Home » Readers Write » Currently Reading:

Readers Write: A Prescription for Poor Clinician Engagement with Health IT: Stop Communicating and Start Marketing

April 26, 2017 Readers Write 16 Comments

A Prescription for Poor Clinician Engagement with Health IT: Stop Communicating and Start Marketing
By David Butler, MD


David Butler, MD is associate CMIO of the Epic/GO project of NYC Health + Hospitals of New York, NY. 

My first lesson in healthcare marketing came in the spring semester of my junior year at Texas A&M University, when I accepted a prestigious internship with a little company called Merck Pharmaceuticals. Believe it or not, I hadn’t even heard of this company, but I soon found out one of the many reasons for their meteoric rise.

That summer, Merck was releasing a new prostate drug. They posed the question to their young crop of interns: where should we market this drug? Field & Stream! Men’s Health! Cigar Aficionado! We shouted rapid-fire.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. Our instructor basked in our ignorance for a moment before he uttered the answer: Good Housekeeping. Targeting the significant others of the drug’s target audience was actually the smarter way to go. They were more likely to notice changes in their partner’s behavior and push them to go to the doctor.

Fast-forward 25 years later and healthcare is approaching physicians and nurses with the non-WIIFM, non-behavioral economics approaches similar to what my intern class suggested.

We spend hundreds of millions of dollars to implement technology for our best and brightest to leverage to care for patients, yet we continue to allow these transformative changes to the software to enter into their workflows without rollout efforts that match the investment and the desired results.

Healthcare needs to stop communicating and start marketing new health IT projects and improvements to existing provider-facing solutions. Too many initiatives fail not on the merit of the technology, but because the organization failed to successfully relay the value to the end users.

Here are five ways to help launch a full-fledged marketing campaign to capture your end users’ attention and effectively roll out new technology and important updates to current systems:

Change the mindset.

Health IT project teams need to think of their communication differently. It should not only inform, it should persuade. If you were going to sell something to physicians to get them to actually buy it, how would you change your communication? That should be a question asked during the creation of every piece of project collateral. How do you find the wife or the Good Housekeeping marketing equivalent from my opening example?

Get docs and nurses to want to do your desired action, or even better in some cases, understand why it would hurt not to do it.

Spotlight the value.

Too often healthcare organizations spend a bunch of R&D resources creating or improving something really cool, and then communicate that in an email with a laundry list of other changes that aren’t as meaningful. If you’ve added technology that will help save lives or otherwise have a profound impact on clinician efficiency, give it the spotlight it deserves.

For example, it used to be a policy at Sutter Health (my former organization) that if a nurse gave a patient insulin, a second nurse had to log in to double-check the dose. The organization finally changed the policy so that second nurse and verification was no longer needed. Some genius asked how much nursing clicks, time, or dollars would this save. We actually took the time to figure it out.

After calculating the size of organization and the insulin doses given each day, we figured that policy change resulted in $400,000 in savings of nurses’ time—and that’s the value we marketed. Not only to the nurses, but also to the board. We told the nurses how much of their time we were giving back to them and told the board about the significant cost savings for the organization.

Once you find the value to spotlight, think about what that value means to different parties and market that ROI.

Devise a catchphrase.

If you want end user attention, you’re going to have to earn it. There are too many competing priorities for a busy physician’s or nurse’s attention. Have some fun and get some eyeballs by devising a catchphrase for your campaign.

For example, when I was helping roll out a secure messaging solution to thousands of physicians, we could have promoted it with “New! Secure Messaging” or even “Pagers to Smartphones” messaging. Instead, we used “Safe Text.” It was fun and catchy—there were plenty of good-natured jokes and buzz around the campaign—and it also tapped into their own motivation to protect PHI. Make your catchphrase not only descriptive, but also memorable. That’s marketing.

Include a call to action.

What do you want your audience—physicians, nurses, or whichever group it may be—to actually do after they’ve read your communication? Good marketing always includes a call to action, or CTA. After you create marketing for the group, ask yourself what the CTA should be. Do you want them to download an app or an update? Submit their feedback? Add an event to their calendar? Always make the CTA big, bold, and if possible, frictionless.

