Digital Trends in Population Health Drive Custom Magazine for Children’s Hospital

After publishing Checkup magazine for more than six years, Cook Children’s Health Care System took a leap. The risk was worth the reward.

They shifted beyond brand building to a community publication focused on at-risk communities. This focus on digital trends in population health allowed the hospital to tap into a critical audience.

Overview and Objectives

Cook Children’s Health Care System, a not-for-profit healthcare system based in Fort Worth, Texas, had a unique problem. While its Checkup magazine was extremely popular, the public relations department knew its target audience was already interacting with Cook Children’s in myriad other ways, mainly through its Checkup Newsroom website.

They decided to see if a community publication could be a useful tool for the at-risk, lower income population served by the Cook Children’s Neighborhood Clinics in the company’s six-county primary service area. After reviewing examples of population health campaigns, the process began to shift the magazine.

“We reached out to the Center for Children’s Health [the division of Cook Children’s that is home to the organization’s community health programs] to learn if Checkup would be a useful way to reach that audience,” says Kelly Wooley, marketing specialist with Cook Children’s. “Larry Tubb, executive vice president and executive director for the Center for Children’s Health, thought it was worth a try, and we started the new format with the fall issue in 2015.”

Revised Content Strategy for community publication

“When making a change like this,
it’s important that you think about
what your audience needs—not just
want you want to tell them—and
the right way to get that information
to them. We’ve done that with Checkup,
and the readers appreciate and enjoy
the magazine.”
—Kelly Wooley, Marketing Specialist
at Cook Children's Health System

Because the new version of Checkup was intended for a completely different audience, every aspect of the publication had to be reimagined to focus on population health initiatives and research.

The content focused more on prevention than the previous version, expanding on current digital trends in population health.

“When we talk about our community education and outreach initiatives, you’ll often hear senior leadership say we don’t want to see patients in the hospital or the doctor’s office, because prevention is our goal,” says Kelly, pointing out that the articles focus on the seven children’s health issues identified in the health system’s Community-wide Children’s Health Assessment & Planning Survey (CCHAPS). “We want to be seen not just as a medical center or a doctor’s office, but as a real health resource for our patients and our community.”

Instead of the eight-page format the medical center had used since True North Custom launched the magazine in early 2009, Cook Children’s worked with its True North Custom team to create a 16-page bilingual community publication with a flip format.

The outside front cover and the first seven pages are in English. When the magazine is flipped, the outside back cover becomes the Spanish cover, and the subsequent seven pages are in Spanish.

“We know that the audience for this magazine isn’t all English- or all Spanish-speaking,” Kelly says. “The households we serve are often blended or extended families where grandma or mom might speak Spanish, but the kids might speak English.

“However, we also know that when it comes to medical information—even if a parent is pretty fluent in English—they like to receive it in Spanish because it’s more comfortable to them,” Kelly continues. “That’s why this format works so well.”

The articles, written at a third-grade reading level, tackle relevant topics like domestic abuse and spanking. The articles are highly visual, and they’re typically short and contain a variety of lists, charts and pull quotes that help readers break down content into easily digested information. A puzzle page was added to provide an activity that parents and their children could work on together.

While the earlier format of Checkup was mailed to homes and well received in the community, the new audience for this publication is more transient. A new distribution model had to be developed. Today, the majority of Checkup copies are distributed via the waiting rooms of the Cook Children’s Neighborhood Clinics and the medical center, as well as through community partner organizations with similar goals, such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, local school districts and the YMCAs. It is also mailed to the system’s CCHAPS respondents.


The response to the new Checkup has been outstanding—both from the community publication’s audience as well as from internal stakeholders, who recognize the much-needed shift to align with digital trends in population health.

“When you change the format of a magazine you’ve been doing—especially when you’re happy with the magazine and its results—it’s a gamble,” Kelly says. “But this is one case where we feel like it’s been worth it. It’s been so popular that everyone wonders why we didn’t do this earlier.”

To measure reader engagement, Cook Children’s used True North Custom’s suggestion of a contest that readers can enter to win a $25 gift card. Kelly estimates she receives more than 100 entries each issue—an overwhelming response considering the magazine isn’t mailed to most homes.

Cook Children’s has also performed several readership surveys that yielded these strong results:

  • Half those surveyed read the issue from cover to cover.
  • Everyone surveyed read at least half of the issue.
  • Eight in 10 used the information learned from the publication, and nearly 7 in 10 shared the information with someone else.