Ruth PortacciRuth Portacci, president-elect of SHSMD, knows that providers are dealing with so many issues at such a fast pace, they still need help knowing how digital fits within their strategy. One way is to find useful insights from the digital touch points in the day-to-day interactions with patients. Digital health vendors who help providers string together the right data can forge partnerships of greater lifetime value and position themselves with immense value to their customers.

Show notes

Air Date: July 25, 2016
Guest: Ruth Portacci, president-elect of SHSMD and principal at Healthcare Strategy Partners

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Full transcript

Jared Johnson: Hello, my friends, and welcome again to the Health IT Marketer Podcast, the podcast that tells the story of innovation in Health IT. I am your host, Jared Johnson, your pilot on this crazy rocket ship called healthcare. This is the first and only podcast dedicated to you, the Health IT marketing community. Welcome aboard.

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All right, listeners. Well, with conference season coming up this fall, one of the premiere conferences each year is SHSMD, the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development. So today’s guest is the President-Elect of SHSMD, Ruth Portacci. Ruth, good morning. How are you doing?

Ruth Portacci: Hi. I’m doing great. Thank you so much, Jared.

Jared Johnson: So I understand that, at one point in your life, you lived in Bullhead City, Arizona, which isn’t too far from Phoenix. It’s probably about half a day’s drive, and it’s right on the Nevada border. But it’s pretty much the hottest place in the country and I’m sure it pretty much felt like the hottest place in the world. How long did you live there?

Ruth Portacci: I actually lived there for seven years and it was a great experience. It’s a very busy market because that area and it’s just tourism galore. People want to escape the cold and so services and programs for hospitals are very abundant for seniors who are trying to get away from the cold. But it was really a great experience. Loved it, but it was hot.

Jared Johnson: So where are you based now?

Ruth Portacci: I’m actually in Nashville, Tennessee and have been for the last 10 years. So yeah … it’s great. The second music city, or first music city, however you want to look at it.

Jared Johnson: Well, I’ll go with first music city. And for me, it’s actually at the top of my bucket list. I have a friend who’s spent a couple years out there, tried to make a career in country music and he was really good but, yeah, I mean it’s one of those places that simply I’ve just got to get to. It sounds like a lot of fun.

Ruth Portacci: We thoroughly know this city like the back of our hands, with everybody wanting to come and stuff. It’s great to show people around our great city.

Jared Johnson: I will definitely make note of that. Well, Ruth, tell our listeners a little bit more about your background and what you’re doing in your current role.

Ruth Portacci: Okay. Well, I’ve been in healthcare since I was 19, and we’ll just kind of say that I’m not 19 anymore. So for the last 28 years, I’ve been working’ in hospitals, all kinds of hospitals and physician type enterprises. So, for-profits, not-for-profits, religious hospitals. I’ve kind of done it all, I think, in terms of the types of environments. But now, the last three and a half years, I’ve owned my own consulting company. It’s called Healthcare Strategy Partners and, like we talked about, it’s based in Nashville. So I still work with the same usual suspects. I’m still with great hospitals and great leaders and doctors, but I also work with their partners a lot. So medical device companies, CRM partners, digital partners, things like that.

Jared Johnson: And one of your roles, as we mentioned, is President-Elect of SHSMD. Let’s just dive right into this, in fact. Tell us, in that role, what are some of the top strategic issues you see your clients struggling with these days?

b Yeah. There’s a plethora, definitely. I mean, every organization is a little bit different and every organization is a little bit the same. I think, all in all, our industry is just moving so fast, and faster than hospitals have ever been used to moving. If you think about the environment inside, we sometimes run at a snail’s pace. It’s hard to get decisions done, there’s a lot of bureaucracy. There are a lot of layers, a lot of people to please.

And now, we’re finding ourselves, I think, shaping a type of industry that has to just be faster. It has to be more nimble to get things done and be able to compete with some nontraditional players that are starting to enter our space, I think. So when we think about the strategic issues that are on the plates that are out there, it’s definitely, “What is the government going to come up with next?” Certainly, we’re still in the reeling of working with the ACO and trying’ to understand what these accountable care organizations look like, what government regulations on MU, or whatever we’re talking about, the government issue of the day. And then I think we’re also dealing locally with mergers and acquisitions and the shift from inpatient to outpatient volume and shortages of physicians and staff. There’s a lot going on out there. So while I want to say there are top strategic issues, the plates are so heavy, I think, with so many things that hospitals have to contend with that it’s hard to narrow it down, really.

