“We Have to Modernize the Entire Patient Experience” — How Weill Cornell Medicine Developed an Effective Telehealth Marketing Plan

by | Jul 23, 2020 | Healthcare Industry Insights | 0 comments

Weill Cornell Medicine is at the forefront of digital transformation in health care. Kaitlyn Tuson is at the center of this shift, and she shares learnings from her role in developing a telehealth marketing plan and reimagining the care experience for both patients and providers.

For more than 120 years, Weill Cor­nell Med­i­cine (WCM) in New York, NY, has pio­neered world-class clin­i­cal care and cut­ting-edge research. This for­ward-think­ing cul­ture is reflect­ed through­out the orga­ni­za­tion, which con­sists of more than 22 clin­i­cal ser­vice lines and dozens of mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary cen­ters and programs. 

With more than 1,600 physi­cians across 40+ loca­tions, cre­at­ing a tele­health mar­ket­ing plan was no small task.

Dur­ing the height of COVID-19, their physi­cian orga­ni­za­tion quick­ly shift­ed their care mod­el to uti­lize telemed­i­cine and went from just a few hun­dred Video Vis­its per week to thou­sands per day across all clin­i­cal ser­vices. Their telemed­i­cine readi­ness allowed them to deliv­er both pri­ma­ry and spe­cial­ty care ser­vices to their hun­dreds of thou­sands of patients across New York City and the sur­round­ing areas dur­ing the height of the pan­dem­ic. WCM remains ahead of the curve in telemed­i­cine and they have con­tin­ued to extend their vir­tu­al patient care expe­ri­ence beyond just the deliv­ery of care. 

That tra­di­tion of inno­va­tion con­tin­ues with the organization’s com­mit­ment to dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion and improv­ing the patient experience—and the WCM mar­ket­ing team plays an essen­tial role in this evolution.

We spoke with WCM Physi­cian Orga­ni­za­tion Mar­ket­ing Offi­cer Kait­lyn Tuson about marketing’s role in devel­op­ing the tele­health mar­ket­ing plan, lever­ag­ing data to dri­ve adop­tion among both con­sumers and providers and her advice for peers seek­ing to make the shift.


Tuson: It has been on my pri­or­i­ties since I start­ed at WCM as a con­sul­tant in 2018; how­ev­er, inter­nal adop­tion was a bit slow to catch on sim­ply because it wasn’t near­ly as essen­tial as it was just a few months ago. Also, our physi­cians pride them­selves on per­son­al­ized, com­pas­sion­ate care, so while the plat­form was there, the adoption—both from physi­cians and patients—wasn’t nec­es­sary until the pan­dem­ic hit. I believe that COVID-19 forced us to be more cre­ative about our care mod­el and how we deliv­er our ser­vices. Thank­ful­ly, our inno­v­a­tive teams had already launched the tech­nol­o­gy, so the plat­form was there for our providers to lever­age when we need­ed it.

Now, it’s been adopt­ed across the insti­tu­tion and remains a top pri­or­i­ty for every­one. Usage of patient por­tals and what I refer to as dig­i­tal health tools are also a top pri­or­i­ty and active­ly tracked dai­ly with a dynam­ic dash­board. That busi­ness intel­li­gence allows us to be nim­ble from a mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions stand­point. And we track more than just Video Vis­its and oth­er meth­ods of care deliv­ery. It spans way beyond just the deliv­ery of care. As mar­keters, we rec­og­nize that the patient expe­ri­ence extends well beyond the exam room, espe­cial­ly in today’s envi­ron­ment. We’re look­ing at every sin­gle touch­point to iden­ti­fy gaps. We have to mod­ern­ize the entire patient expe­ri­ence if we want to com­pete in a mar­ket that is quick­ly advancing.


