5 Takeaways from #HITMC: The Moments, the Data, and an Industry Gone Digital  

From the magic in the moments among a remarkable community, to the wealth of engaging educational sessions and discussions, the 2019 Healthcare IT Marketing and PR Conference (#HITMC) did not disappoint.

Now in its sixth year—with four tracks across three days to boot—the #HITMC program was chock full of insights, case studies, best practices and engaging discussions, spanning a wealth of market-driven topics. What were some of our key takeaways and memorable moments?   

1. That Magic Moment: Why Experience Matters for Marketers  

It’s not often that a presenter gets a standing ovation at a healthcare technology conference, but New York Times best-selling author Dan Heath’s keynote based on his latest book, “The Power of Moments,” was worthy of that recognition.  

As Heath noted, at the end of the day, it’s basic human nature to want to be validated, understood and cared for, and these factors matter in creating personal experiences that resonate, capable of creating a response. In addition, it’s most powerful when people trip over the truth on their own, said Heath, and that the best way to enable this is by providing a meaningful experience – ones that elevate, provide insight, instill pride and foster connection.

Dan Heath keynote at #HITMC 2019 on “The Power of Moments”

Dan Heath keynote at #HITMC 2019 on “The Power of Moments”

Heath’s reminder to marketers: Moments are messages, and if we forget to create “peak moments” and experiences, these moments—and messages—are mostly forgotten.

2. Marketers as Healthcare Educators and Advocacy Champions

There is no denying that healthcare marketing and communications leaders play a role in the larger healthcare ecosystem. But just what is that role, exactly? “I can be in healthcare without being a doctor or a nurse [...] and still champion the patient’s voice,” noted Stericycle’s director of product marketing, Sarah Bennight, during a panel on building brands and customer communities, underlining the growing importance and presence of patient advocacy, and reinforcing how integral digital media and marketing communications is to accomplishing that mission.

Boston-based brand consultant Dan Dunlop spoke to this throughout the conference as well, sharing how marketers can use their skills to drive awareness and action around key health initiatives, from population health and patient advocacy, to patient safety, care quality and social determinants of health (SDOH).    

On another panel, healthcare communicators across the spectrum addressed the value—and necessity—of involving the patient perspective in the design of marketing campaigns. When including the patient perspective, you need to provide “the scaffolding that enables them to be there,” said Lisa Gualtieri, PdD, ScM, assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, and director of both its Certificate in Digital Health Communication and Digital Strategies for Health Communication course. Gualtieri reinforced just how important it is to take the time to understand what it takes for a patient to be there and to participate, and then provide those means to make that happen.

3. PR and Media Matters: Beyond the Wire  

As marketing and advertising tools grow in sheer number, utility and level of sophistication—and brands increasingly shift gears to being editorial content producer and publishers it their own right—is securing earned media placements and investing in PR still a priority in the PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned) mix? You betcha.

While the publishing tools and targeting capabilities across social channels alone are enough to make a communications leader pause to reconsider, earned media is absolutely still a necessity, especially for healthcare technology communicators looking to reach technology purchasing decision makers and other healthcare executives. From the credibility factor to the potential market reach, earned media must be an integrated, strategic piece of any communications puzzle.

How can communicators build that bridge between the stories they want to tell and the reporters who make it possible? Know what the reporter has covered, focus on end users and the lesser-heard voices (patients, nurses, pharmacists), and be sure to tell a compelling story were among the recommendations from Brian Eastwood, healthcare content strategist and former Chilmark Research analyst and health tech journalist.

But in an increasingly noisy environment, where do press releases rank in priority for the media? For MedTech Boston editor-in-chief, Jennifer Joe, MD, press releases aren’t where she looks for the next big lead. “I like to talk to end users and look on social. What are patients saying and what’s on social media? That’s where we get the next story,” said Dr. Joe. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that press releases aren’t a necessity and still a valuable source for media.  

For Health Data Management editor-in-chief, Fred Bazzoli, press releases that come across the newswire still serve a purpose and can lead to another story. Similarly, Inside Digital Health’s managing editor, Jack Murtha, advised attendees to use the newswire as a source of inspiration and to find a competitive differentiator. “Look at what’s on the PR newswire and be better than that. Help reporters chart the path to the next big story,” said Murtha.  

