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Taming the Healthcare Compliance and Data Security Monster: How Well Are We Doing?

Posted on October 18, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Lance Pilkington, Vice President of Global Compliance at Liaison Technologies.

Do data breach nightmares keep you up at night?

For 229 healthcare organizations, the nightmare became a reality in 2018. As of late August, more than 6.1 million individuals were affected by 229 healthcare-related breaches, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ HIPAA Breach Reporting Tool website – commonly call the HIPAA “wall of shame.”

Although security and privacy requirements for healthcare data have been in place for many years, the reality is that many healthcare organizations are still at risk for non-compliance with regulations and for breaches.

In fact, only 65 percent of 112 hospitals and hospital groups recently surveyed by Aberdeen, an industry analyst firm, reported compliance with 11 common regulations and frameworks for data security. According to the healthcare-specific brief – Enterprise Data in 2018: The State of Privacy and Security Compliance in Healthcare – protected health information has the highest percentage of compliance, with 85 percent of participants reporting full compliance, and the lowest compliance rates were reported for ISO 27001 and the General Data Protection Regulation at 63 percent and 48 percent respectively.

An index developed by Aberdeen to measure the maturity of an organization’s compliance efforts shows that although the healthcare organizations surveyed were mature in their data management efforts, they were far less developed in their compliance efforts when they stored and protected data, syndicated data between two applications, ingested data into a central repository or integrated data from multiple, disparate sources.

The immaturity of compliance efforts has real-world consequences for healthcare entities. Four out of five (81 percent) study participants reported at least one data privacy and non-compliance issue in the past year, and two out of three (66 percent) reported at least one data breach in the past year.

It isn’t surprising to find that healthcare organizations struggle with data security. The complexity and number of types of data and data-related processes in healthcare is daunting. In addition to PHI, hospitals and their affiliates handle financial transactions, personally identifiable information, employee records, and confidential or intellectual property records. Adding to the challenge of protecting this information is the ever-increasing use of mobile devices in clinical and business areas of the healthcare organization.

In addition to the complexities of data management and integration, there are budgetary considerations. As healthcare organizations face increasing financial challenges, investment in new technology and the IT personnel to manage it can be formidable. However, healthcare participants in the Aberdeen study reported a median of 37 percent of the overall IT budget dedicated to investment in compliance activities. Study participants from life sciences and other industries included in Aberdeen’s total study reported lower budget commitments to compliance.

This raises the question: If healthcare organizations are investing in compliance activities, why do we still see significant data breaches, fines for non-compliance and difficulty reaching full compliance?

While there are practical steps that every privacy and security officer should take to ensure the organization is compliant with HIPAA, there are also technology options that enhance a healthcare entity’s ability to better manage data integration from multiple sources and address compliance requirements.

An upcoming webinar, The State of Privacy and Security Compliance for Enterprise Data: “Why Are We Doing This Ourselves?” discusses the Aberdeen survey results and presents advice on how healthcare IT leaders can evaluate their compliance-readiness and identify potential solutions can provide some thought-provoking guidance.

One of the solutions is the use of third-party providers who can provide the data integration and management needs of the healthcare organization to ensure compliance with data security requirements. This strategy can also address a myriad of challenges faced by hospitals. Not only can the expertise and specialty knowledge of the third-party take a burden off in-house IT staff but choosing a managed services strategy that eliminates the need for a significant upfront investment enables moving the expense from the IT capital budget to the operating budget with predictable recurring costs.

Freeing capital dollars to invest in other digital transformation strategies and enabling IT staff to focus on mission-critical activities in the healthcare organization are benefits of exploring outsource opportunities with the right partner.

More importantly, moving toward a higher level of compliance with data security requirements will improve the likelihood of a good night’s sleep!

About Lance Pilkington
Lance Pilkington is the Vice President of Global Compliance at Liaison Technologies, a position he has held since joining the company in September 2012. Lance is responsible for establishing and leading strategic initiatives under Liaison’s Trust program to ensure the company is consistently delivering on its compliance commitments. Liaison Technologies is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene.

Insights from Ted James, MD at the MEDITECH MD & CIO Forum

Posted on October 17, 2018 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Over the next couple days, I’m attending the MEDITECH MD and CIO Forum. This is essentially the user conference for the MD and CIO users of MEDITECH software. This morning, they kicked off the event with Ted James, MD, Medical Director at BIDMC/Harvard Medical School. He provided a number of great insights into what’s happening in healthcare and what leaders can do to be more successful.

Below you’ll find a Twitter summary of Ted James, MD’s keynote. You can also watch the live video interviews I’m doing from the event on the Healthcare Scene Facebook page and follow along on Twitter using the hashtag #MDCIO2018.

Healthcare change seems to be an ever ongoing theme. The question really is around the pace of change.

Anyone that’s been through meaningful use understands this experience.

Routine is a powerful idea. So powerful that it prevents change.

Leadership is the key to any change and was a definite theme from Ted James, MD’s keynote.

I love the concept of nudges, but it only works for a subset of use cases in healthcare. Why? Because so many things in healthcare are really complex.

These 3 ideas were really interesting, but I definitely need more time to fully process what they mean. What do you think of these 3 ideas?