Tuson: Our role is pri­mar­i­ly about adop­tion, both inter­nal­ly and exter­nal­ly. We’ve watched as tele­health-relat­ed search trends spiked dur­ing the pan­dem­ic and con­tin­ue to expand our dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing cam­paigns accord­ing­ly. Pri­or to the pan­dem­ic, there was a gen­er­al lack of aware­ness around tele­health, par­tic­u­lar­ly in cer­tain audi­ence seg­ments. We’ve kept a pulse on the increased num­ber of search­es across the tri-state area (since New York City is such a com­muter city) to help us iden­ti­fy where we should be tar­get­ing. Our patients extend into Con­necti­cut and New Jer­sey, so we’re def­i­nite­ly tar­get­ing some of that vol­ume because tele­health allows us to offer ini­tial con­sults vir­tu­al­ly. This means we are able to lever­age tele­health more as a patient acqui­si­tion tool, espe­cial­ly as we notice that patients are far more hes­i­tant to come in for in-per­son vis­its. A year ago, this notion was met with resis­tance both from a patient and a physi­cian perspective.

Lead­ing up to all of this, I believed that it was our mis­sion to edu­cate patients about the ben­e­fits and use cas­es for tele­health. As any good mar­keter knows, moti­vat­ing adop­tion (espe­cial­ly when mar­ket­ing intan­gi­bles like tech­nol­o­gy and health ser­vices) relies heav­i­ly on ease of under­stand­ing and ease of use. Thank­ful­ly, we had done much of that ini­tial plan­ning and research work pri­or to COVID-19 so we felt rel­a­tive­ly pre­pared (well, as much as one can be) for the rapid adop­tion of telemed­i­cine. But, I think for those who haven’t maybe had that sort of lead-time, there is so much more data out there today on con­sumer behav­ior than what we had when we began devel­op­ing our mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy. We are now going back and re-look­ing at the data and either val­i­dat­ing or mak­ing tweaks with these new insights. 

Mar­ket­ing plays such a crit­i­cal role in the mes­sag­ing and pack­ag­ing of dig­i­tal health ser­vices and tools. This extends beyond Video Vis­its to include our patient por­tal, our vir­tu­al check in and check out process­es, remote pre­scrip­tion refills, our new patient acqui­si­tion strate­gies and lever­ag­ing telemed­i­cine for ini­tial con­sults. When I embarked on this more than a year ago, I saw that mar­ket­ing’s role was to pack­age all of these intan­gi­ble dig­i­tal tools and ser­vices togeth­er so we could more eas­i­ly com­mu­ni­cate them in a com­pre­hen­sive man­ner. This pack­ag­ing exer­cise was also meant to cre­ate a whole new val­ue prop for us. Our patients are loy­al because of our care, but we weren’t known for being mod­ern or easy to nav­i­gate. By cre­at­ing a “Dig­i­tal Health” mes­sag­ing plat­form, we could start to change that per­cep­tion. I’ve seen many orga­ni­za­tions do the same—healthcare mar­keters need to find ways of sim­pli­fy­ing tele­health to make it more consumable.

I think in health­care we have the habit of mak­ing things more com­plex than they need to be. We for­get that sim­pli­fi­ca­tion is real­ly what the con­sumer wants. This is espe­cial­ly true when it comes to devel­op­ing assets. I was grate­ful to have expe­ri­ence in tech and I’ve exe­cut­ed repack­ag­ing exer­cis­es for brands like Ora­cle so I leaned into my tech mar­ket­ing back­ground. As health­care mar­keters, we have advan­tages that many oth­er indus­tries don’t. Since we’re a bit behind the curve on dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion, we can look to oth­er brands that have done it well and learn from them. 

Giv­en my back­ground, I chose to look at some of the best prac­tices that brands like Ora­cle and IBM lever­age and I asked myself: “How does a tech com­pa­ny typ­i­cal­ly over­come these com­mon adop­tion issues?” When you look at cam­paign land­ing pages for a tech com­pa­ny, you can see that they often have demo videos, white papers and FAQs. So the first thing I did was focus on instruc­tion­al con­tent that made these intan­gi­ble dig­i­tal health tools more tan­gi­ble and digestible for the aver­age patient. It’s impor­tant to keep in mind that many patients aren’t tech savvy so we looked at tai­lor­ing our con­tent for all demo­graph­ics and skill levels. 

