15-minute conversation with Reed Smith, Jarrard Inc.’s VP of Digital Services.

This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday Quick Think newsletter. Fill out the form to get that in your inbox every week.

A Win for Patients…and Rural Providers

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Note: This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday newsletter. Want content like this delivered to your inbox before it hits our blog? Subscribe here.

The Big Story: New study finds consolidation lowered mortality in rural hospitals

“Rural hospitals that merged with or were acquired into larger health systems are associated with greater reductions in mortality for conditions like heart failure, stroke and pneumonia compared to facilities that remained independent, according to a new study.

What it Means for Your Health System

(2-minute read, 13-minute podcast)

Some good news for those trying to make the case in favor of rural hospital M&A. For too long, insurance companies, policymakers and some parts of the media have been filling the “cons” column with negative consequences – real, alleged and everything in-between – of rural providers joining up with former competitors and larger systems alike. Now, this study, published in one of the reputable journals within the JAMA constellation, offers a solid datapoint for the “pro” column.

We’ve been encouraging providers pursuing partnerships to tell their story by explaining the value that partnership will create. We’ve also advocated for finding data that can undergird those arguments. And so for many reasons it was encouraging to see lives saved – mortality from heart attacks was cut nearly in half following an acquisition, mortality due to stroke decreased by about a third.

Whether your organization is looking to acquire, be acquired or simply help change the narrative around consolidation, add this study to your stack of materials. Here are some considerations as you do.

Be motivated. Nothing in the data guarantees an outcome, but rather shows what’s possible. That possibility can serve as a goal for everyone involved. “They cut mortality by half? It can be done – and let’s take it further!” It’s a way to connect back to your mission and give your people hope through the promise of making healthcare better.

Learn from the results. Use the overall data as the impetus to look at how other providers have succeeded. It’s the action to follow the motivation. That means spending time to reverse engineer the improved outcomes following an acquisition, then working to apply and explain those lessons for your specific situation. Who knows? Even hospitals who aren’t in the middle of a deal might find some valuable ideas.

Go on offense. A risk with positive data such is that it can become fetishized, something that advocates for a deal instinctively point to every time criticism comes their way. Don’t give in to the temptation. For one thing, you run the risk of muddying the waters by getting into a tit-for-tat argument. “They showed that costs went up? Well, we showed that mortality went down!” Technically accurate, maybe, but not helpful. In addition, if you use data defensively you are, by definition, reacting to the opposition. Instead, be positive and proactive by using the numbers to explain why you’re moving towards a deal and what you plan to accomplish.

Don’t expect a magic bullet. First, what does it tell us? That done well, a merger or acquisition can lead to meaningful improvements. What does it not tell us? That a partnership will lead to meaningful improvement. Be very careful to not overstate results. Getting to better outcomes will take a lot more than just partnering up and letting things run their course. It’s years of careful, mission-driven work to get the desired outcome.

Be patient. The Modern Healthcare article about the paper noted that many of the improvements “were not seen until after three to five years post-merger.” That’s a tough pill to swallow in an instant-gratification society, especially for something as acute and personal as medical care. As you proceed through a deal, it’s critical to set expectations about what is and isn’t possible, including when people can reasonably expect to see the results. But at the same time, explain to people the meaningful benchmarks along the way so they can track your progress towards the goal.

Rural hospitals are struggling and need a path forward. Recognizing those difficulties and mapping the way is the impetus for groups like Rural Healthcare Initiative. Here we have a bit of light, showing that there is a way to improve care for these communities through strong relationships. It takes time and energy to find that right partner, but here we have strong, reliable data that it can be done.

Want to learn more about the study and what it means for rural M&A? Check out the 13-minute conversation with Jarrard Inc. Partner Isaac Squyres.

This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday Quick Think newsletter. Fill out the form to get that in your inbox every week.

Tired of Being Your Hero

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Note: This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday newsletter. Want content like this delivered to your inbox before it hits our blog? Subscribe here.

Healthcare workers are leaving.

They’re citing burnout, stress, safety, moral harm – and in some cases a desire for “personal freedom” over all else. They’re answering the question, “Is it worth it?” with a decisive, “No.”

Many are leaving because they cannot spend another day watching patient after patient die unnecessarily. Others have decided their career isn’t worth the vaccine. Logs on that particular fire? President Biden’s new mandate for large employers that will force even more people to make a choice. All told, the consequences for healthcare are severe – moral injury for healthcare workers, frightening staff shortages for providers and the public and long-term questions that will likely affect how all of us receive care.

