Kate McCarthy on the Health IT Marketer PodcastKate McCarthy, Senior Analyst at Forrester Research, walks us through several key ways in which health IT vendors may be failing to market effectively, starting with her recently published brief that describes the innovation at HIMSS that was happening by newer vendors in the basement. She also details why vendors need to understand their customers better, the need to fail faster with new technologies, the benefits of getting less expensive and less complicated, and how the worst thing we can do is to keep doing everything the way we’ve done them in the past. Her viewpoint from atop the industry will keep you captivated and provide valuable lessons.

Show notes

Air Date: June 8, 2016
Guest: Kate McCarthy, Senior Analyst, Forrester Research

1:39 Introducing Kate McCarthy
6:32 HIMSS basement innovators upstage the main floor vendors
10:00 A tipping point in the industry for smaller vendors
11:45 Security remains a top concern
12:58 What trends should health IT marketers be paying attention to?
14:10 The greatest thing health care needs to improve is understanding the customer better
16:30 Snapchat and video are dominating marketing; but what about healthcare?
18:12 Meeting customers where they are already
19:15 #1 tip for health IT marketers
20:05 The danger of doing things the same way
20:58 What advice would you give clinicians to overcome those paint points
22:20 The need to fail faster with new technologies
23:16 Bonus question: If you could join a rock band or music artist for a day, who would it be?

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Full transcript

Jared Johnson: Hello again my friends and welcome to the Health IT Marketer Podcast, the podcast that tells the story of innovation and health IT. I am your host Jared Johnson of Ultera Digital, healthcare influencer and content marketing. This is the first and only podcast dedicated to you, to the health IT marketing community. Welcome aboard.

If you want to keep up with the trends, voices and marketing tools involved in healthcare IT and healthcare technology, you are in the right place. Health IT right now is in a renaissance of innovation. The line between digital marketing and digital health is blurring to many of the same methods that used to be strictly for marketing, things like Facebook and Twitter, other social media tools, web portals and mobile apps, those are now being used directly in patient care and here on this program we cover them all.

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All right, on with the program. All right, well, our guest this week is Kate McCarthy. She’s a senior analyst with Forrester Research. Kate, good morning. How are you doing?

Kate McCarthy: I’m great. How are you Jared?

Jared Johnson: I’m doing fantastic. We were just saying it’s sounding like it’s getting a little less cold in the Boston area this time of year. How’s that going out for you?

Kate McCarthy: It’s great. The trees are starting to bloom. This is a beautiful time to be in New England and the weather has been unseasonably warm so far so I actually have my garden planted, I have some happy dogs at home. It’s been an early spring here which is nice.

Jared Johnson: And you and I were just speaking about this but do you want to let our listeners know a little bit about the two dogs and that particular breed that I had never heard of, the Italian water dog?

Kate McCarthy: Yeah, so my youngest dog Winnie is a Lagotto Romangnolo, which is an Italian water dog and she’s three years old and is . . . the breed is known for truffle hunting of all things and she, this time of year, gets really excited about all of the new smells and so she’s a little bit difficult to wrangle but she is a lot of fun. Our older dog Jackson is a black lab mix and he’s happy to get a little air conditioning and some swimming in to stay cool but they’re both fun and they are both excited to be outside all the time now. Never a dull moment.

Jared Johnson: Well, why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit more about your background because you’ve had a very interesting background to get to where you are now. Let us know a little bit more about that and what you’re doing in your current role at Forrester.

Kate McCarthy: Yeah, so I come to the healthcare space via coaching of all things. I coached for swimming at the beginning of my career and to an exercise physiology bent to that work and got great exposure to the healthcare ecosystem at that time and decided at young age I really wanted to be part of organizations that were helping improve the healthcare ecosystem. Back in the ’90s when we first started looking at this or I first started looking at this stuff it was so clear that the good old days of healthcare were going away.

And I think certainly over the 15 plus years that I’ve been in the industry it’s just gotten harder and harder to be a provider in this space. The reimbursement system changing, the Affordable Care Act, all of those things and so [inaudible 00:04:12] my flip-flops I got to spend a number of years [inaudible 00:04:16] health during the pre and post IPO phase which was a really exciting time to be there. Obviously, that company has seen some great success since I’ve left and I have a world of respect for what they do.