Health­care mar­keters are unique because our tar­get demo­graph­ics typ­i­cal­ly span a wide range, so its real­ly impor­tant for us to ensure that our con­tent is just as eas­i­ly under­stood by mil­len­ni­als as is by the 60+ age brack­ets. By tak­ing this approach, we saw that 30–40% of our tele­health users dur­ing the peak of COVID-19 were in the 60+ age brack­et. We knew that if our con­tent hadn’t been craft­ed with that demo­graph­ic in mind pri­or to COVID-19, we would have like­ly seen a much dif­fer­ent rate of adop­tion. We also saw an uptick in non-Eng­lish speak­ing tele­health users and we quick­ly trans­lat­ed our mate­ri­als into mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent lan­guages ear­ly on. 

As health­care mar­keters, it’s our duty to ensure that all of our patient demo­graph­ics are con­sid­ered. Take the time and real­ly under­stand your dif­fer­ent audi­ences, it always pays off. 

There is so much that health­care mar­keters can do as we all embark on this rapid dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion, but first and fore­most, it’s impor­tant to look beyond our­selves and seek insight from oth­er brands and indus­tries out­side of health­care. Yes, many indus­tries are way ahead of us, and often times we find that frus­trat­ing, but it actu­al­ly gives us some advan­tages. I think that as mar­keters, we offer sig­nif­i­cant val­ue when we bring an out­side view­point com­bined with a deep under­stand­ing of our patient audi­ences and con­sumer behav­iors. In a nut­shell, I believe those are some of the most impact­ful per­spec­tives that we can bring to the table.


Tuson: We approach mea­sure­ment from both qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive per­spec­tives, using tools like Google Ana­lyt­ics to track our cam­paigns along with track­ing our patients through to the point of conversion. 

To glean qual­i­ta­tive insights, I’m always a fan of run­ning patient sur­veys to gauge sat­is­fac­tion on the whole expe­ri­ence. Patient sur­veys are a great tool for the providers, staff and over­all oper­a­tions so I real­ly think the cross-func­tion­al ben­e­fits war­rant con­sid­er­ing a well-con­struct­ed patient sur­vey on all aspects of telemed­i­cine. His­tor­i­cal­ly, there were many hur­dles and anec­dotes regard­ing the qual­i­ty of care being deliv­ered through telemed­i­cine ser­vices. That patient perspective—whether good, bad or indifferent—can offer a lot of deci­sion-mak­ing insight. And I think we all rec­og­nize the lev­el of impor­tance that physi­cian lead­ers place on data. Telemed­i­cine at this scale is new to all of us, so the more infor­ma­tion we can share on the patient expe­ri­ence, the more empow­ered we become as mar­keters and communicators. 

From a quan­ti­ta­tive stand­point, we’re lucky to have a robust ana­lyt­ics depart­ment. We were able to lever­age intel­li­gence that allowed us to be nim­ble as mar­keters. For exam­ple, was a lot of sen­ti­ment that we need­ed to do a bet­ter job tar­get­ing the old­er demo­graph­ics when pro­mot­ing telemed­i­cine. How­ev­er, when we saw that one of our largest user groups was the 60+ age brack­et, we knew our work had been suc­cess­ful. That allowed us to shift more effort towards some of the demo­graph­ic groups that need­ed a bit more per­sua­sive­ness. I rec­og­nize that not every mar­ket­ing team has access to dash­boards, but there is a lot you can learn through Google Ana­lyt­ics. We use track­ing codes on every­thing we do, espe­cial­ly our organ­ic con­tent. We rely on engage­ment met­rics to help dic­tate our patient pod­cast and blog con­tent. Those are sim­ple met­rics that any mar­ket­ing team can deploy regard­less of bud­get or tech stack.


Tuson: A year ago I would have said inter­nal adop­tion of telemed­i­cine, but now I think this pan­dem­ic has made it far too obvi­ous to ignore. Thank­ful­ly, we had the tech­ni­cal aspects in place pre-COVID-19. I know many of our com­peti­tors only had a few ser­vice lines ready for telemed­i­cine deploy­ment so that readi­ness was a bless­ing. It allowed us to focus on patient adop­tion at the start of the pan­dem­ic. What’s great is that telemed­i­cine is here to stay. A sil­ver lin­ing to this pan­dem­ic has been the wide adop­tion and aware­ness of telemed­i­cine at the con­sumer lev­el. That adop­tion gives every health­care orga­ni­za­tion an oppor­tu­ni­ty to cre­ate a bet­ter patient experience. 