Our latest Special Report homes in on the massively complex problem of clinician burnout. It’s a big read with some strong takeaways – definitely worth taking 15 minutes to digest.

Meanwhile, for a fascinating behind-the-curtain look at how doctors and nurses are expressing their burnout online, check out our Q&A below with Dean Browell. He’s a digital ethnographer and principal at Feedback, a social listening firm that digs into how what we say in the digital realm translates into how we behave in the physical world. And, he’s been tracking the issue of burnout among the healthcare workforce for years.

The Genie’s Out of the Bottle: What Clinicians Are Really Saying Online

(Five-minute read)

Jarrard Inc.: You’ve been tracking burnout in the healthcare workforce for years. Give us a bit of the back story.

Dean Browell: There’s been two different arcs with nurses and physicians, which have developed a little differently over the past 18 months.


Starting with nurses, about this time last year there was a larger burnout effect that in some ways was getting stoked by the heroes messaging that was finally starting to get a little stale. The pushback started with nurses, who are the most vocal group in healthcare, maybe even more than patients. They have their own message boards and have for years. They had some of the first Facebook groups because they all had .edu email addresses.

This time last year there was this perception that all of healthcare was being treated the same publicly, but in those groups, nurses were asking whether it really was the same to work in one organization or the other. For providers this meant that nurses considering a move represented an opportunity to attract and retain or a threat that the grass might be greener somewhere else.

Jarrard: What are the nurses expressing today?

DB: There’s more outright discussion that, “Maybe this entire industry isn’t for me.” What was first anger towards a larger or more nebulous idea – like administrators or how people are handling things on a macro level – is now towards the patient. Before, it was being angry at the virus and potentially how your hospital handled something. Today people are wondering if they can continue and serve a public that is, in their mind, willingly putting themselves at risk and creating this situation. It’s a very different burnout. And it’s a much harder equation from a retention and a recruitment standpoint for providers.

Jarrard: How are nurses talking about those concerns?

DB: In the beginning, nurses often had two distinct online personalities. There’s the online personality of “capital N” Nurse in front of everyone on Facebook versus on the American Nurses Association message board where they’re talking amongst themselves. Last year, those two faces began to collide. What we saw for the first time last fall was nurses on Facebook talking about union meetings. Typically, that would be relegated to the nurse message boards or discreet groups. We saw nurses not just take the platitudes about heroes and say, “Thank you. It’s been a lot. We have to push through this” like they did last summer. Instead, suddenly, you had them openly criticizing things they normally never would have discussed with their public-facing persona.

Jarrard: What’s the background on physicians?

DB: Usually what we saw is that physicians would pop up every now and then during a career change asking about the schools or nightlife in a particular city they were considering. “Hey, I’m thinking about moving to the city, what’s the orthopedic scene like?”

In August of last year, though, we saw physicians poking their heads up for the first time with the general public. They were offering their own statements and being a bit more forward with their own name at stake. That was different. And we saw this happening in some unusual places like threads of Reddit – that almost never happened before.

Jarrard: Same question – where are physicians today?

DB: They stepped out last August and they’ve stayed out in the public square since then. Now, like nurses, we’re seeing that they’re not just saying, “Hey, I have a stake in this, and I’m trying to help you navigate misinformation.” It’s not just a benign educational leadership approach like it would have been a year ago. Now it’s taken on an angrier or more exasperated tone that we haven’t heard out loud.

Jarrard: Nurses and doctors are coming from different professional and financial statuses. Does that affect how they’re able to respond?

DB: It manifests in the freedom to talk in a certain way. The physician discussion we’ve seen has still been very high level. “Here’s my take on what’s happening” as if they’re giving a comprehensive analysis of the moment. Contrast that with the nurse that says, “I just took my first break in eight hours.” Physicians take more of a punditry angle, whereas the nurses’ perspective is more in the moment.

Jarrard: Is this shift in tone and the level of engagement permanent or will it recede?

DB: For the most part I expect the physicians-as-pundits to eventually fade. Their level of connection online may stay, they may reappear when there’s something big they want to speak their mind about. But from a day-to-day perspective I’d expect that genie to go back into the bottle.

On the nurse side, I doubt the genie that will go back in the bottle – because of how open nurses are being today – is this idea of the two personas. There’s the happy-go-lucky, “I love that I’m in healthcare!” and “Here’s why I’m a nurse,” that is presented to family and friends, versus what they were saying in private among peers. You can’t unwind that clock now that they’ve been this exasperated publicly.