This was a really fascinating idea. It illustrates the need to constantly communicate changes so that people get use to the change before the change even occurs. Familiarity with something changes the experience.

Moving an iceberg feels like an apt descrition of healthcare.

This reminds me of when I recently heard that more yoga won’t fix the physician burnout problem.

This is an important lesson for leaders.

This was a refreshing experience to see so many women at a MD and CIO event.

Check back later for more coverage from the MEDITECH MD and CIO Forum.

Heathcare AI Maturity Index

Posted on October 16, 2018 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Everywhere you turn in healthcare you’re seeing AI. I know some people would argue with how many companies define AI. In fact, there’s no doubt that AI has started to be used for everything from simple analytics to machine learning to neural networks to true artificial intelligence. I don’t personally get worked up in the definitions of various words since I think all of these things can and will benefit healthcare. Regardless of definition, what’s clear is that this broad definition of AI is going to have a big impact on healthcare.

In a recent tweet from David Chou, he shared a really interesting look at AI adoption in healthcare as compared with other industries. The healthcare AI maturity index also looks at where healthcare’s AI trajectory is headed in the next 3 years. Check out the details in the chart below:

There are a couple of things that concern me about this chart. First, it shows that healthcare is behind other industries when it comes to AI adoption. That’s not too surprising since healthcare is usually pretty risk averse with new technology. The “First Do No Harm” is an important part of the healthcare culture that scares many away from technology like AI. The only question is will this culture prevent helpful new AI technologies from coming to healthcare.

Many people would look at the chart and see that it projects a lot of growth in healthcare AI investment. That’s a good thing, but it also is a common pattern in healthcare. Lots of anticipation and hope that never fully realizes. Will we see the same in healthcare AI?

What’s been your experiences with AI in healthcare? Where do you see AI having the most impact right now? What companies are doing AI that’s going to impact your hospital or health system? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social media with @healthcarescene.

Insights, Intelligence and Inspiration found at #AHIMACon18 – HIM Scene

Posted on October 15, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Beth Friedman, BSHA, RHIT.

Last month’s HIM Scene predicted important HIM insights would be gained at the 90th AHIMA Annual Convention. And this prediction certainly came true! Thousands of HIM professionals discussed changes to E&M coding, physician documentation and information security during the organization’s Miami event. HIM’s expanding role in healthcare analytics was also recognized. Half of AHIMA’s “hot topics” presentations covered data collection, analytics, sharing, structure and governance.

For example, HIM’s role in IT project management was the focus of an information-packed session led by Angela Rose, MHA, RHIA, CHPS, FAHIMA, Vice President, Implementation Services at MRO. She emphasized how enterprise-wide IT projects benefit from HIM’s knowledge of the patient’s health record, encounter data, how information is processed and where information flows. In today’s rapid IT environment, there is a myriad of new opportunities for HIM—the annual AHIMA convention casts light on them all.

Amid all the futurecasting, AHIMA attendees also received valuable insights and fundamental best-practice advice for the profession’s stalwart tasks: enterprise master person index (EMPI), clinical coding and release of information (ROI). Here are few of the highlights.

Merger Mania Brings Duplicate Data Challenges

Every healthcare merger includes strategic discussions, planning and investments focused on health IT. System consolidation can’t be avoided—and it shouldn’t be. Economies of scale are a fundamental element of merger success. However, merging multiple systems into one means merging multiple master person indexes (MPIs).

Letha Stewart, MA, RHIA, Director of Customer Relations, QuadraMed states, “It’s not uncommon to see duplicate medical record rates jump from an industry average of 8-12 percent to over 50 percent during IT system mergers due to the high volume of overlapping records that result when trying to merge records from multiple systems or domains”. As entities come together, a single, clean EMPI is fundamental for patient care, safety, billing and revenue. This is where HIM skills and know-how are essential.

Instead of leaving HIM to perform the onerous task of duplicate data cleanup after a merger and IT system consolidation, Stewart suggests a more proactive approach. Here are four quick takeaways from our meeting:

  • Identify duplicate data issues during the planning process before new systems are implemented or merged.
  • Use a probabilistic duplicate detection algorithm to find a higher number of valid duplicates and lower number of false positives.
  • Clean up each system’s MPI before IT system consolidation occurs and as implementations proceed. Be sure to allocate sufficient time for this process prior to the conversion.
  • Maintain ongoing duplicate data detection against the new enterprise patient population to prevent future issues.

Maintaining a clean MPI has always been a core HIM function—even back to the days of patient index cards and rotating metal bins. Technology in combination with merger mania has certainly upped the ante and elevated HIM’s role.

Release of Information Panel Raises Red Flags for Bad Attorney Behavior

Another traditional HIM function with nascent issues is ROI. A standing-room-only panel session raised eyebrows and concern for AHIMA attendees regarding a pervasive issue for most HIM departments: patient-directed requests.

Rita Bowen, MA, RHIA, CHPS, CHPC, SSGB, VP Privacy, Compliance and HIM Privacy, MRO, moderated the panel that included other ROI and disclosure management experts. Bowen, a healthcare privacy savant, asked how many attendees receive patient-directed requests that are actually initiated by an attorney’s office. Dozens of hands went up and the discourse began. Here’s the issue.