And in my time there I got a great opportunity to engage with different physician practices and hospitals across the country in a myriad of settings and get some great exposure to what the real pain points were for organizations. And so from there, I went into the consulting world. I actually worked on the affordable care act reporting a lot of the lobbying efforts behind that and the regulatory understanding for different key stakeholders and then went back into direct care at Partner’s Health Care where I sat in the strategy group during the times we worked on everything from pop health to mergers and acquisitions. A very, very fun, direct experience and wonderful organization obviously. Partners at Women’s [SP] Mass General, and the Brigham [SP] here in the greater Boston area. So really, really great people there and have been excited to take all of those experiences now and sit in more of a perch view of the industry as an analyst at Forrester.

I am the analyst. I call myself the cruise director for healthcare for Forrester. I am the full time senior analyst who looks at the healthcare ecosystem. At Forrester, we tend to serve up by role rather than a vertical and so we look at things horizontally. So what might someone in business to business be struggling with versus someone in enterprise architecture, those sorts of things, and I sit in the vertical really helping organizations think about how all of those different roles influence the healthcare ecosystem, what’s the nuance for that space as opposed to something like retail.

It’s a really, fun, fun job. I get to talk to providers and payers and all of the great vendors out there. I’m always learning about new, fun innovation which is, I think, the most exciting part of my job.

Jared Johnson: Also, needless to say, you’re have a unique view of what has happened and then what’s coming and that I think that’s really cool and so needless to say I guess also that you’re quite familiar with HIMSS.

Kate McCarthy: I am, yeah.

Jared Johnson: And you recently published, with Forrester, you recently published a brief about your experience at HIMSS and what you saw there. It was titled “Basement Innovators Upstage the Main-Floor Vendors.” I’d love to hear a little bit more about that. I’ve had a chance to read that but it was a fascinating take on what you saw literally and physically there happening between the main floor and the basement floor and the other floors at the convention center and then applying that to the industry itself. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you were describing in that brief and what were your key takeaways from HIMSS this year?

Kate McCarthy: Yeah, it’s so funny. So HIMSS is always a bit of a whirlwind. It’s always really big and when I went this year . . . this was my first time going as an analyst. I’m used to being there on the vendor or the provider side and when you go as a vendor or you go as a provider you get to stand at one place and people come to you.

And so this was my first year having to walk and see everyone and I don’t know that before this most recent HIMSS visit I really ever appreciated quite how big the conference is. So one of my first takeaways was I’ve met my step goal by 8 a.m. every day on my Apple Watch. So it’s just huge. Everyone goes. You have everyone from the Intermountain Healthcares of the world in the provider space to the Athenas and the Epics and the Cernas, and the Kasens [SP] and then you have people who are nimble startups or incubators from bigger companies coming to bring new products to the market.

And so you get a great landscape of different vendors that support the healthcare vertical there in addition to the providers and the pairs that go there. There’s always great conference content too. But the biggest thing for me this year I think was just the juxtaposition of the layout this year was a little bit different than in years past and it was so clear that . . . I titled the brief what I did because that main stage was really the big tech giants. Now, if you looked at the size of Epic’s booth, frankly, it was bigger than my first apartment. It was huge. People had two story booth setups. It was just visually, literally stunning that it was just so big.

And then you went down to the basement and you saw these little, tiny cubes where you would find people like in AirStrip who were really bringing a mobility solution that frankly solves challenges and things like interoperability for physicians, doing really incredibly innovative things in a smaller space and with more nimble technology. I mean, I don’t think when I met with AirStrip they ever took out anything more complicated than an iPhone and it was just so powerful what their product is doing for the market.

And so just that balance of . . . there was all of this innovation almost hiding in the basement. You had to look for it to find it as opposed to that top floor where it was everyone you expect to be there was there and I have a lot of respect for those big tech giants and the brands that they’ve built and the services they provide. But where it’s such a tipping point in the industry . . . there’s a lot of green room for those basement innovators to grow up into this space and either work with and support those big tech giants in solving things like interoperability or giving people an alternative path. And I think that the industry is really at a tipping point where it’s exciting and also probably a little bit scary for folks.