Jared Johnson: Well, and most of those issues, probably all of them, in fact, all have digital components to them and those are a lot of the topics at that are discussed at SHSMD’s annual Connections Conference. It’s in Chicago, in September this year. Can you give us a little bit of a preview of what can attendees expect this year?

Ruth Portacci: Yeah, absolutely. There are the technology and the technology age and consumer demands. I think those are all you know hitting our plates. And so SHSMD, for probably the last two years, I think we presented it in 2014, really started to spearhead a visionary document called Bridging Worlds. And I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but if not, I will definitely send you a copy. But we premiered it at Conference at 2014.

And Bridging Worlds is all about thinking about the future and thinking about the future role of the healthcare strategist. And I think when we think about our membership at SHSMD, there are 4,000 members strong there. And they all have their respective fields. But they are all strategists. What you do in the digital realm for Phoenix Children’s Hospital, what I do in the realm for strategic planning and all the things that I do, we’re all strategists. And so we really started to reflect on that a couple years ago. And it’s been the mantra if you will for the conference you know up into going into this year.

So you’re going to see things continue to shape in terms of content at the conference. It’s very much built around bridging worlds, so how to be nimble to exceed the rate of change in our industry. How we tell stories and create great experiences for people, how we erase the boundaries of business. That’s where a lot of the IT conversation about technology roadmaps and bringing in innovation and talking to partners from the outside, all of that belongs to that piece of breaking down these walls and these silos and really starting to bridge forward a new type of thinking.

So I could talk about Bridging Worlds all day. It is its own conversation, but at this year’s conference, there are eight tracks, from strategic planning to digital strategies to leadership to marketing to customer experience. I mean, they go on. And within each one of them, you’ll see these pieces when you’re at the conference that really belong you to this new evolution of the strategists and strategic futures futuristic thinking that we’re trying to bring through Bridging Worlds.

Definitely, the keynotes are going to be hot. Ann Compton’s going to be talking about the election. We’ll just be shy of, what, 40 days or whatever . . . I’m not going to do the math, but from the November election. And so Ann’s going to bring that insight from her past stint on the Hill and her background as a correspondent for ABC to the table and kind of talk about to us about that. And then Don Berwick, who we all know in our industry, is really one of the champions of healthcare. And then Dr. Roni Zeiger, he’s going’ to speak about technology and healthcare and our environment and consumer demands and all of that.

So we just have a lot going on. There are even these mini . . . they’re new. They’re keynotes, but they’re in a sort of smaller shaped size. So they’re not big ballrooms. There are mini-clusters so things like culture, ecosystems of health, the data explosion, all of those will be covered by really great speakers in sort of these mini clusters, mini keynote type environments, which is going to be fun.

And the last thing I’ll mention, because I am so passionate about it, is as part of Bridging Worlds, one of the things we teach is in Bridging Worlds is the skill sets we’re all going to need for the future. We’re not the same people in the past that we will be in the future in terms of our skill sets, what we need to know to be effective in our roles.

So one of the first things that we’re bringing in out in this year’s conference are the intensives. And they’re deep dives, like you want to black belt you want to yellow belt you want whatever belts in a particular skill. You need to spend more time in it and so Conference gives you these one-hour sessions, these two-hour clusters, sometimes these three-hour clusters, but it doesn’t give you an intensive deep dive that goes across an entire day, or even more than a day.

So we’re testing an intensive that is a daylong event and it’s going to be on influencing. If you think about being an influencer in your organization, being a change agent, there are skills behind that. There are certain things that people do very, very well to move people along in what they need to get done and in healthcare organizations. And so we have one of the top companies in the country coming for and an entire day to take 50 people or so in a room and intensify the learning on influencer training. So I’m very, very excited about that. It’s going to be a great conference. It’s our 20th anniversary. So it should be great.

Jared Johnson: Fantastic. Well, it sounds like the evolution of the conference mirrors the evolution that’s gone on in the industry. So I’m very much looking forward to attending the conference this year.

Ruth Portacci: Good, good.

Jared Johnson: Well, part of the role of the strategist is addressing the patient experience. And I have to say, I recently moved back to a provider for the first time in about 10 years and it’s interesting to hear how patient experience means something completely different to different departments. I mean, it’s probably no surprise to you, Ruth, but when I’m in a marketing meeting or a meeting with IT or with clinical leadership or with administration, boy, that term sure means different things to each group. So I’m wondering, from your standpoint, what does patient experience mean to you, and how do we improve it?