Frankly, I think we can all agree that our patients deserve a bet­ter expe­ri­ence. There’s been an expec­ta­tion set by oth­er indus­tries for years, but now its final­ly at the top of everyone’s objec­tives. Patients don’t under­stand why we can’t fol­low suit and I don’t blame them—we absolute­ly should!

Mar­keters and com­mu­ni­ca­tors have an oblig­a­tion to keep patients top of mind as we forge ahead, know­ing that in the end, they will have a bet­ter expe­ri­ence. Fight­ing a dis­ease like can­cer is hard enough. Telemed­i­cine, patient por­tals, apps, remote health monitoring—these tools make man­ag­ing care eas­i­er and allows our providers to extend them­selves into a patient’s home, car­ing for them beyond the exam room. It’s our job as health­care mar­keters and com­mu­ni­ca­tors to make these tools acces­si­ble and easy to adopt.

I think we (as an indus­try) are final­ly mak­ing head­way, which is real­ly heartening.


Tuson: Break­ing down silos is always a chal­lenge, but through­out the pan­dem­ic there has been a gen­uine sense of togeth­er­ness and uni­ty on so many lev­els. My word of advice: try to embrace that uni­ty. Offer some vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty as you work to improve cross-func­tion­al col­lab­o­ra­tion. I am a huge pro­po­nent of cross-func­tion­al strat­e­gy and exe­cu­tion, but not all teams are built equal. So I think one of the biggest things you can do for your­self as a man­ag­er is to rec­og­nize which teams are more open to col­lab­o­ra­tion and focus there. 

The oth­er major piece of advice is to come pre­pared with sup­port­ing data if you plan to make a rec­om­men­da­tion. We all know data works well in this indus­try. Met­rics that demon­strate the val­ue and impact of mar­ket­ing are some­thing I always have handy! 

And final­ly, take the time to lis­ten. Those that work in the clin­i­cal prac­tices have a wealth of information—they have a pulse on the patient that we just don’t have—listening to those valu­able nuggets of infor­ma­tion offers a win-win for everyone. 

If you find your­self strug­gling on how to kick off a cross-func­tion­al team or project, take a moment to pause and ask ques­tions. Get­ting to know everyone’s strengths and what each per­son brings to the table is a great place to start.

I’m always hap­py to work with some­one who is excit­ed about what we do. A real­ly sim­ple way to engage with folks who are inter­est­ed in mar­ket­ing is to host some sort of open forum or webi­nar. I start­ed host­ing “Mar­ket­ing Office Hours” and we invite stake­hold­ers from across the orga­ni­za­tion. This has real­ly helped us build rela­tion­ships and demon­strate the val­ue of mar­ket­ing. It also teach­es some of the com­mon tac­tics and the think­ing behind the strate­gies that we deploy. Over­time, as you give peo­ple a peak behind the cur­tain, you’ll find that you’re spend­ing a lot less time explain­ing yourself. 

I’ve also found that some func­tions don’t real­ize mar­ket­ing is respon­si­ble for grow­ing the insti­tu­tion and the busi­ness. It’s impor­tant to share those growth met­rics and give cred­it to those who helped you launch that land­ing page or who helped you cre­ate that report so they can feel like they are equal con­trib­u­tors to the growth.

Once you do some great work togeth­er, you’ll even­tu­al­ly get the atten­tion of oth­ers who may have resist­ed ini­tial­ly. Ulti­mate­ly, every­one wants to be part of a win. So my pri­ma­ry rec­om­men­da­tion is to find those col­leagues who are open-mind­ed and focus your ener­gy on doing good work togeth­er. Even­tu­al­ly, you’ll cre­ate enough FOMO [fear of miss­ing out].


Tuson: I love a good focus group but unfor­tu­nate­ly, the cur­rent envi­ron­ment is not very con­ducive to them. How­ev­er, we have reviewed learn­ings from recent focus groups to see what insights we can gath­er from those now that we have a whole new lens and entire­ly new patient expe­ri­ence to consider. 

