Mercy Health System is the largest Catholic healthcare system serving the Delaware Valley and a member of Catholic Health East. Mercy Health is an integrated health system with more than 6,500 employees, four acute-care hospitals, a program for all-inclusive care of the elderly (Mercy Life), a home healthcare agency, and a Medicaid managed care plan.
In addition to developing Mercy’s overall strategic marketing plan, DeTora Consulting was brought in to help expand the bariatric program from its Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital flagship program, which is recognized as a Bariatric Center of Excellence and a Blue Distinction Center for Bariatric Surgery, to its other three hospitals—Mercy Suburban Hospital in east Norriton, Mercy Philadelphia Hospital in south Philadelphia, and Nazareth Hospital in northeast Philadelphia. Although there were already multiple competitors in the marketplace, all of which had several years of experience and Blue Distinction recognition, Mercy Health System had highly aggressive business goals for the program. In fact, one of their hospitals had a business goal of more than the first and second competitors’ overall total volumes for the year combined. These business challenges were compounded when the program was set to launch in January but didn’t until August, and these goals were not adjusted down.
When looking at the market of overweight people, we knew that there weren’t enough of them interested in bariatric surgery to achieve the business goals. There was, however, a substantial market of obese individuals who were not currently considering bariatric surgery. Therefore, unlike the majority of hospital bariatric campaigns in the marketplace with messages such as “If you are interested in bariatric surgery and want to learn more…,” we chose a different approach to connect with people who have never even thought of bariatric surgery as an option.
Patients who are morbidly obese can have a huge sense of fear and intimidation when going into a physician’s office. Individuals suffering from obesity deal with issues such as being unable to bend down to tie their shoes, being uncomfortable sitting in the seats at movie theaters, or being self-conscious about eating in a restaurant. We wanted to connect to patients on this very emotional topic with a bold and emotionally driven campaign to trigger their thoughts to consider this medical option. The campaign taglines were designed to focus on patients’ quality of life, with messages like “Less You, More Life,” “Lose Yourself to Find Yourself,” and “Love the You Within.”
Using this bold campaign concept, we built an integrated system-wide bariatric marketing campaign that included radio, print, billboard, online, mobile, and search engine messaging. This approach was essential to meeting the aggressive goals that the health system had set in regard to attaining market share. Furthermore, it was important that the marketing program support the health system’s strategic plan, which is to increase access to quality care in the community they serve. For the more traditional campaign elements—billboard and print— we chose not to shy away from the emotional element of bariatric surgery and instead used very unique and dramatic visuals.
The patient population we were trying to reach was less mobile and might get more of their information this way. To effectively reach our target, we designed a strong digital strategy that would allow Mercy Health to connect with bariatric patients in a manner that is comfortable for them and allows Mercy to provide a full continuum of services. We developed a robust bariatric microsite complete with video testimonials, cooking demonstrations incorporating post-surgical bariatric diet instruction, plus information about the bariatric team, the procedures, support groups, and exercise groups. A quarterly eNewsletter was also created to educate and inspire patients and those considering bariatric surgery. Many of these features were included with a free iPhone®/Droid mobile application, which offered even more accessibility to patients within the community. To drive more mobile usage, we created a “before/after” feature where patients can use an existing photograph or take a picture of themselves, and the application alters the picture to enable them to see how they might look after bariatric surgery. The digital strategy also included strong social media components. We created dynamic Facebook and YouTube pages to further integrate the content online and give people multiple ways to engage with Mercy Health. This digital strategy allowed the bariatric team to not only introduce themselves to potential patients before they even entered the office, but also enabled them to stay engaged with patients post-surgery. In fact, the clinical team became so invested in the marketing program that they began to integrate these applications in their patient interactions. Whether it was the surgeon using mobile communications to stay in touch with patients regularly, posting real patient testimonials to the microsite and YouTube channel, or the team keeping up with patients’ progress on Facebook, these digital components connected the marketing objectives with the organization’s mission.
The digital engagement served as a big differentiator in a market where there is a lot of competition, and it proved to be successful very quickly. As a result of the integrated marketing campaign, the health system generated over 300 bariatric surgeries in the first nine months of the campaign. The ROI was over 1,000%. The flagship hospital exceeded its goals by 40% within the first six months of the campaign. Within the first year of the campaign, all four hospitals hit or exceeded their highly aggressive operational goals.
During the first year, there were 13,000 landing page visits to the microsite and 1,560 mobile visits. These components continue to generate impressive results. Additionally, the use of mobile technology has allowed the clinical team to keep better track of their patients. For example, for patients who are having difficulty maintaining diet and exercise programs, Prashanth Ramachandra, M.D., chair of surgery and director of Mercy Health System’s bariatric program, puts them on a weekly schedule to text him their weights. If they are not doing well or they don’t text their weights, the office follows up with a phone call, which motivates patients to do much better. This increased access supports the friendly and patient-centric program, which boasts one of the lowest complication rates in the nation at less than 1% (the national average is about 4%).