The conference really started with Secretary Birdwell talking about the need and the commitment the vendors and provider community had made to interoperability. People were very excited about it but I think there’s a recognition, whether people are saying it out loud or not, that we’ve been trying to solve interoperability in the healthcare space for a number of years. Folks like John Halamka who have been blogging on Geek Doctor about how difficult the ON [SP] Committee has been and what the roadblocks had been there. And I’m not sure why we would start to have more success there than we’ve had when we’ve had so many really talented people and such strong commitment in the community for a number of years.

So largely what I talk about in this brief and what a lot of my research will look at this quarter is understanding the limitations of the systems that exist today. What are ways that we could get interoperability achieved? That might be a little bit outside the box of what people are thinking in terms of the traditional sense. Maybe Epic and Cerna won’t ever talk well together but maybe something like an AirStrip or a CloudMine can give people an alternative way to connect and share information and get rich data on patients in the right moments at the right time and that’s really what I talk about in my brief.

I talk a little bit also about some of the other areas where we saw a lot of content at HIMSS. So security remains is just such a big topic in healthcare. One of the things that I look at pretty closely in my role and in partnership with our security and risk team here is the growing Internet of things. Everything from an Apple Watch to a Fitbit to an MRI machine. I saw a great presentation from Avaya about their SDN Fx product, which is the size of my iPhone, and you can connect it to these big MRI machines or pieces of the network to secure the different vulnerabilities in a way that’s pretty sophisticated and helps alleviate some of the concerns that folks have in this space.

But by and large really the conference was so much about the juxtaposition between the innovators and then the existing ecosystem and it’s clear that there’s a level of disruption that’s going to come. It’s just a matter of when and how more than anything else.

Jared Johnson: Well, those are great questions then to lead into as we’re talking to health IT marketers about where they should be focusing their efforts and I’m curious what you think about that in terms of what topics or trends or platforms . . . if you’re marketing for a vendor or for an agency, where should you be focusing your efforts right now?

Kate McCarthy: It’s such a good question. If I’m thinking about the really critical issues in healthcare right now, I’m thinking about a couple of things. I’m thinking about the rise of the empowered patient and I start with that because the healthcare industry lags behind other industries in so many ways. But in terms of understanding their customers, that’s really where there’s the biggest disconnect when you compare healthcare to an industry like banking or aviation or retail. It’s just so clear that healthcare doesn’t understand its patients or employees or members if we’re talking about a health insurance company and some of that’s because of PHI compliance issues. Handling of patient data is tricky. It’s a little bit more complicated than my browsing history for my newest pair of shoes or a toy for Winnie but the moments that make up a patient’s life are just as important. If anything, they’re more important.

And so helping organizations understand the need to better understand who their customers are and what’s driving patient behavior is the single most important thing that any organization needs to focus on and that everything you do falls beneath that. So I break that down into things like . . . in the insurance space, you really need to be focusing on transparency in the provider space as well. Both cost transparency and outcome transparency are really important to think about moving the industry forward. We have to assume that patients are going to be willing to shop for their insurance products and for even the services they acquire in the direct care space.

There’s a lot of price variation in the market. You just look at an MRI. An MRI on a knee can range from whatever, $500 to $2,500 for the same MRI depending on where you go in a given market. And so as people have more dollars at risk and they’re more aware of those dollars at risk, there’s a degree of shopping we can expect to see hit the space. Same thing, we see a lot more shopping in the health insurance space than we ever saw before because of the introduction of health insurance exchanges.

And so this notion that customers were trapped and Blue Cross Blue Shield and Aetna and United had to spend most of their time worrying about their big employer contracts because people largely contracted for insurance through group contracts through their employers. That’s changing. More people are going direct through insurance exchanges and individuals. 2015 was the first year that we saw . . . it’s less than 50% of the market now is group contracts. More than 50% was insurance exchanges, Medicare, Medicaid, direct commercial product purchasing.