Jarrard: What does it all mean for the healthcare workforce going forward?

DB: This will have a freezing effect of some sort. It’ll be fascinating to watch enrollment in nursing programs. It was on a fast track for the last three years in order to meet the demands. We do a lot in higher education and there are some robust nursing programs having trouble meeting their enrollment numbers.

The question is turning into, “Who do you want to do this for?” And the feelings of betrayal and burnout change that conversation. I think it’ll have a freezing effect on the creation of a new nurse population.

Jarrard: We’re also seeing indications that people at the other end of their career are getting out. What does the situation you’ve described mean for them?

DB: It’s how many people leave the industry completely and how many leave the center of the industry. It’s people saying, “I’m going to find a nice, quiet CVS somewhere.” There’s this idea of decentralization of demand for healthcare services where it’s coming out of the hospitals and moving to those outer rings. It’s dangerous for hospitals because there was already attrition due to these alternative models. But now and over the next 18 months the threat is greater with people looking to leave completely or say, “How about I just not stand in the center of the storm?”

Jarrard: How can healthcare providers respond to this shift?

DB: Health systems have an opportunity to do better because of their sheer size. They can talk about what it’s like to work for the system in different roles. People will gripe about robbing Peter to pay Paul, but showcasing lateral movements that improve quality of life is one way that systems can cope.

Jarrard: What about smaller hospitals?

DB: Community hospitals will be the hardest hit because there’s almost no lateral movement available. For them, it will be about improving the situation. Maybe it’s investment in telehealth or to try and not be so ER-focused to remove some of that constant pressure. But it’s not an easy solution.

Jarrard: Last category: What’s the approach for those non-traditional or health services providers that aren’t in the center of the storm?

DB: We just finished a study for an orthopedic group that’s branching out towards a major metro area where they’ll be competing with some big systems. They’re going to have a fantastic story because they can recruit nurses who are desperate to get out of the ER by showing them what it’s like in an ortho urgent care by comparison. For these specialty practices it’s saying, “Hey, stay in nursing but come out of the storm.”

Jarrard: One of the consistent themes in our interviews is that it’s not about the money, but money is a major factor. Where does compensation come into all of this?

DB: Something that hasn’t come to healthcare is the concept of hazard pay. Of all industries you’d think it would be there for healthcare. That may start to happen, especially in systems that can only offer so much lateral movement. Maybe it comes into play between telehealth and in-person care in the ER or trauma.

Jarrard: Anything else? What are we missing?

DB: We may see an effect on M&A, too. If a system is looking at three different hospitals with similar profiles but one is an absolute powder keg in terms of its workforce, that would probably make it very easy to choose a different acquisition. It’s a different metric than most systems have looked at in the past. The focus has been on heads in beds. But looking at the distressed asset from the workforce standpoint will change the game a bit. The question will be, “What can our system sustain in terms of volatility, whether it’s attitude or behavior? Can we repair the culture or, even though it makes sense on paper, should we walk away because it will never fit?”

Leading Healthcare Consultancies Launch Organization to Chart Path Forward for Rural Healthcare Providers

Firm News
Rural Healthcare Initiative

Unique social enterprise approach needed as rural hospitals face record closures, unprecedented pandemic stress

RALEIGH, NC, September 9, 2021 – A consortium of national healthcare consulting firms with a long history of serving rural healthcare providers today announced the launch of a collaborative organization built on the common mission of shoring up healthcare delivery for the 20 percent of Americans living in non-urbanized areas.

The Rural Healthcare Initiative (RHI) will offer a single point of contact where the leaders of struggling hospitals and health systems can tap into more than 150 years of combined experience in strategy and planning, physician alignment, practice management, facilities, operations, finance, law and regulation and communications and share experience and knowledge.

According to the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform, more than two in five rural hospitals could be facing closure, on top of the more than 130 that have closed in the past 10 years. “Rural hospitals don’t have the staff to keep on top of every industry trend, so they end up cobbling together an assortment of consultants who provide niche expertise,” said Dawn Carter, founder and senior partner at Chapel Hill, NC-based Ascendient, a top-ranked strategy and planning firm devoted to community-based healthcare providers. “Unfortunately, that siloed approach to consulting support is costly, slow and management-intensive – three things that a rural hospital can least afford in a moment when so many are at risk for near-term closure.”