To avoid paying providers’ fees for record retrieval and copies, attorneys are requesting medical records for legal matters under the guise of a patient-directed request. During the session, four recommended strategies emerged:

  • Inform your state legislators of this bad attorney behavior
  • Discuss the issue with HIM peers in your area
  • Hold meetings with your OCR representative to determine the best course of action
  • Question and verify suspicious patient-directed requests to clarify and confirm the consent

Finally, no AHIMA convention would be complete without significant attention to clinical coding!

Coding Accuracy Takes Center Stage

One of the AHIMA convention’s annual traditions includes announcement of Central Learning’s annual national coding contest results. Eileen Tkacik, Vice President, Information Technology at Pena4, sponsor of the 3rd annual nationwide coding contest to measure coding accuracy, reported that inpatient coding accuracy fell slightly in 2018 compared with the 2017 results. “Average accuracy scores for inpatient ICD-10 coding hovered at 57.5 percent while outpatient coding accuracy experienced a slight bump from 41 percent in 2017 to 42.5 percent in 2018,” according to Tkacik.

While some were concerned about the results, others expected a decline as payers become more aggressive with coding denials and impose greater restrictions on coders’ ability to determine clinical justification. This is especially true for chronic conditions—another hot coding topic among AHIMA attendees.

Nena Scott, MSEd, RHIA, CCS, CCS-P, CCDS, Director of Coding Quality and Professional Development at TrustHCS, emphasized the need for accurate hierarchical condition category (HCC) code assignment for proper risk adjustment factor (RAF) scoring under value-based reimbursement. Everything physicians capture—and everything that can be coded—goes into the patient’s dashboard to impact the HCCs, which are now an important piece of the healthcare reimbursement puzzle.

Finally, Catrena Smith, CCS, CCS-P, CPCO, CPC, CIC, CPC-I, CRC, CHTS-PW, Coding Manager at KIWI-TEK, presented an informative session on the new coder’s roadmap to accuracy and compliance. She reiterated the need for compliance with coding guidelines and shared examples of whistleblower cases. In addition, Smith provided valuable pointers for newly employed clinical coders to consider:

  • Understand the important role that coders play in compliance
  • Know the fraud and abuse laws
  • Implement checks and balances to compare payer-driven code requirements to best-practice coding guidelines
  • Review the components of an effective compliance plan
  • Do not participate in fraudulent activities because coders and billers can be held civilly and/or criminally liable

Inspiration Found at the Beach and on the Dance Floor

Beyond the convention center, the educational sessions and the exhibit hall, I made time at this year’s AHIMA convention to enjoy the beach. Two power walks and a few meditation moments were the icing on my #AHIMACon18 cake this year. I intentionally found time to enjoy the warm sunshine and moonlit evening festivities including MRO’s signature event and AHIMA’s blanca party. Dressed in white, AHIMA attendees kicked up their heels to celebrate 90 years of convention fun—and think about AHIMA 2019 to be held September 14–19 in Chicago, Illinois. We’ll see you there!

About Beth Friedman
Beth Friedman is the founder and CEO of Agency Ten22, a healthcare IT marketing and public relations firm and proud sponsor of the Healthcare IT Marketing and PR Community. She started her career as a medical record coder and has been attending the AHIMA conference for over 20 years. Beth can be reached at

Key Takeaways and Memorable Moments from #SHSMD18

Posted on October 12, 2018 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

It’s been two days since SHSMD18 ended and my head is still spinning with ideas from the event. The keynote speakers were incredible, the sessions informative and the exhibit hall was fabulous. I can honestly say that this was the first year I felt at home at the annual SHSMD conference.

As the conference wound down, I asked several of my fellow attendees for their key takeaway and/or their most memorable moment. Below is a collection of some of the responses. Enjoy.

Rose Glenn – SHSMD President Elect and Senior Vice President/Chief Marketing Officer at Hackensack Meridian Health

Key Takeaway: Re-emphasizing that healthcare is all about human-to-human connection. We get so caught up in the day-to-day grind that we sometimes lose sight of that. It’s up to us to be an advocate and a champion for what is right for the consumer. It’s all about making sure your organization connects with people as people. If we don’t, then the consumer giants who do this extremely well, will take over.

Ben Dillon – SHSMD President and Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Owner at Geonetric

Key Takeaway: I think the quality of the sessions and keynotes has been excellent. For every session that made it onto the agenda there were at least 10 submissions that were not selected. That is an indication of the quality of the material. I also think the networking has been outstanding. I have seen so many connections being made at the various mixers, in the exhibit hall and just in the lobby of the convention center. In fact, I heard a story from an attendee today that they met someone in the elevator of a SHSMD conference 14 years ago and they have now been married for 11 years.

Memorable Moment: I would have to pick the opening. That moment is something I have dreamed about doing for a long time. It was just incredible to stand in front of 1,500 people and kick things off. The energy and enthusiasm of the crowd is something I will never forget.

Priya Bathija – Vice President of the Value Initiative at American Hospital Association

Key Takeaway: Everyone I’ve talked with and all the sessions I’ve attended demonstrated how passionate we are about making things better for the communities we serve. It’s refreshing to see the level of energy everyone has for Value in healthcare and how we are all coming at it from different angles yet all moving the needle.

