The Economic Argument for Culture in Healthcare

The Economic Argument for Culture in Healthcare

Key takeaways from SHSMD 2018

The energy at this year’s SHSMD 2018 conference was different than previous years. Maybe it was the coffee (we were in Seattle after all) but attendees were buzzing with the excitement – and stress – of dealing with the increased complexity of our industry.

One common theme: Everyone wanted to know what everyone else was doing. Of course, networking and camaraderie are major selling points for conferences in any industry, but in healthcare, we tend to work in particularly rigid siloes. Most of us marketing and communications professionals spend our days churning out work for our own institutions, and we rarely get to share best practices with peers.

But when we do get together, we learn incredibly useful information. There was too much valuable content to recap here, but right after this year’s conference, three key lessons stand out:

A strong culture has an economic return.

In a joint presentation, leaders at Tri-State Memorial Hospital in Clarkston, Washington and Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island argued that “culture trumps everything else in healthcare.”

It’s a nice thought that, over the course of the presentation, the speakers backed up with real numbers. In 2016, researchers at Tri-State developed metrics to track the actual culture of their organization and compare it to the culture they wanted to build. Then, leaders formed a scorecard and developed a strategic plan to close the gap between the two. As Tri-State’s actual culture moved closer to the ideal, the hospital’s operating margins increased, employee turnover decreased and quality improved. In sum, presenters said, strategy is pretty much moot without a strong culture.

Physicians care more about strategy than you think they do.

Everyone at SHSMD this year seemed more aware of the importance of physician engagement – not just emails with marching orders, but actual physician engagement. If the conference is any indication, leaders are realizing they can’t just tell doctors what to do, but instead, need to get physician input for pretty much any major strategic decision.

This lines up with the results from engagement surveys we’ve conducted at Jarrard – doctors care about where leadership is going and why. Traditionally, leaders may have left physicians out of the conversation – but that doesn’t work long-term. Instead, leaders need to bring physicians along for change.

The term “digital strategy” is redundant.

The healthcare industry is playing catchup with the rest of the world in terms of digital strategy. In fact, it’s so far behind that many of us are talking about the concept all wrong. One key point of clarification: Digital strategy doesn’t mean social media – no one at sessions I attended mentioned Facebook once.

Instead, digital platforms are table stakes for any well-run healthcare organization. They’re so ingrained in everyday life, it seems strange to call digital out as a separate entity at all. At SHSMD, nearly every session included a digital aspect – whether it be online reviews, customer relationship management resources, patient portals, etc. So as healthcare marketers and communicators, when we say “digital strategy” what we really mean is “just strategy.”

Letitia Fecher