Ruth Portacci: Yeah, that is so such a great question. And I say I’m passionate about this or I’m passionate about that, but I am passionate about patient experience. In my most recent past organization, I led the effort and the charge for patient experience for 30 hospitals all at the same time. And it was quite important to me to ensure that each of the teams, not just the front line staff but all the way up the chain really had the tools and the things that they needed in order to be effective for our division in moving patient experience in the organization.

So when you think about it from a strategist’s standpoint, it’s all touchpoints, right? So we say patient experience, you say patient experience, but in my mind, you know patient experience isn’t just when you’re just a patient. It’s the experience that you a have even from the digital equation when I try to find a doctor because I am not feeling well and I go online and I’m searching and how helpful is that search to me? How easy has my hospital system in my local market or even as a national player, to name a few, whatever Mayo, Cleveland Clinic, all those great brands that are out there, how have they made it easy for me to find what I’m looking for and be able to get to the right resource resources?

So even before I become a patient, what is that that experience for me like? And then once I move into the health system, how is my care coordinated among all of the players you said were sitting at that table and then a whole bunch more that sit behind the s scenes and make things happen for me, from surgical supplies to OR operating room tables and all of that kind of stuff? How does everyone make the experience really flow for me as a patient to where there are no glitches or most glitches are eliminated to make my stay as good as it can be?

And then, post my stay, how is it working for me with resources coordination of car on the outside to get me back on my feet well? Or even in the worst circumstance, ease my situation in death and dying? So I think about it very, very holistically as this experience that is far more broader than just this episodic thing that sometimes we concentrate on our role, what we need to do, how do we work together as teams and then with outside resources in the ecosystem to make sure that me, patient, is cared for throughout the continuum. That’s kind of how I see it.

Jared Johnson: So how do you get by buy-in for this concept, for how to measure the return on “improving the patient experience”? And I ask because I believe marketing should be firmly leading the way.

Ruth Portacci: Yeah, it’s piece-by-piece, fragment-by-fragment. I mean, in my hospitals and in my experience, we literally had these long Excel spreadsheets, if you will, of almost all of these quality indicators that we were very, very attuned to, whether it was patient falls, whether it was infections, whether it was education at discharge. I mean, all of these indicators that we were really watching as team players to say hen we reach a mark that is not where we want it to be, “How are we working with our teams internally to make sure that we’re moving up the chain, that we’ve got what we need in terms of tools and resources and internally to teach better on that to help put education together for our team teams, whatever it took to make those numbers go where they needed to go and strategically see where the faults were?”

And then, where the gains were. We also would share experiences. “Hey, someone ‘s doing really good on medication management. When patients leave our hospital, they know what medications to take, they know when to take them, know how to take them, and how to refill them.” Whatever the situation is, we would be able to share that good experience among our teams and say, “These folks do it really well. How do we bring that vision and that knowledge to hospitals that aren’t doing as well to try to get their numbers where they need to be and get patients the experience they deserve when they’re in our hospitals?”

So I hope that answers your question, but it’s just metrics. It’s measurement, it’s really watching key indicators and understanding what those key indicators are that are very, very, very much game changers for your hospital when something goes wrong in this particular piece of the equation, how it then impacts five or six other pieces of the equation and how to fix it before it gets to a level that is not good.

Jared Johnson: So what is the role of digital health tools in that process? I can list things such as electronic health records, remote monitoring tools, patient portals, wearables, and the list goes on and on. And the question still remains for a lot of providers, in terms of how they implement those things. Many, at this point, have bought into the concept, but are still wondering, “So how to do we do it?” So can you speak to that and how do digital health tools overall improve the patient experience?

Ruth Portacci: Yeah, I mean digital health is just so exciting, right? And it’s moving at a speed of light, not even coming from hospitals, but coming from other players, non-traditional players. Companies with great ideas that are starting to enter the healthcare space and have really bright ideas about these things in everyday life that are helpful. So there are a lot of them that you’ve mentioned and they all have their respective importance and purposes, I think. When you start to break down what an EHR does in terms of data collection for us and all the physicians and others will say, “These things have bogged us down and taken more time from us,” you know that the data is sitting in there and they way we’re looking at responsiveness of protocols and orders and different things that are moving through EHRs is beneficial, how we’re streamlining and information and putting everybody sort of on this information highway.