When design­ing new sys­tems, I sug­gest mar­keters start by look­ing back. Pri­or con­sumer research stud­ies are the best place to start since so much has changed in our world. Sur­veys are also a great tool that can help you gath­er patient per­spec­tives and eas­i­er to deploy in this cur­rent envi­ron­ment. A lot of mar­keters believe that sur­veys are a huge under­tak­ing but a small, thought­ful­ly curat­ed set of ques­tions can be cre­at­ed in-house. There are so many great sur­vey plat­forms that small­er prac­tices can take advan­tage of. The key to cre­at­ing any good patient sur­vey is to avoid lead­ing the wit­ness, a sur­pris­ing­ly com­mon (and all too fre­quent) mis­take made by mar­keters and non-mar­keters alike. 

You can also devel­op a board con­sist­ing of patient advo­cates. We’ve all been a patient at one point so find­ing par­tic­i­pants who are will­ing to improve the patient expe­ri­ence isn’t a huge under­tak­ing. Most prac­tices can find a hand­ful of will­ing par­tic­i­pants. Google My Busi­ness reviews, Health­grades and oth­er review aggre­ga­tion tools can also be a good resource for gath­er­ing patient per­spec­tive with min­i­mal resources. Every cou­ple of weeks, I read patient reviews to see how we are doing across var­i­ous ser­vice lines. 

Patients can offer some great per­spec­tives and help you see things from the oth­er side. We use every tool we have and I would encour­age any health­care mar­keter to do the same.


Tuson: 1) Don’t over­com­pli­cate things! I can­not stress this enough.

For exam­ple, don’t call patients “con­sumers” as most physi­cians don’t view patients as con­sumers, so steer clear of jargon. 

2) ALWAYS put on your patient hat. Find the low­est-hang­ing fruit in your mar­ket­ing fun­nel that seems incon­sis­tent with a pos­i­tive patient expe­ri­ence and start there. If we all start putting our­selves into the patien­t’s shoes, we can do a much bet­ter job at improv­ing their experience—that is a goal that every­one can agree on.

3) Don’t go after the biggest, hard­est project first. There are many easy, small wins that can add up quick­ly and help you meet your over­all objec­tives with a lot less resis­tance. Start­ing too big can ulti­mate­ly lead to a lot of frus­tra­tion and burnout. Plus, you can share met­rics on your wins and after demon­strat­ing suc­cess using data, your next few projects will like­ly be met with a bit less resistence. I think this is par­tic­u­lar­ly true as we all under­go a dig­i­tal transformation—there is so much to be done.

4) Don’t lose site of the big­ger pic­ture, but don’t let it dis­tract you from what is right in front of you. I tend to look 20 miles down the road (which can be over­whelm­ing at times) and I do like to start strate­giz­ing ear­ly. But I’ve found that by inch­ing towards the end result while remain­ing focused on eas­i­er, more imme­di­ate projects, I feel accom­plished along the way—especially when tack­ling some large projects that will take more time. That approach keeps me motivated.

A com­mon mantra you’ll hear me say to my team is, “All we need to do is get five yards. In no time, we’ll have a first down.” Set­ting some per­spec­tive and cel­e­brat­ing those mile­stones makes a big difference. 

5) Report­ing, report­ing, report­ing. I like to report on mile­stones and wins through­out the process, espe­cial­ly when work­ing on large projects. This gives every­one a feel­ing that we are mak­ing progress. When it comes to cam­paigns, be sure to share the good with the bad. It’s from our fail­ures that we learn the most, and those insights are worth shar­ing. Explain what you’ve learned and how you’re adjust­ing your strat­e­gy. And when it comes to report­ing out on telemed­i­cine and the dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion efforts, be sure to give cred­it where cred­it is due. Telemed­i­cine is heav­i­ly reliant on cross-func­tion­al part­ner­ships and inter­nal stake­hold­ers. Deliv­er­ing care in this new way is depen­dent on all of us work­ing together—and togeth­er we can all have a hand at trans­form­ing the patient care experience!

Learn More

Con­nect with Kait­lyn on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kaitlyn-tuson-nycmarketer/ 

Com­ing Soon! Kait­lyn is launch­ing a health­care mar­ket­ing pod­cast in August called Mar­ket Health Pod. The show is designed to cre­ate a com­mu­ni­ty where health­care mar­keters can share best prac­tices, lessons learned and more. Check https://mkthlth.com for updates and fol­low @MarketHealthPod on Twitter.

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