Kelly David – Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Spectrum Healthcare Partners

Key Takeaway: Health care is a challenging business. I think it’s easy to get stuck in cruise control, essentially dealing with one problem after another. #SHSMD18 was filled with information on ways to shift your perspective. The keynotes from Johnny Cupcakes and Erik Wahl, for example, highlighted that you can meet your challenges by being different, trying new things and stepping outside of our typical boxes.

Memorable moment: – hands down watching Erik Wahl create beautiful paintings before our eyes, while telling a story through video and music. It was amazing and powerful.

Amy Jose – Integrated Marketing Strategist at Spectrum Healthcare Partners

Key Takeaway: The importance of meeting our consumers where they are in order to remain relevant. If the services we offer aren’t there for them and easy to access in their time of need, they will go elsewhere. And creating a unique experience for them that differentiates us against our competitors will encourage them to share the story.

Memorable moment: Erik Wahl’s presentation. I loved his perspective on the use of creativity and courage and feel that it can be applied to several parts of life not just professional. And dancing and hanging at the museum with so many colleagues and friends is something I’ll also remember. I think there’s a value to peeling away from work to spend time with each other like that.

Scott A. Samples – Director, Marketing Communications at Martin Health System

Key Takeaway: This year the thing that seemed to resonate over and over again in every session I attended was: we need to start treating healthcare consumers as consumers, not as hostages. We need to meet them where they want us to meet them, make the experience as easy as possible for them throughout the entire process, and offer the tools and resources they need so that they want to use us as they have more choices come available. In short, we need to make healthcare convenient for them, not for us. Obviously healthcare isn’t retail. And there can be a disconnect from the promise made from marketers and strategists, and the care provided on the frontlines. But we have to work harder than ever to help align the promise with the practice. Because if we don’t, consumers will find someone that will.

Memorable Moment: For me, the best memory of the event is perhaps a little unusual. On Monday night I spoke with a team from Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare. A hurricane was bearing down on their community and they were working with their teams back home to prepare as much as they can. They were cutting their conferences short, to return home and be there for their health system and their community during a challenging time. It spoke to me of the dedication and unswerving commitment that people in our profession have to their constituents. And it was a reminder of the critical role we play in ensuring healthcare is delivered with compassion and hope. I’m still thinking about that team and what others across in the path of Hurricane Michael are doing to keep their communities whole.

Brian Griffin – Senior Editorial Specialist at SHSMD and American Hospital Association

Key Takeaway: The importance of the customer relationship in healthcare and how we are finally moving from talking about it to actually doing something about it. Organizations are realizing that we need to take action to deliver on the promise to patients. Many have presented their successes this week.

John Lynn – Editor and Co-Founder at Healthcare Scene

Key Takeaway: Creativity is not something that you are born with. Creativity is a learned skill that you can improve through practice. I really loved this message from Johnny Cupcakes, the opening keynote speaker. Simple yet profound.

Memorable Moment: Erik Wahl talking about the value of being fearless and confronting your fears. That was a powerful moment that illustrated how some of the most memorable and lasting experiences we can have in life come when we choose to confront our fears and do something that scares us.


Key Takeaway: Inspiration, ideas and creativity can come from anywhere. The SHSMD18 keynotes demonstrated that you don’t have to be a healthcare insider in order to impart knowledge. Johnny Cupcakes (outsider) taught us to push beyond our comfort zones and try something different. Erik Wahl (outsider) taught us that being fearless can lead to beauty. Liz Jazwiec (insider) taught us how powerful a positive outlook can be in healthcare.

Memorable Moment: Gifting #pinksocks to Johnny Cupcakes, Erik Wahl, William Rosenberg, Jason Skinner, Mariah Obiedzinski, Lorraine McGrath and Mollie Staniewicz at SHSMD18.

Can’t wait for SHSMD19 in Nashville!

Healthcare Leaders: Feeling a Bit Discombobulated?

Posted on October 11, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Heather Haugen PhD and Inbal Vuletich from Atos Digital Health Solutions.

After passing through the security checkpoint at Milwaukee International Airport (MKE), a frazzled traveler is greeted by a low-hanging placard.  It reads: Recombobulation Area.  Clearly someone on the MKE management team with a sense of humor was acknowledging the fact that many travelers become a bit discombobulated as they proceed through security and that many probably need an area where they can get their collective psyche back in order.

The idea of a Recombobulation Area seemed especially appropriate as we returned from a healthcare conference on Lake Geneva where a wide spectrum of thought leaders presented and discussed their experiences from the past decade.  The group’s shared conclusion was that no one could have prepared for or predicted the level of change experienced in the healthcare environment over the past decade.

The changes we discussed encompass every aspect of how care is delivered, from EHRs to ERPs. Healthcare leaders navigate clinical, financial, and compliance hurdles daily – often all tangled together. Clinicians face new technologies, new workflows, new regulations and standards (that often conflict), new reimbursement requirements, new governance models, and something new… coming soon.  How can we expect better care in such a tumultuous environment?