To broaden its impact, RHI includes a 501(c)(6) nonprofit educational arm that will provide practical training and tools to rural healthcare leaders as a means to learn from and deploy best practices. Founding consultancies have committed a portion of their own resources to launch this nonprofit educational program. In addition to the 501(c)(6), the collaborative will offer consulting services aimed at delivering efficient, cost-effective management solutions.

“We started with the mission of strengthening rural healthcare providers and then asked ourselves how we could deliver on that mission with maximum reach and sustainability,” said Robert Wilson, Raleigh-based partner at national law firm Nelson Mullins. “By structuring RHI as a consulting collaborative with a nonprofit arm, we see the opportunity to provide a much more cost-effective solution for rural clients while creating a funding stream to advance our core aim of providing education and best practices for these healthcare organizations. It’s this approach that makes RHI unique, with our group the only one in healthcare consulting using the social enterprise model at this scale.”

Other founding members of the RHI collaborative are Charlotte, NC-based Criterion Healthcare, which offers facility development and financing consulting, and Richmond, VA-based Health Management Resources, which focuses on physician practice and network management services. The group also receives support from Nashville, TN-based strategic communications firm Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock.

About Rural Healthcare Initiative:

WIth a mission to secure the future of rural healthcare in the United States, RHI is a consulting collaborative formed by professionals at Ascendient Healthcare Advisors, Criterion Healthcare, Health Management Resources and Nelson Mullins, with support from Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock. Nonprofit educational programs are carried out under the auspices of a registered 501(c)(6) organization based in North Carolina. For more information, please contact RHI online or email

Now’s a Good Time to Not Say Dumb Stuff

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Note: This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday newsletter. Want content like this delivered to your inbox before it hits our blog? Subscribe here.

The Big Story: The Science of Masking Kids at School Remains Uncertain

Inconclusive doesn’t mean invaluable. True, inconclusive results from scientific studies often get put on the back shelf and don’t make their way into published results. But last week when the CDC skipped over results from studies casting doubt on how much masks really do benefit young kids – it was a flat-out communications snafu.

What it Means for Your Health System

(3-minute read, 22-minute podcast)

Brilliant, experienced people across the country keep forgetting this basic lesson: Pause. Consider the consequences. Speak.

Examples? There are plenty:

  • The CDC is “file drawering” data that shows the science of masking kids in schools might not be as settled as they’ve maintained.
  • Hospital advocacy groups are responding to specific, reasonable questions about price transparency with, “It’s really hard.”
  • The FDA gave accelerated approval to a “blockbuster” Alzheimer’s drug against its own committee’s recommendation and then responded by doubling down.
  • Last year, public health leaders told everyone to hunker down at home in all circumstances – with a sudden carveout for social justice protests.
  • Local officials reopened bars and restaurants before many other businesses with convoluted explanations why drinking on a Saturday night was totally fine as long as it concluded by 10 PM. Cheers? Maybe not.

Each of these decisions was made with good intent. Some on compressed timelines with uncertainty swirling. Others were crafted in the heat of the moment – but here’s the problem: Often, those moments were either avoidable or could have been at least somewhat predicted.

On top of that, these conversations are happening at a time where people are inured to bad news. We’re sapped emotionally to the point we aren’t responding normally to tragedy  – in fact, we’re not responding to tragedy. We’re out of empathy. That means getting a critical message across may be harder than ever because people either won’t respond or will respond with skepticism.

This bleak picture coupled with missteps by the groups mentioned above are a warning to communicators about the risk of being unclear. Here are five pointers that hold true whether dealing with the heat of a crisis or a thoughtful explanation of a long-running issue like pricing:

  • Get accustomed to overexplaining things. Don’t assume your audience knows everything. The CDC and FDA, should know by now that very few people deeply understand science; therefore, simplicity and repetition are key. Same goes for the rest of us. Hand waving and saying, “It’s complicated but trust us” doesn’t cut it. Use simple language and repeat the message with empathy toward your listeners.
  • Know your audience. Understand who you’re trying to reach, their concerns, barriers to communicating with them and whom they trust. Prepare to communicate with them on issues that matter to them through their preferred channels.
  • Slow down (a little). You know to “tell your story or someone else will.” That doesn’t mean “say anything just to fill the space.” You may feel like you don’t have time, but trust us, you’ll spend more time cleaning up the mess if you’re sloppy the first go around. Pause to give everyone at the table a moment to consider and make sure you’re addressing the real issue.
  • Consider the consequences. Having understood your audience and slowed down to consider what you’re doing, think through how the message you’ve crafted is likely to be perceived. Anticipate questions. What holes will people on the receiving end try to poke in your message? Responding to questions by saying something is “really hard,” or that “hospitals are trying but maybe we should scrap the whole system,” looks like you’re spinning. You’re certainly not addressing the concerns of actual patients whose lives and wallets are at stake. To be clear: Don’t shy away from offering the kind truth and standing up for what you think is right. Acknowledge concerns; don’t brush them off.
  • Don’t be just truthful. A favorite phrase around Jarrard is “responsible transparency.” It’s the idea that we should offer more information than we’d like to because it builds trust and gives our audiences a more complete picture. Even when the information might not be what we want it to be. When the CDC fell down with the masking story, they weren’t fudging the numbers or hiding data that showed masking has negative effects. It appears they were just trying not to muddy the water. But this is a national debate about the safety of our kids and, despite the insane heat of that debate, it’s crucial to show your work, warts and all.
  • Know that some people will misconstrue, misrepresent and mislead. There are trolls and click-bait artists who will come after you no matter what. You can’t reach them. Don’t let them stop you from doing the right thing.
  • Speak with kindness and empathy. We know, a lot of us are running out of empathy. Here’s good advice from a commentary in The Wall Street Journal: “Healthcare professionals have a challenging obligation to work to understand where people are coming from, build a relationship, address their fears to help them understand, gently correct information that is wrong, admit when medicine was wrong and medical authorities misled people, motivate them based on their needs, and develop networks of support in the community.” Amen to that.

Payers Singing from the Same Hymnal: A Q&A with Wendell Potter

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Note: This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday newsletter. Want content like this delivered to your inbox before it hits our blog? Subscribe here.

Editor’s Note

Call it perfect timing. Last week, when the nation’s largest provider in California and Anthem Blue Cross finally inked a deal after months of escalating friction, we’d just dotted the final I and crossed the final T on our Special Report on payer-provider tension. Check it out and then chase it down with our Q&A with noted author, speaker, Congressional witness and consultant Wendell Potter. He spent years leading comms and PR at Humana and Cigna before leaving to advocate for healthcare reform and shine a light on how payers operate.

Jarrard Inc.: We talk a lot about the increased scrutiny on providers, and not just from insurance companies – also from media, advocacy groups, Congress and the White House. What are you seeing?

Wendell Potter: There’s a decline in favorability because of news coverage over the past several weeks, months and even years. Part of it is the result of an ongoing campaign by payers to point the finger of blame away from them. Insurance companies are quite adept at shaping the conversation. They’ve spent a lot of time trying to make the public think that they are largely blameless for any ills in our system.

Jarrard: What is it about providers that makes them a target?

WP: One thing is that they have brick-and-mortar facilities. They’re seen, they’re ever-present and we need them. Insurance companies are not that way. People can assume they have good coverage and pay little attention to the name on their insurance card. So it’s less visibility, less awareness, even on lawmakers’ minds. A decade ago, during the debate on the ACA, insurers were under more scrutiny than they had been in a while or have been since. But a lot of the attention has been shifted in subsequent years to rising healthcare costs. The insurance industry has been quite successful in getting everybody to focus on rising cost of hospital care and pharmaceuticals. It’s playing out in what Congress is paying attention to right now.

Jarrard: Why are health insurance companies so good at creating this public narrative?

WP: They’re able to get everyone to sing out of the same hymnal. It’s interesting because AHIP has a pretty diverse membership – non-profits and for-profits of different sizes. But they’ve been good at forcing message discipline and being perceived as the ones wearing the white hats.

For them it’s an absolutely necessary strategy where it might not have been for others in healthcare. I don’t think others have understood the vital importance of doing what the insurance industry does day in and day out. Essentially, insurance companies are not necessary. We’ve got evidence around the world that health systems can get along quite well without them, so they have to have an ongoing campaign to make people believe they offer a very good value proposition. And they’ve been hugely successful in doing that.

Jarrard: We recently asked the public who they blame for the high cost of healthcare. Insurers came in at 30 percent with providers at around 15 percent. People trust their doctors and are more likely to blame insurers than hospitals, but in our view, providers need to cultivate that trust, not rest on it.