But I think that overall, data collection seems to be the central point. For me, whether you’re talking about a wearable, whether you’re talking about telehealth, whether you’re talking about remote monitoring, I think when you start to think about the collection of data from an IT perspective and understand that these are going to begin to shape what more we know about people so that conversations in the patient experience with healthcare providers are more meaningful, that they’re more about me and they’re less on the basics of this quick little interaction between me and providers, but that they really know more about me when I’m coming in, they have a little bit better history because I’m wearing a wearable or my wearable is talking to an IT system, or I’m using that wearable within a CRM interface, whatever the situation might be, I really think it’s this data that if we harness in the right way, it enriches the patient experience because we know more.

We can improve people’s lifestyles, we can receive the right care at the right time with the right type of things that fit my lifestyle. If I’m going to be in sort of a telehealth type capacity, I live 20 miles from the closest hospital. I don’t have transportation, whatever my situation might be, it’s powerful. It’s powerful. Digital tools will shape our future. Even with things like the lack of health care providers and the shortage of people, we’re going to see telehealth and telemedicine and all of those things help community hospitals or help others who need this type of technology to bring in extra expertise, to bring in higher level pieces of care and types of care back to them. So I’m very excited about where all this is going to go.

Jared Johnson: Well, as we start to wrap up here, are there any other thoughts you’d like to share with the health IT community?

Ruth Portacci: I just think it’s just such a great piece of our industry. I think that SHSMD and what Conference is trying to do to bring in that digital engagement piece a little bit more forward as the years have gone forward to really bring in the knowledge from our respective hospital membership and outside players who are able to talk and really share ideas and network about what’s going on. I just think it’s and an explosion that is here. We’re going to see it in so many different ways begin to . . . not even begin but continue to shape our industry and help propel it forward. So it’s an exciting time to be in healthcare and I think IT is just a huge piece of what’s going on.

Jared Johnson: Well, thanks for sharing that. We’re going to get to our bonus question, which, frankly, tells us a little bit more about you. And it is, “If you could join any rock band or music artic artist for a day, who would that be?”

Ruth Portacci: Well, like we talked about, I am from Nashi Nashville for the last decade of my life so I’m a music junkie. I even was before I got to Nashville. So I’m also a woman so I never just pick one, if that’s okay with you. My favorites, right now, I’d say are The Black Keys. I just think that is an exceptional band. Mumford and Sons, we just say saw them in Nashville at the Bridgestone Arena a while back, like two months ago. They were fabulous, phenomenal. Adele. And if I had to go back into the rock archives, I’d say Stevie Nicks. She’s my ultimate, ultimate gal. And actually, I think she’s from the Arizona area.

Jared Johnson: So here’s how I can tell you truly live in Nashville. Because you named not just the artist, but the venue where you saw them because they’re all over the place. But I mean, other places, there are only a handful of concert venues in other cities. But in Nashville, it’s, “I saw them at such-and-such cafe on such-and-such street.”

Ruth Portacci: You definitely have that right. It’s the It’s the Ryman or it’s the Bluebird or something. You definitely have to make a visit. I’m going to count on that because, yeah, there’s a lot going on here that I think you’d enjoy for sure.

Jared Johnson: Well, believe me, I could spend probably a month there easily just for the music heritage in that area. So I will definitely take you up on that offer I get there anytime soon and I sure hope that I do. Well, Ruth, it’s been great. And if our listeners want to reach you, I know you’re on Twitter. What’s the best way for them to connect with you’?

Ruth Portacci: Yeah, sure. You can just send me the most basic of emails. It’s That’s probably what I check the most, being on the road or being here in the office so that’d be great.

Jared Johnson: Perfect. Well, have a great week and I look forward to seeing you at the conference in September.

Ruth Portacci: Thank you. Thanks, Jared. Have a great weekend. Bye-bye.

Jared Johnson: Well, that wraps up the program this week. Let me know what you thought. Send me a shout out, @JaredPiano on Twitter, @JaredPiano J-A-R-E-D-P-I-A-N-O. You can also leave me a review and subscribe on iTunes, on Stitcher Radio, or on PodBean. Ladies and gentlemen, remember it is up to us to tell the story of innovation in health IT and remember to build your audience one gig at a time.

Until next time, I’m Jared Johnson and you’ve been listening to the Health IT Marketer Podcast. This program is sponsored by ClarityQuest, marketing experts who speak fluent healthcare. For a full archive of previous episodes, you can go to That’s Thanks again and I’ll talk to you again next time.