During this time of dramatic change, it is important to identify a way to measure progress (or lack thereof) so that we can stay focused on our goals and desired outcomes.  One of the best mechanisms for assessing the impact of our work in healthcare is the use of data.  A simple research plan such as the one below can be used to assess the impact of changes – and could possibly even elucidate new ideas.

  • Research question: An overarching question to define the effort
    • For example:
      1. How effective are EHR alerts in preventing medication errors?
  • Specific aims: Specific objectives that address the overarching question
    • For example:
      1. To characterize the differences in medication errors before and after EHR implementation
      2. To understand the factors that increase alert fatigue
  • Methodology: How to address each specific goal. This step often requires some collaboration with a statistician or someone with research experience.
    • Define the sample population
    • Define the data elements to collect
    • Determine appropriate timeframes
    • Data analysis plan
  • Results: The presentation of the analyzed data
  • Conclusions: Discussion of the results and their meaning. What are the actionable steps for the organization?

Healthcare has evolved significantly to embrace new advancements in technology, but the challenges we continue to face need to be assessed objectively.  Thus far, our research has focused on the factors that influence adoption of new technology.  It has been fascinating and the outcomes caused us to consider new ideas and better approaches. Our EHR research published in Beyond Implementation remains relevant and valuable to healthcare leaders.  We are committed to helping healthcare organizations shift from the tumultuous set of ongoing changes to a research-based approach to ensure ongoing process improvement and discipline for technology adoption.  Our colleagues’ experiences, the rich research and data that exist today, and the stories of successes and challenges in healthcare organizations provide us with a critical Recombobulation Area. We must take the time to pause and learn from objective data and research methodologies to ensure that all this change focuses on improving patient care.

About the Authors:
Heather Haugen is the Chief Science Officer for Digital Health Solutions for Atos. She is also the author of Beyond Implementation: A Prescription for the Adoption of Healthcare Technology.

Inbal Vuletich serves as the editor for Atos Digital Health Solution publications.

About Atos Digital Health Solutions
Atos Digital Health Solutions helps healthcare organizations clarify business objectives while pursuing safer, more effective healthcare that manages costs and engagement across the care continuum. Our leadership team, consultants, and certified project and program managers bring years of practical and operational hospital experience to each engagement. Together, we’ll work closely with you to deliver meaningful outcomes that support your organization’s goals. Our team works shoulder-to-shoulder with your staff, sharing what we know openly. The knowledge transfer throughout the process improves skills and expertise among your team as well as ours. We support a full spectrum of products and services across the healthcare enterprise including Population Health, Value-Based Care, Security and Enterprise Business Strategy Advisory Services, Revenue Cycle Expertise, Adoption and Simulation Programs, ERP and Workforce Management, Go-Live Solutions, EHR Application Expertise, as well as Legacy and Technical Expertise. Atos is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene.

Reflecting on SHSMD18 – An Interview with President Ben Dillon

Posted on October 10, 2018 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

Ben Dillon, President of SHSMD, spoke to Healthcare Scene about this year’s conference (it was the largest ever), key trends that have emerged in healthcare marketing in 2018 (be frictionless) and what the future holds (marketers have to be nimble).

At the end of the last full day of the 2018 Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development Conference #SHSMD18, I had the chance to sit down with SHSMD President Ben Dillon. Dillon is also the Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Owner of Geonetric, an agency that provides technology, hosting, consulting and creative services exclusively to healthcare clients.

Below is a summary of our wide-ranging conversation.

It is rare to see an association or professional society elect a president who is from a vendor/sponsor company. Why is SHSMD so vendor friendly?

First of all, I have been very fortunate. I have been on the Board of Directors of SHSMD for 8 years now. SHSMD has always embraced the full spectrum of people involved in the marketing industry. The organization understands that internal marketing teams work closely with external agencies to build programs together. Often the relationship is so strong that vendors are seen as an extension of the internal team. To exclude vendors from SHSMD leadership would be incongruent with how the industry works.

Also, I think SHSMD is stronger because we have both perspectives on the Board. We get the insider’s perspective from the people who work in healthcare organizations. We get the outsider’s perspective from people who work across the industry. The blend is powerful.

Lastly, I think that people have become more fluid in their job roles. We’ve had so many people from across the association and on the Board who have moved from a role in a health system to an individual consultant, then onto an agency and come back full circle to a role at a different health system. If we had a rule that prohibited people who were not employed by a healthcare systems from contributing to SHSMD then we would lose the knowledge, talent and energy of these people for a few years. That doesn’t really help anybody.

I think this is why SHSMD has been so welcoming to vendors and external agencies becoming part of the leadership of the association.

What are some of the initiatives or tools that SHSMD has produced that you are most proud of during your time on the board?

The Bridging Worlds study was one of the most comprehensive looks at our industry that had ever been done. That study helped us answer a key question that our members had been asking – in 10 years, what will healthcare marketing look like and what skills or expertise will I need to still be successful and relevant when we get there?

SHSMD Advanced is a self-assessment tool that came out of our work on Bridging Worlds. Members can go online and answer questions to get an evaluation of their skillset. Based on that evaluation, members can then sharpen their skills in areas that will help them achieve future success.

Both of these assets are helping our members in their career journey.

What trends have emerged in 2018 that has surprised you?