For example, include a link that can automatically add the event to their calendar, or seamlessly forward it to a friend or colleague. You can also think about the tools you already have and how you might get innovative with them to drive follow-through.

One prominent health system in the Pacific Northwest used their EHR alerts to creatively capture clinician attention at various workflow points within the EHR. They were greeted by a respected physician leader — their CMO — whose image and quote reminded them to complete certain crucial activities within the EHR. Having his face staring at the clinicians alongside that CTA made it much more influential.

Rinse and repeat.

If a company you already like and engage with introduces a new product, they’re going to be marketing that to you on every channel they can: Direct mail, email, TV commercials, social media ads, display ads. Follow a similar approach for internal projects: Emails, flyers, reader boards, table tents in the cafeteria, digital banners on internal websites, announcements at town halls, free tchotchkes—anything you can think of where your end users might see it.

Physicians rarely understood why drug companies would provide free prescription pads, pens, and other items. They stated, “It doesn’t affect my prescribing patterns.” However, after many years of research on this, it actually does. So let’s wise up and follow other marketing examples from other verticals to keep the messaging in front of them. It may take several exposures for the message to resonate, but you can keep it fresh by switching up the format, colors, and graphics.

Finally, don’t forget to ask for help if you need it. Most healthcare organizations have talented marketing teams that are consumer-facing, but may be willing to help out with internal initiatives. They’re just not always asked.

With these five strategies, you can help your organization’s IT team pivot from communicating new technologies from boring emails to full-fledged campaigns that truly market the value to doctors and nurses and successfully bring them on board.

HIStalk Featured Sponsors


Currently there are "16 comments" on this Article:

  1. Dr. Butler, this article is fantastic and it translates to any industry. I’ve been a part of organizations that simply tell people what they need to do rather than sell them on the merits of it. It’s so much more successful when you have the buy in of your end users rather than an edict from management. Great article with practical tips.

  2. Great job on this article Dave! In any change initiative marketing and influencing are just as important as the change itself.

  3. Hey Bob Conrad! How goes it? Thanks for commenting! I’m sure you have many more tales that would rival the above! Thanks for leaving feedback! – Dave

  4. I’ve been on both sides of the aisle to date. 20 plus years working in the IT trenches of hospitals and almost 20 years working on the vendor side, with the last 2 working directly in marketing.

    What David is saying is intriguing. I have seen it done it pockets, i.e. the communications with internal staff regarding new technologies or procedures, but never consistently.

    Now you have me salivating about the possibilities, imagine what we could achieve if we turned those marketing tools internally towards our own staff. Wow…

    Nice article! Thank you.

  5. Great article, Dr Butler. You have always looked differently at the challenges of what we do in implementation of EHRs.

  6. Thanks, Dr. Butler. As you stated, this culture and philosophy can be used after the go-live dates, to support on-going engagement with the end users. Deployment is only the beginning. My most appreciated comment from a group of users, the Spiritual Care service line at my current assignment was “You get us”.

  7. YES! You nailed it. Thanks Dr. Butler this is great advice to follow. Just in time for our Epic upgrade in October. I’ve been trying to convince the physician liaisons to make “EHR commercials” to play in the physician lounges for years… this just might push them over the edge 😉.

  8. Thanks for the excellent article – will try to “steal” as many ideas as possible for our upcoming Epic go-live next year.

Founding Sponsors


Platinum Sponsors




















































Gold Sponsors













Reader Comments

  • AnInteropGuy: I would hope that we have better medicine and science than we did 67 years ago. Our understanding of virus mechanisms ar...
  • Angela C. Witt: Most of the suggestions you have to improve order management in the EHR are features available in current vendor product...
  • masterblaster: I was intrigued by your statement of "Because they so tightly control access to the vendor’s documentation, I have no ...
  • IANAL: In spite of AMA lobbying, regulatory changes in the early 2000s allowed pharmacists to give flu shots. Costs fell, acces...
  • Brian Too: My theory is that telehealth is a bigger benefit for the patient than it is for the clinician (though there are clinical...

Sponsor Quick Links