WP: I think that’s absolutely right. If you were to do a comparison of what you’re finding now, versus what it was a decade or two ago, you’d see some changes in attitude. The losers have probably been on the delivery side. Insurance companies have always brought up the rear in terms of public opinion. We want insurance to pay our bills and get out of the way. There is a lot of work that needs to be done on the part of provider organizations to rebuild trust with the American public.

Jarrard: How do providers do that? What can they do to tell better stories?

WP: It goes back to value proposition. There needs to be renewed focus on crafting messages that resonate with the public about what the value proposition really is. It’s always useful to have individual stories and throw in data. But if you just lead with data, people’s eyes glaze over. So it has to be packaged in the right way.

Jarrard: What are two or three types of data that providers need to really build that message?

WP: Something along the lines of population health. Talk about what your system is doing to improve the quality of life in the communities that they serve. You can get into wonky topics like social determinants of health without using that term. It can be important for community leaders at every level to understand what you’re doing, how the work that you’re doing improves quality at the individual level and for people who live in the area that you serve.

Another thing is highlighting good work. When an insurance company is giving money to a group in whatever city, they’ll have a press release. They’re always out showcasing their charitable contributions and what they’re doing. You can’t overstate the importance of things like that.

Delta Survey Says: People Are Angry, Patients Are Nervous

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New Jarrard Inc. Poll: Six Insights into What Healthcare Consumers Are Thinking

(4-minute read)

As the Delta variant raged hot this week and hospitals began to curtail services, we asked 1,200 US adults about their thoughts and feelings about the pandemic*. Here’s what stood out:

  • Nearly three in 10 people say the current COVID-19 situation has them less likely to seek in-person care.
  • Telehealth is sounding better to many, with more than four in 10 saying today’s environment makes them more likely to go that route.
  • About half of those who aren’t vaccinated are dug in to their position. In fact, they’re so dug in that many of them say they’d leave their jobs rather than comply with an employer mandate.
  • Sixty percent of the people who are vaccinated harbor some ill will towards those who aren’t.

Several questions continue threads we’ve been pulling in our various consumer surveys over the past 16 months. In each, we want to understand people’s feelings of safety in different settings. (See findings from last April, August and this January.)

Here’s the latest healthcare consumer intelligence:

In-person care has some people nervous. We asked consumers if the current COVID-19 situation has changed the way they’ll seek non-emergency care – in person and via telehealth. Twenty-eight percent said they’re less likely to pursue in-person care. A smaller proportion is actually more likely to seek in-person care. (Yeah, we don’t get that either. Maybe they think wait times will be shorter?) But, the largest shift is in the wrong direction – a tough situation for providers who had a taste of returning volumes this year and now may be facing the need to scale back services due to the latest surge.

Does the current COVID-19 situation affect the likelihood you’ll seek non-emergency medical care in person?

Bar chart representing individuals' levels of comfort in-person

On the other hand, it looks like providers can expect an uptick in patients seeking remote appointments, as 44 percent said the current situation makes them more likely to pursue the virtual route. It’s a great reminder that telehealth needs to stay front and center. Marcom teams should play a strategic and tactical role here, helping shape public perceptions of safety, comfort, convenience and different options for care. It pays to keep patients abreast of any changes along the entire care process – from scheduling to arrival to checkout and billing.

People feel a bit safer in public places now vs. January and continue to feel safer in medical settings over other locations. We’ve been asking this question for the past year. Overall, people’s feelings of safety are up roughly one point from eight months ago, based on our 10-point scale with higher meaning safer. It’s something, but not a lot to bank on.

On a scale of one to 10, how safe do you feel going into…

Horizontal stacked bar graph representing individuals' feelings of safety

Vaccines and masks help allay fear. Many providers are already taking valuable safety approaches that their patients appreciate. But we wanted to dig deeper into respondents who are iffy about their feelings of safety in medical settings.

Asked what factors might help them feel better about in-person care (for non-emergencies), one of the top signals that cohort is looking for is a vaccine mandate.

We’re well-aware that many hospitals are struggling with the decision to implement mandates for employees. It’s a tough call. Still, in the public’s eye, mandates are vital to ensuring their comfort in your facility. Almost eight in 10 respondents in our January poll said that vaccinations should be required for healthcare workers – and this remains a consistent theme. So if you’ve got one in place, make sure you let the people know.