The concept of being “frictionless” has been something that I have heard a lot recently – as in: how do we make things easier and more frictionless for patients. This encapsulates the mind-shift that is happening in the industry where we don’t think of patients just as patients anymore, they are consumers as well and they have consumer expectations.

Marketers are being asked to consider questions like: How do we keep patients healthy? How do we make it easier for patients get access to the care they need? This is partly because of new competitors entering healthcare and partly a recognition that if they don’t do something about the experience patients have in their facilities – they might not come back at all.

Another trend that has emerged is building out the marketing technology stack. In the past you heard marketers talk about implementing a CRM tool, or a physician matching tool or a content management system in isolation. Now I’m hearing more and more people talk about the entire ecosystem of tools and how they work together. It’s now about the entire stack and not just one-off applications.

Lastly, I’ve heard a lot about the “fun stuff” in marketing. Things like voice search, AI chatbots, etc. These new technologies are really changing how patients interact with health systems. It will be interesting to see how these technologies evolve in the next couple of years.

As SHSMD18 draws to a close, what are your takeaways from the event?

From the association perspective I think SHSMD18 has gone very smoothly. There we no major hiccups and attendees are saying they have had an excellent experience. SHSMD18 was a bit of a risk for the association. We booked a much larger space than we have traditionally used. We chose a city that isn’t on the regular healthcare conference circuit (Seattle). But it looks like that risk paid off.

For me personally, I think the quality of the sessions and keynotes has been excellent. For every session that made it onto the agenda there were at least 10 submissions that were not selected. That is an indication of the quality of the material.

I also think the networking has been outstanding. I have seen so many connections being made at the various mixers, in the exhibit hall and just in the lobby of the convention center. In fact, I heard a story from an attendee today that they met someone in the elevator of a SHSMD conference 14 years ago and they have now been married for 11 years.

What has been your most memorable moment of SHSMD18?

If I had to pick just one moment from SHSMD18 I would have to pick the opening. That was when I was able to walk on stage and welcome everyone to the conference. That moment is something I have dreamed about doing for a long time. It was just incredible to stand in front of 1,500 people and kick things off. The energy and enthusiasm of the crowd is something I will never forget.

Where does SHSMD go from here?

Things have been going very well for SHSMD, but we can’t stand still. While we have resources, while we have bandwidth and while we have the capability – we need to ask ourselves what are the things that are coming down the pipe in our industry that we need to be aware of and plan for. What we realize is that SHSMD as an organization needs to be ready to change and adapt quickly as our industry changes. We need to be nimble and flexible.

Above all, we need to keep listening to our members and continue to build the tools, services and offer the opportunities to them that they want/need.

What advice would you give to SHSMD members as we enter the last 3 months of the year?

First, for anyone that attended SHSMD18 I would strongly encourage them to watch a recording of a session they missed. We had so many concurrent sessions this year that there were bound to be at least two in each timeslot that they wanted to go to. Take the opportunity in the next few months to watch those sessions you missed. In fact, why not arrange a little lunch-and-learn and watch one with your entire team. I am planning on taking one lunch hour each week to go through a session from SHSMD18.

Second, for those that didn’t attend the conference, I would recommend going through the latest edition of Bridging Worlds to understand the concepts and challenges that our industry is facing. I would then suggest they take the SHSMD Advance self-assessment (free to any member) and get a plan for areas they need to work on. There are hundreds of resources available from SHSMD to help them develop the necessary skills to succeed in the future.

Third, I would like to see our members take the time to look outside their organizations to assess what is happening from a competitive standpoint and think about what they will have to do to adapt to that. Since it’s budget time, they should then make sure they allocate the necessary funds to do the things that they will need to do to stay competitive.

Websites, Youth and Humanity. Oh My! SHSMD18 Hallway Conversations

Posted on October 9, 2018 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

The hallway conversations on Day 2 of SHSMD18 revealed many hospitals want to revamp their websites, SHSMD is trending younger and humanity is being injected into healthcare in a surprising place.

One of the most fascinating parts of a conference is not what is presented in sessions (although those are great too), but rather the discussions that happen in the hallways between sessions. To me, there is no better way to learn what is trending and what challenges people are most concerned about.

The hallway conversations I had on Day 2 of the 2018 Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development Conference #SHSMD18, were fascinating. Hospital consolidation was a concern for many attendees who worked at agencies – especially since they now had to compete to become the agency-of-record for the newly combined entity. I also overheard many #SHSMD18 attendees complain about their inability to fill open job postings as candidates opt for higher paying and higher profile roles at tech companies vs hospitals.

From all the conversations I had, three themes stood out:

  1. A lot of hospitals are looking to revamp their websites right now
  2. There is a youth movement within SHSMD
  3. Agencies are pushing/being asked to help humanize physician profiles online


I had a lengthy conversation with Bryan Fentress, Digital Solutions Director at Geonetric – a marketing, web design, content and SEO agency based in Cedar Rapids, IA – about the number of hospitals that seem to be in the midst of revamping their websites.

“Normally websites have a 36-48 month shelf life,” said Fentress. “But lately more and more hospitals are wanting to update their websites earlier. I think this is partly because competition is heating up and partly because the pace of change in web design has accelerated.”