Health IT Media Panel at #HITMC 2019: John Lynn (moderator), Brian Eastwood, Jennifer Joe, MD, Fred Bazzoli, Jack Murtha

Health IT Media Panel at #HITMC 2019: John Lynn (moderator), Brian Eastwood, Jennifer Joe, MD, Fred Bazzoli, Jack Murtha

And don’t underestimate the power of the data in an effective pitch, either. The panelists agreed that proprietary data—despite whether it comes from a vendor or not—is an effective way to deliver value and a potential story angle worthy of attention and coverage. “We love data, and we especially love data that’s going to share well,” said Dr. Joe, noting that if it’s something that will trend on Twitter, it’s going to help get that story placement.

4. Media Storytelling and End-User Collaboration: Know, Like, Trust and Need

In addition to offering the media hard-hitting data and research, connecting them with end users and other vital stakeholders—including hospital and health system CXOs, physicians and others on the front lines of care delivery, patients and advocates, and government officials—is an essential part of establishing trust and arming them with the tools they need to tell the stories that their readers and the market want to hear

With over 30 years’ experience as a healthcare technology leader, including being on the buy-side as chief information officer for multiple provider organizations, Sue Schade, principal of healthcare consultancy StarBridge Advisors, offered great advice to marketing and communications leaders looking to connect and establish relationships with end users. “Know, like, trust and need: four critical elements for sales and marketing to consider. Have we built a relationship? Do they like and trust me? If yes, when the need comes, hopefully they’ll be willing to connect.”

One way to help broker this trust and help deliver value to an end user, decision maker or other primary market leader is to make their jobs and the information-seeking process easier. “Don’t be my salesperson; be my information partner,” said Meghana Karande, MD, a pain and rehabilitation medicine physician and clinical and advisor to digital health startups.

Clinical informaticist and chief medical information officer at UConn Health, Dirk Stanley, also reminded attendees to go back to basics, noting that being friendly matters and first impressions count. Get to know execs you want to connect with and how they like to be communicated with (read: email is not always best!). CIOs are bombarded, so it’s important to build that relationship in a way that works for them

Health IT Customer Panel at #HITMC 2019: Colin Hung (moderator), Maghana Karande, Sue Schade, Dirk Stanley

Health IT Customer Panel at #HITMC 2019: Colin Hung (moderator), Maghana Karande, Sue Schade, Dirk Stanley

5. Research and Data: No Longer Optional in Healthcare

If there's one takeaway we gleaned from “Bad Blood,” it's that data and research are no longer optional when it comes to healthcare solutions development. In a post-Theranos era, CEOs must prioritize the creation of a data and research program—effectively proving their outcomes—while adopting the ethos that having data and research is mission critical to the organization.

Moreover, having proprietary data and research as part of a marketing communications strategy is a game-changer for brand marketers. With those key ingredients—including the data, content, and end users to support it—marcomms professionals have the key ingredients they need to craft a compelling, pitch-worth narrative and develop a timely, comprehensive, multi-channel marketing campaign. Luckily, the importance of data and research were focal points of multiple sessions and discussion at HITMC, with data engineers like Shahid Shah, founder of Netspective Media, leading the way.

#HITMC You Next Year

As the new kids on the #HITMC block this year, we were thrilled to be onsite, and send many thanks to our industry colleagues and fearless community leaders, John Lynn and Colin Hung, for organizing such an educational, engaging event capable of bringing together such a dynamic group of industry communicators. Not only did we walk away with some great insights, new perspectives and a wealth of new ideas, but a reminder that at the end of the day, healthcare is fundamentally human, and it’s worth it for all in the HITMC community—nay, industry—to remember that.

Healthcare marketing and communications is becoming increasingly complex, and no one brand or individual communicator can do it alone; thanks to the HITMC community and the many efforts from folks like John, Colin and Shahid, we don’t have to.

At 120/80 MKTG, data and research are in our DNA. Please subscribe to our blog and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn to learn more about our data-driven approach to marketing communications and stay up to date on our #VitalConversations with healthcare technology decision makers.