And so that’s really starting to change already and it’s only a matter of time before that demand is there for customers to really want more from their businesses and so whether you’re in the electronic health record space or data analytics, helping your customers understand their customers is just mission critical.

Jared Johnson: One of my associates in the podcasting world, Janet Kennedy, she just attended Social Media Marketing World in San Diego and she put it this way, she just said “It is really obvious that the couple of trends or platforms that are happening out there at least for marketers are in Snapchat and video. Everyone wanted to be the first mover in those two things.” I think easier to talk about use cases for video. I’m curious what you think about that. Are there any particular platforms if you’re talking . . . we see Blab and Periscope and do you see any platforms or tools that have the most potential?

Kate McCarthy: I have to say the social media stuff does get a little tricky when you’re talking about patients and moments but the rise of the community for patient communities is pretty huge. So whether it’s Facebook or Patients Like Me and their platform which is obviously compliant and secure, patients are looking to engage with other patients that have similar challenges. And I would say that’s the biggest change that I see and that opens the door for those communities to be engaged with in a digital space that never existed.

And so that is one area I would certainly point out. The other thing that always comes to mind for me in more of a social context is that the consumer is using Internet of things to connect their lives and their social context into the healthcare ecosystem. So whether you’re talking to a runner who’s really active and using a Fitbit to connect back to things like MapMyRun, those things have really taken off and I think that’s why we see so many organizations trying to partner with wellness companies to really find ways to connect to those patients in the places where they’re already going naturally and that’s the hardest part of healthcare.

You have to meet people where they are already and I don’t know that it’s Snapchat or Twitter but it’s certainly the ecosystem of apps. They’re supporting health and wellness, the companies that support those things, the Limeades [SP] and the Jiffs [SP] of the world and companies like Lark that do a little bit of the wellness work but also some artificial intelligence coaching. All of those folks are trying to understand the moments of truth for patients in the moment that patients are willing to share in a natural way and I think that that’s where there’s the most opportunity.

Obviously, the companies themselves spend a lot of time on the traditional marketing channels like the Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter and Snapchat and you have to use those tools too but that’s not necessarily where patients are going and so figuring out where the patients are is really the most critical thing.

Jared Johnson: What would you say then is your number one tip for health IT marketers? We’ve touched on a couple of other things but if you had to boil it all down and say “Hey, here’s my number one tip out there.” What would that be?

Kate McCarthy: My number one tip would be to keep it simple. There’s the tendency to overcomplicate things in healthcare because it is complicated. If you just walk through one patient encounter with one doctor that’s . . . you’ve seen one and you could go see a 100 and they would all look a little different and so the inclination is to always add a level of complexity to this space.

And what needs to really happen is a level of common language and understanding has to be there but being willing to take simple things that have worked other places and using them in healthcare is the best thing we could possibly do. The worst thing we can do is to keep doing everything the way we’ve been doing them in healthcare because that’s never worked, right. It’s just gotten more expensive and more complicated and our health records don’t talk to each other any better today than they did 10 years ago really.

So taking a lot of the noise out of the space, avoiding high customization and really getting to the simple truth of things. It’s not easy but it’s how we’ll find our way out of this mess I think.

Jared Johnson: Well then let’s flip that coin and talk . . . if we’re talking to clinical teams or we’re talking to clinicians and you’ve mentioned the rise of the empowered patient, you’ve mentioned a lot of the different pieces there. The payers are part of the puzzle, providers are part of the puzzle. We’ve got clinicians sitting there squarely in the middle of this saying, “Hey, well, I’m just not ready for that.” Or some are ready for it and just don’t know what to do. So I’m curious what advice you would give clinicians just to overcome those pain points when we’re talking about adopting digital health tools or empowering patients.