Fentress also pointed to a change in the way hospitals approach website updates: “7 or 8 years ago, hospitals were asking ‘can you help me redesign my website?’ and ‘are you familiar with healthcare?’ – and that was it. Now websites are much more complex. They need to be integrated with social media, have patient engagement tools embedded in them, include searchable physician profiles, etc. This demonstrates how hospitals are more sophisticated on their needs for a new site, as they should be.”

I agree with Fentress and find it encouraging that many hospitals are looking to invest in making their websites more useful to patients and not just “prettier”.


One of my personal highlights of SHSMD is getting the chance to sit down with Dan Dunlop, Co-Owner and Principal at Jennings. Today, Dunlop and I spoke about the youth movement that seems to be happening at SHSMD.

“It’s really encouraging to see the number of young people here at SHSMD18”, said Dunlop. “It’s really noticeable how many fresh faces there are in attendance this year. We need this. SHSMD was never supposed to be an echo chamber and the only way to prevent that is by attracting new people into the fold. I was so happy when Jhaymee Wilson Tynan was announced as one of the new SHSMD board members. She’s a young, brilliant marketer who is going to bring a lot of new ideas to the table.”

Dunlop has been involved with SHSMD for a long time (he didn’t want me to publish exactly how long) and I trust him when he says that the crowd is getting younger. Having attended a number of SHSMD conferences myself, I agreed with Dunlop that this year there was a noticeable difference in the age range of attendees.

Time for SHSMD to ditch sodas in favor of kombucha.


At the end of Day 2 I had the most fascinating conversation with Eric Mello, Marketing and Communications Manager at St. Mary’s Medical Center which is part of SCL Health. I was captivated by Mello’s story of the project they had been working on to humanize the online profiles of their physicians.

“Patients and potential patients want to know more about physicians than just where they went to school and what papers they may have published,” said Mello. “Today, patients are looking to connect with their physicians on a much deeper level. They want to get to know them as people. They want to know if they believe in the same things, play the same sports, enjoy the same activities. We had to respond to this by adding additional information to our physician profiles.”

At first, physicians were reticent to provide this “personal” information on their public profiles, but a few forward-thinking physicians agreed. The resulting positive feedback from patients was enough to convince other physicians to do the same. Today, most of the physicians have personalized profiles on the website.

Here is a link to an example profile: When you read it you will see several things that are not typical of physician profiles. First, there is a quote from Dr Robbins that talks about how she approaches the well-being of her patients.

“I believe the health of the physician-patient relationship affects the health of the patient. Active listening, trust-building and partnership with my patient helps nurture our relationship. My job as a physician is to try to understand my patient as a whole so that I can offer individualized education, guidance and evidence-based advice that allows my patient to make important decisions about their health.”

Second, there is more than her medical credentials and past positions in her background profile: “Dr. Robbins always loved learning about science in school and wanted to have a career where she could directly help people.”

Third, Dr. Robbin’s activities outside of work are listed “When she is not at work, Dr. Robbins enjoys skiing, hiking, and exploring Denver with her husband, friends and two dogs.”

According to Mello, all these elements help to humanize Dr Robbins and transforms her from being a two-dimensional profiles on a website into more fully three-dimensional human being. I applaud Mello and the team at SCL Health for using something so small – physician profiles – to inject a little more humanity into healthcare.

I can’t wait for more hallway conversations on Day 3 of SHSMD18.

SHSMD Report Shows Healthcare Marketing Budgets Growing Despite Hospital Consolidation

Posted on October 8, 2018 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

According to the latest SHSMD By the Numbers report, 25% of respondents who have gone through a hospital merger said their Marketing and Communications budget increased vs 15% who said it decreased.

Today is the first full day of the 2018 Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development Conference #SHSMD18 here in Seattle. In preparation, I thought it would be interesting to dive into the 6th edition of the By the Numbers Report recently published by SHSMD and the AHA Data Insights team.

This report is based on survey results collected from almost 2,700 respondents by SHSMD from August 2017 to January 2018. It provides a detailed snapshot of marketing & communications (marcom) at hospitals in the US. Overall, the report paints a rosy picture for marketing. The size of marketing teams is increasing, use of digital marketing tools/techniques is growing and the scope of responsibilities for Marketing departments is expanding.

Here are some of the interesting findings in the report.

Growth in Marketing & Communications Despite Hospital Consolidation

Consolidation is rampant. According to By the Numbers, the number of independent hospitals has dropped from 50% of respondents in 2013 to 30% in 2017. Selection bias was not a factor.

50% of respondents that had gone through a merger said that the marcom function had been centralized (multiple marcom departments merged into a single one). You would expect that this level of consolidation activity would have a negative affect on marcom budgets, but that wasn’t the case. Of those that had been through a merger:

  • 25% said their marcom budget increased
  • 20% said their marcom team grew in size

This is in contrast to:

  • 15% said their marcom budget decreased
  • 5% said their marcom team decreased in size

Hospital Marketing Budgets Growing, but Remain <1% of Overall Hospital Budgets

By the Numbers shows that the average hospital budget in 2017 was $875M – an increase of 39% over the 2013 average of $533M. In that same time period, marcom budgets have grown 65% (adjusted for inflation) to an average of $5.4M.