Other top factors in increasing feelings of safety were:

  • Isolation of infectious diseases in separate facilities
  • Masking requirements for everyone in the facility

Vaccine resistance is hard-baked for a small but notable percentage of respondents. Almost 70 percent of respondents said they were either fully or partially vaccinated, perfectly in line with CDC data out this week. We asked the remaining percentage about things that might help move them towards vaccination. For about four in 10 – or 13 percent of all respondents – the answer is, pretty much nothing. In fact, we asked if an employer mandate would increase their likelihood and phrased the options as “Yes – I’d do it to keep my job,” “No – I’d leave my job,” and “unsure.” Forty-six percent of the unvaccinated said they’d leave their job rather than comply with a mandate.

For providers, that unfortunate finding is a reminder to spend time and resources where you can make change happen, because there are corners of the community where you can’t.

Would you be more willing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if…

Stacked bar graph representing what changed individuals' minds on getting the vaccine

Those who are vaccinated aren’t thrilled with those who didn’t get the jab. No surprise, our country is divided. Sixty percent of the vaccinated said they’ve become angrier at those who aren’t since news hit of the Delta variant surge. That anger extends to the medical community, including the doctors and nurses caring for those patients who made the choice – sometimes loudly – to avoid vaccination. Each day, these professionals see the accusations and misinformation. Then they come to work to deal with the avoidable consequences of it all.

Marcom leaders need to continue keeping open lines of communication with staff, keep support resources in place and simply be aware that it’s happening.

Have reports of the Delta variant changed your opinion of those who choose not to get vaccinated?

Bar graph with navy bar representing 51% "I'm more upset," orange bar representing 10% "Wasn't upset but am now," green bar representing 17% "I'm less upset," and light blue bar representing 23% "I'm not upset"

People think the worst is behind us…barely. On a brighter note, a slight plurality – 39 percent – said that they think we’re on the right side of this pandemic. Wishful thinking? TBD. Let’s hope they’re right.

Do you believe the worst of COVID-19 is behind or ahead of us?

Donut chart with green color representing 30% "unsure," orange color representing 39% "behind us," and navy color representing 31% "ahead of us"

*Online poll of US adults ages 25 and up, fielded Wednesday, August 4

Gender: 53% M / 47% F

Ethnicity: 67% white / 13% Black / 12% Latino/Hispanic / 4% Asian

This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday newsletter. Fill out the form for full survey results.

Former Mayo Clinic Visionary Affiliates with Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock

Firm News

Lee Aase founded Mayo Clinic’s renowned social media/digital innovation programs

Lee Aase

BRENTWOOD, Tenn., and Chicago – Lee Aase, a widely recognized trailblazer who has led the healthcare industry in embracing social and digital media platforms, is partnering with healthcare strategic communications consultancy Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock, in an of counsel role, the firm announced today.

Jarrard Inc. ranks nationally as a Top 10 communications firm and works exclusively with healthcare providers in moments of significant change, challenge and opportunity. It has been expanding its expertise in healthcare digital marketing to help clients reach consumers and other stakeholders more efficiently and effectively.

Aase retired today from a successful 21-year tenure at Mayo Clinic, where he most recently served as communications director for social and digital innovation and as director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network – an industry-leading global network that has helped healthcare professionals and organizations leverage the power of social media.

“We are encouraged, and challenged, by the number of outstanding providers who are dedicating renewed focus and resources on digital channels to affect real change in healthcare,” said Jarrard Inc. President and CEO David Jarrard. “As a pioneer in the field for two decades, Lee’s extensive background in digital strategy is indispensable for our clients, whether their needs are related to patient acquisition efforts, issue navigation or seizing new opportunities to make the delivery of healthcare more accessible and equitable.”

In demand on the conference circuit, Aase has spoken to audiences and advised organizations on social and digital strategy and practice in 40 states and 12 countries on five continents. In 2014 he was appointed to a two-year term on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Social Media. In 2018 he received VitalSmarts® certification as a trainer in the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology for stress-free productivity.

“In my experience, it’s critical that any investment in tech or digital strategy support your business goals and values,” Aase said. “I am delighted to be joining such a well-established and forward-thinking firm as Jarrard Inc. and to be able to help clients solve the puzzle of leveraging technology in a way that works for them and their patients.”

Prior to joining Mayo Clinic in 2000, Aase spent 14 years in political and government communications at the local, state and federal level.

Jarrard Inc.’s growing Digital Team is led by nationally known digital transformation expert Reed Smith, who helps clients ask themselves, “How do people want to connect with us?” and then builds a plan using digital tools to make those connections. The team’s work lies at the intersection of change management, patient experience, and consumer behavior in healthcare.