Kate McCarthy: Yeah, so at first I would say to your marketers, “Please spend some time talking to doctors about the things that make their life hard.” Because we didn’t do that 10 years ago when we built these health record systems and we haven’t done a good job of it when we rolled out new technology and part of why clinicians are struggling right now is because we didn’t ask them for advice. We didn’t get their buy-in in the right way and we built products that do not work for them. It’s hard to step back and think about a way forward with all of those challenges and it’s got to be really hard to say I’m going to try new technologies more often because that has not worked historically but what I would say is there is a lot of great promise out there in the tech ecosystem especially as people really start to understand just how difficult it’s been for physicians.

I’ve mentioned AirStrip a couple of times. The thing that was just most impressive to me about them and their work is that they get the physician voice, they get the pieces of information and physicians need in order to make really sound clinical decisions at the right moments for patients. So there are companies out there that get it.

A willingness to try new technology and to fail faster with it is just so important. It is no longer the case that we’re going to install big tech platforms and live with them for 20 plus years. If there’s a solution that’s in front of you today that’s not working, you can start to be a voice for change. Make the product work, find products that work for you instead.

It isn’t the case that people are installing Epic and saying “We’re going to live with it for 20 years.” Banner Health Care publically said that they ripped and replaced Epic in more than one of their hospitals and went with Cerna. And I’m sure the opposite is true as well that people have gone with Cerna and other vendors and decided that it wasn’t a fit and they’ve made a quick switch. It’s not an impossible thing to do this day and age. And so don’t live with it if it’s not working and if it’s not working, find something that does.

Jared Johnson: As we start to wind up here I do have time just for one more question and I think you know what that question is but it’s our bonus question.

Kate McCarthy: Yeah.

Jared Johnson: That is if you could join any rock band or music artist for a day, who would that be? And I can clarify right off that doesn’t have to be somebody who’s alive now. If you want to jump in the way back machine and find somebody who’s no longer with us here on Earth, that’s okay too but it’s anyone. Any rock band or music artist.

Kate McCarthy: Man, I mean, you open up the door to ghosts of days past and that’s a whole new ballpark but I spent some time thinking about this and I have to say since seeing her on Carpool Karaoke I’ve got to go with Adele. Not only is she an amazing singer but she’s apparently hysterical and seems like a lot of fun to be around. So I would like to spend the day with her, drink some wine and listen to her sing.

Jared Johnson: I love that. Actually, it took me a while to actually realize that Carpool Karaoke was happening. I was a little late to the party there but I think I binge watched every single episode within about a 24 hours’ period and . . .

Kate McCarthy: Yeah.

Jared Johnson: I just considered it now. James Cordon’s a gift to humanity that he’s doing that so . . .

Kate McCarthy: Absolutely. It’s the best ever. You need a pick me up, go Google some Carpool Karaoke.

Jared Johnson: Seriously, and you’re right. Adele’s was amazing. I mean, we got to see her personality a lot. It was very fun.

Kate McCarthy: Yeah. I mean, and she’s a fellow Spice Girls fan. So I’ve got to give her some love for that.

Jared Johnson: Oh, that’s right. They were doing a little Spice Girls in there. Well, hey Kate, I really appreciate you taking the time and being our guest here on the podcast. If there are those who want to . . . if they have a question for you or they just want to connect with your or engage with you in any way, what’s the best way for them to find you?

Kate McCarthy: So they can find me at Twitter at K_McCarthy1 and I am also at Forrester at kmccarthy@forrester.com.

Jared Johnson: Well, we appreciate it again and I would love to have you again on the podcast some time and thanks for tuning in with us and taking a few minutes to chat with us.

Kate McCarthy: Thank you so much. It was a lot of fun.

Jared Johnson: Well, that wraps up our program this week. If you enjoyed this episode as much as I know you did, please consider leaving a review on iTunes. Ladies and gentlemen, remember it’s up to us to tell the story of innovation in health IT and remember to build your audience one gig at a time. In fact, how’s that going? I’d love to know how that is working for you and if you’d like more pointers on building your audience.

Until next time, I’m Jared Johnson and you’ve been listening to the Health IT Marketer Podcast. This program is sponsored by Ultera Digital, healthcare influencer and content marketing. For a full archive, you can go to healthitmarketer.com. That’s healthitmarketer.com. Thanks again for tuning in and I’ll talk to you next time.