While it is impressive that marcom budgets have increased at a faster pace than overall hospital budgets, at $5.4M it still represents less than 1% of the overall budget. For most other commercial entities, spending less than 1% on marketing would lead to slower growth and eventually to stagnation.

In 2017, Deloitte published a report that showed the average marketing budget as a percentage of overall budget for a variety of industries:

The Healthcare/Pharmaceuticals category included medical device makers, healthcare software companies and pharmaceutical companies – all of which have much larger marketing budgets compared to hospitals.

I asked Anne Feeney, Research and Data Analytics Specialist for SHSMD and one of the key people behind By the Numbers, why hospitals spend <1% on marcom.

“Some hospitals are the only player in a particular market,” said Feeney. “In those cases there is less need to spend marketing dollars attracting new patients. Also, healthcare has not yet experienced the same competitive pressures that dominate other industries, like consumer packaged goods. In healthcare it’s been as competitive as it has always been, but as an industry we have not risen to the levels of competition we see in other parts of the consumer world.”

Traditional Media Still Dominates Hospital Ad Spend

According to By the Numbers, hospitals are still spending the majority of their advertising budgets on traditional media – TV, newspapers and outdoors.

  Median Average
TV $90,000 $270,859
Newspaper $84,500 $143,810
Outdoor $70,000 $153,278
Electronic ads $56,000 $185,095
Pay-per-click $51,050 $316,112
Radio $50,000 $114,261
Content marketing $33,500 $72,675
Magazines $30,000 $55,227
Direct Mail $30,000 $98,237
Brochures/print collateral $30,000 $73,809
Search engine marketing $22,000 $101,495
Mobile ads $20,000 $108,846
Email $18,500 $21,468
Social media $15,000 $54,584
Location-based ads $15,000 $21,289


What I found most interesting is the difference between the Pay-per-click median ($51,050) and average ($316,112). This large delta suggests that the data is highly skewed – meaning that there are some hospitals that are spending a lot more than their peers on Pay-per-click. I believe these high-spending hospitals have discovered something that B2C companies have known for a long time – pay-per-click advertising works. With this knowledge they are exploiting an advantage that their competitors have failed to recognize.

Other Highlights

  • Marketing Departments are watching review and ratings sites. 50% of respondents said they actively monitor existing ratings and review sites on behalf of their hospital
  • Hospitals spend very little on marketing professional development. By the Numbers found that the median spent by marcom in this area was a paltry $6,500 per hospital
  • Social media is still used mostly for broadcasting messages vs patient engagement.

“Among our respondents, the social media stalwarts—Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter—were the most commonly used platforms,” said Lisa Isom, Assistant Director of Digital Content and Social Media, Montefiore Health System. “However, few survey respondents report use of these platforms for engagement and development of the types of conversations that build and/or enhance brand awareness. YouTube was most commonly used as a broadcasting medium for one-way communications. Facebook, on the other hand, was far more likely to be used for two-way communications, which saw respondents taking advantage of its capacity both to share information and engage in interactions. Twitter, the third most commonly used, was used primarily to broadcast news.”

For Feeney, the key takeaway from By the Numbers was the movement towards ROI metrics in marketing: “Marketing used to be seen as a fixed cost. Hospitals are doing so much more now to measure the ROI of marketing & communications. It’s good to see this focus on marketing efficiency, even though as a % of revenue remains small compared to the overall healthcare budget. ROI means marketing is more strategic and can grow if can show ROI.”

For me the report’s key message is it’s time for healthcare marketers to seize the moment and become more strategically relevant in their organizations. The SHSMD data clearly shows that healthcare Marketing departments are being asked to take on more and more responsibilities – from managing the hospital’s reputation to operationalizing patient engagement. This expansion in scope is a perfect time to shine.

I’m looking forward to seeing some of these shining examples on Day 2 and Day 3 of #SHSMD18

Medical Humor – Fun Friday

Posted on October 5, 2018 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

It’s Friday as we head into the weekend. Tomorrow I’m heading off to Seattle for the SHSMD 2018 conference. This is my first time attending the event, so we’ll see how it goes and report back later. If you live in the Seattle area, we have an open meetup for the Healthcare Scene community on Tuesday, Oct 9. Find all the details for the Seattle meetup here.

This is conference season, so the week after that I’m heading to Boston for the MEDITECH MD and CIO Forum and then the Connected Health Conference. There are a bunch of meetups planned, but I’m going to definitely be going to this SPM, #pinksocks, #hcldr meetup in Boston. Everyone is welcome, so if you’re in Boston, join us for some fun and good people (word on the street is that there will be a dance party after the meetup).

As always, you can see our full schedule of Healthcare Scene conferences and events. We can’t wait to see everyone in Seattle and Boston.

Ok, enough about travel. Time for some Fun Friday humor to get you ready for the weekend. This humor comes from @DocAroundthClok on Twitter. I think you’ll enjoy it.

This 2nd one seems particularly interesting after I just wrote about all the meetups in this post. If you’re like this doctor, then you should definitely join us at the meetups. No eye contact required. I’ll be surprised if the dance party doesn’t include the song Despacito.

Have a great weekend!