Smith, in addition to founding the Social Health Institute, is a founding advisory board member for both the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network, and the health & wellness track at the SXSW® Interactive Festival.

“Lee is unparalleled in his knowledge,” Smith said. “Having worked with Lee extensively over the years, we both recognize that the past year and a half revealed in new ways the profound importance of mission-driven healthcare and reminded us that no matter how large or small the organization, healthcare is local and personal. We need to reach people where they are.”

About Jarrard Inc.

With offices in Nashville, Tenn. and Chicago, Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock, Inc. is a U.S. Top 10 strategic communications consulting firm for the nation’s leading healthcare providers experiencing significant change, challenge or opportunity. Founded in 2006, the firm has worked with more than 600 clients in 45 states and served as a communications advisor on more than $60 billion in announced M&A and partnership transaction communications. The firm specializes in M&A, change management, issue navigation and strategic positioning. Jarrard Inc. is a division of The Chartis Group, one of the nation’s leading healthcare advisory and analytics firms.

For more information, visit or follow us @JarrardInc.

Death by Misinformation: Five Ways Providers Can Fight Back

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Note: This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday newsletter. Want content like this delivered to your inbox before it hits our blog? Subscribe here.

Scroll to the bottom for a podcast and question of the week.

The US Surgeon General urged social media companies to do more to combat rampant sharing of health misinformation. It was a slight walk-back from the President’s earlier comments that tech companies are “killing people” by allowing misinformation to be propagated on their sites. (Biden has also softened his statement.) Then, on Thursday, Senator Amy Klobuchar put forward a bill that would “strip online platforms such as Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. of their liability protections if their technologies spread misinformation related to public-health emergencies.”

What it Means for Your Hospital

(2-minute read; 18-minute podcast)

Can your clinicians go toe to toe with Dr. Facebook? Yes and no.

Yes, doctors and nurses remain highly trusted when it comes to health information. But both younger and lower-income demographics express less trust in their doctor. Fewer young adults have a primary care provider than do older generations. And the percentage of people who consider healthcare overall in the U.S. “good or better” has dropped below pre-pandemic levels.

There’s been a shift in the relationship between patients and the medical community. It’s less personal, more transactional. At the same time, people are forming strong online relationships, turning to Facebook and the like to find, validate and act on information.

The national buzz is heating up on how we should combat misinformation and the relative contribution of individuals, tech companies and government.

But closer to home, do local healthcare providers have a responsibility to step in and correct misinformation their patients may be receiving? And how can the marcom pro on the ground  help stem the tide of misinformation on vaccines or any other topic? This may help:

  • Get in the fight. After an exhausting year putting out hour-by-hour information, many marcom teams have refocused this year on other critical issues facing their organization. But you’re needed, spreading as much good information as possible.
  • Activate your existing supporters. You can’t do it alone. The good news is that you have an army of brilliant and enthusiastic people with credibility to help. Your clinicians and your patients themselves. Help them all to spread the word. Provide tip sheets with do’s and don’ts for talking to friends and family.
  • Similarly, use relationships where they exist. On the latest Touchpoint podcast, pediatric gastroenterologist and digital health expert Dr. Bryan Vartabedian said while he’s not normally involved in the vaccine conversation with patients, he has persuaded many skeptical teens to getting the COVID-19 jab just as part of the “one-on-one connection, the grassroots-level conversation” during a visit. So, yes, despite the trends we noted above, the doctor-patient relationship isn’t dead, yet. And that white coat can also exert significant influence outside of the exam room – with friends and neighbors.
  • Go where they are. You’ve got a well-designed Facebook page for your organization. But just how accessible, friendly and conversational is it? Review your online properties and make sure you’re not just using them as a bulletin board to highlight Heart Health Month. Then, see where you can expand – we’re looking at you, TikTok. Create engaging posts for the channels where your patients spend their time. Might feel weird at first, but it puts the information in the right spot – and your team might have some fun along the way. Be sure to tell your patients about these channels so they know to look for you and spread the word.
  • Partner up. Early in the pandemic we saw public collaboration between otherwise bitter rivals. Now might be a good time to bring that back. Think about how powerful it would be for the public to see two competing hospitals standing side-by-side. Then, call your peer down the street and invite them to join forces. Maybe even choreograph some TikToks together.

Want more? Check out the 18-minute conversation featuring Jarrard Inc.’s Kim Fox and Tim Stewart: