“We Can’t” Disrupt Healthcare

SHSMD Connections 2019: Monday, Sept. 9

Since landing in Nashville for SHSMD Connections 2019, attendees have been inundated with ideas from every corner of the healthcare industry. To recap Monday’s adventures, we picked three sessions that share an underlying theme – implicitly or explicitly – of storytelling. In multiple contexts, from unifying a healthcare system to bringing more empathy to American society, speakers pointed to the importance of telling a good story to affect change.


America, Then and Now

Jon Meacham – Writer and Presidential Biographer


The Premise

Acclaimed author Jon Meacham pointed out that America feels very fractured and disoriented right now. People are confused and uncomfortable, and they’re retreating into their tribes. They aren’t interested in hearing from the other side and are more reactive than reflective.

Politics feel like they do today, he said, because we don’t have coherent answers or paths forward on the big issues of the day – whether those are revolution, civil rights or globalization.


The Approach

We’re stronger when we open our arms wider. There’s plenty of room to debate specific policies, but who we are as Americans is built around giving people a chance.


Key Ideas

While Meacham didn’t specifically tie his comments directly to the healthcare, it was easy to read that into his comments:

  • The confusing state of our industry Is causing discomfort.
  • People are coming to the conversation without a clear understanding of the information but strongly held opinions.
  • There is a need to step back and find space to reflect, not just to react.
  • Healthcare is about giving people a chance, opening our arms wider.
  • Telling stories helps us process information and understand each other
  • people don’t retain information well
  • There is challenge and opportunity for communicators today since people don’t retain information well.


Key Quotes

  • “We’ve been through storms before. We got through them by telling a better story.”
  • “[We have to ask] what is happening now that’s shifting the tectonic plates of our time?”
  • “People don’t hold information in their heads for very long, but they have fixed ideas. Those are the people you’re communicating with.”
  • “Empathy is the fuel of democracy. If I can’t put myself in your shoes, and you can’t put yourself in my shoes, this experiment in self-government may not work.”



Internal Comm-edy: How to infuse humor to engage employees

Lisa Henry – Director of Corporate Marketing and Communications, Mary Washington Healthcare


The Premise

When Henry arrived at the health system, morale was lousy. The system was facing significant competition, transitioning to pay-for-performance was a challenge and staff was leaving. On top of that, healthcare is a tough job to begin with.


The Approach

After a new CEO arrived and heard that feedback, he told Henry he wanted to create a music video for their introduction to Epic software. (Epic takes video submissions that introduce new potential clients.)

This was the result:


The video was so well received that it inspired the organization to completely rethink its internal communications for the project, leading to a space-themed approach to the entire Epic implementation process called “Mission Epic”. (Plus, another video)


Key Ideas

  • People working in healthcare know they’re in a tough job. Humor helps alleviate stress, inspires people, increases productivity and incites innovation.
  • It’s uncomfortable, since most people are accustomed to corporate language and traditional methods. And, change itself is uncomfortable.
  • It’s critical to focus on the benefits of the change, not the change itself. For example, the benefits of a piece of technology, not the technology itself.
  • Engage critical stakeholders early and often. This includes the team leading/implementing the change because they’re the ones living it and if they’re unhappy, word gets around. They need the most communication, not the least.
  • Tell stories.


Key Quotes

  • “We had overthought everything to the point that we couldn’t relax about anything.”
  • “We weren’t a fun organization. [Our space theme] sounds kitschy but we didn’t know where else to start.”
  • “People want to see themselves in the stories”
  • “There is nothing wrong with being silly at work when you work in healthcare. Everybody knows the seriousness of their job. Which is why, as communicators, we need to inspire them to love their jobs. It is not a problem to have fun.”



Getting the Board on Board: A CEO and CMO Perspective on Enabling Change

Christine Albert – Senior VP of Marketing and Communications, LCMC Health

Greg Feirn – CEO of LCMC Health

Justin Wartell – Managing Principal, Monigle


The Premise

New Orleans-based LCMC Health is a system with a vast array of unique brands and facilities. These individual brands were strong, storied and recognizable within the community. However, the community – and many employees at the individual facilities – had very low awareness of LCMC Health itself. There weren’t strong ties to bind people or institutions together.

To combat that, the team decided to undergo a rebrand to unify existing brands under an existing umbrella and help stakeholders understand the value of the entire system.

The Approach

The team had to find a way to help staff, as well as the New Orleans community, understand the benefits of being part of a system – not just a standalone healthcare facility. They focused on the role the system (LCMC Health) played in supporting the individual institutions rather than trying to make the system overshadow or dilute those already strong brands.

Key to aligning everyone, from the board on down to the frontline staff, was having total focus on unification and reintroducing the organization to the community. A catalyzing moment for the board was to realize that employees didn’t have the ability to talk about LCMC Health in anything but a transactional way. There was no story other than, “we’re not our competition.”

The board’s priority became creating the internal structure and cohesiveness. From there, the team built a plan to translate that internal structure to external audiences – the community. They built a story around who they were as a system, and why people should care about it.


Key Ideas

  • LCMC Health was able to make the rebrand work by doing three things:
    • Leading with data to appeal to the C-suite audience and point to the business priorities;
    • Taking emotion and the human element into account; and
    • Viewing the whole thing as a change management program, not a rebrand.
  • The culture of the community around an institution/system has to be considered. In the case of LCMC Health, it was using the pride and unique style of New Orleans to craft a message around the system’s identity.
  • The board must be on board for a big project. But ultimately, it’s the CEO’s responsibility.
  • It should be a red flag when people on the ground can talk about their work in terms of what they do, rather than their identity.
  • There must be a strong voice from the top, including the board, about why something is happening. Even so, it takes a lot of work to push that buy-in from the top to the ground level.
  • An organization must put on a unified public face, even when there are tough conversations happening behind closed doors.


Key Quotes

  • “It’s tough to apply a solution across a system, especially when you can’t express your system vision in a unified way.”
  • “Everyone loves change as long as they’re not the one changing.”
David Shifrin