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A Legacy of Healthcare Marketing Excellence: A Conversation with Rose Glenn and Anna Hansard from Henry Ford Health System

James Gardner

James Gardner, head of Market + Business Development for MedTouch, sat down a few weeks ago with Rose Glenn and Anna Hansard from the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, Michigan. Rose is the Senior Vice President, Marketing & Consumer Experience Officer for the organization and Anna is the team’s Director of Web Strategy. Their conversation covered the system’s more than 100 years of history, its current status as a nationally-recognized leader, and the pair’s plans to remain at the forefront of healthcare marketing.

Rose GlennFor many, the name Henry Ford immediately conjures up visions of the pioneering auto manufacturer and his legacy. But for those of us in the healthcare industry, it also brings to mind one of the nation’s finest healthcare systems—the Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) in Detroit, Michigan. Over more than a century, the Henry Ford system has grown from a single hospital in 1915, to a robust, multibillion-dollar ecosystem of hospitals, clinics, medical centers, a health insurer, and one of the nation’s largest physician group practices. Accordingly, the organization’s marketing endeavors have evolved to address, serve—and anticipate—the needs of its customers in increasingly sophisticated ways, especially in today’s crucial digital space.

Anna HansardIt seems to me that a lot of the credit for Henry Ford’s calculated and sophisticated growth in recent years goes to Rose Glenn and Anna Hansard. Rose is the Senior Vice President, Marketing & Consumer Experience Officer for the organization and Anna is the team’s Director of Web Strategy. Recently, they were kind enough to carve some time out from their very busy schedules to talk to me a bit about what makes Henry Ford Health System’s digital marketing efforts so successful.

Rose is a healthcare marketing industry veteran but her years in the business haven’t dampened her enthusiasm for it. “It’s been really fun to be part of an industry that’s been so dynamic and a discipline that has evolved so dramatically,” she says. “I love contributing to a mission bigger than myself. I couldn’t care for patients, but I could help the people caring for patients. That was a big motivator for me.”

Henry Ford Health System History

Henry Ford Health System, founded in 1915, was modeled closely on Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic, and the organization’s commitment and mission to its original vision remain as strong today as ever. “From the start, we have believed in the whole academic mission of those great institutions, so we built Henry Ford on the three legs of clinical excellence, education and research,” Rose says.

Ford was a big dreamer, but it’s hard to say if even he could have anticipated the health system’s current scope and impact. Today, over 1,300 physicians in more than 40 specialties staff the Henry Ford Hospital and 40 Henry Ford Medical Centers. These sites, five other hospitals, and several special programs and centers allow the system to handle over 4.2 million patient visits annually—many of them members of Henry Ford’s wholly-owned health insurer, Health Alliance Plan (HAP). As of 2017, the overall system recorded $6.0 billion in revenues, up 4.8% from 2016.

“For people in our discipline, it’s exciting to have digital experience as a major piece of where we’re headed strategically.”

Rose credits this continued evolution to a series of visionary chief executives, leading up to Wright L. Lassiter III, who came on board last year, and is leading the charge on the organization’s renewal, including a focus on digital growth. “He has established a new true north and new strategic plan that calls for a major focus on digital innovation,” Rose says. “For people in our discipline, it’s exciting to have digital experience as a major piece of where we’re headed strategically.”

One of the major undertakings Rose oversaw in 2016 was the introduction of Sitecore, a modern enterprise content management system—with Anna naturally playing a key role in its rollout. “A lot of people in this field will tell you that the year of a website re-platform and redesign is really tough, but the year after is even harder,” Anna says, looking back at 2017. “Last year really was a building year for us. We had a very strong roadmap, together with MedTouch, and we had many successes.”

“I would say that last year was our biggest for improving and creating new process improvements and efficiencies.”

A further focus of Henry Ford Health System’s continuing digital strategic plan is on efficacy and ease-of-use for website visitors. “We’ve enhanced many key service line pages through improved content and redesign,” Anna says. “I would say that last year was our biggest for improving and creating new process improvements and efficiencies. We look at our work a lot differently than we did even three years ago. Everything we do has to improve the user experience and it has to create efficiencies.”

Those efficiencies extend beyond technology to Rose and Anna’s colleagues. “We’ve developed all of our team members to be ‘super users’ of different areas because we learned very quickly that we wouldn’t be experts at everything like we were on our old site right out of the gate,” Anna explains. “Everybody has a module that they are the lead on and whenever we have new functionality we need to create or we need to look for a solution, we have a group of people who are the experts and can work through that. People want to know what's expected of them and this helps set those guardrails, so people can be successful and know what they need to do every day.”

Henry Ford Health System Hero

It’s clear what Henry Ford’s been building in recent years, so I also asked Rose and Anna to take a glimpse forward, into what the year ahead holds. Overall, all of Henry Ford Health System’s marketing goals revolve around the organization’s business imperative of growth. An example of this approach, Rose says, is the organization’s commitment to making its “Find a Doctor” service more user-friendly. “We are making it easier for consumers to look at star ratings and comments about our doctors on our site versus having to look at another site first and then go to our site to see our profiles, et cetera.

“We continually look for ways to make it simpler for consumers. Soon we'll be moving to open scheduling on the public website,” Rose notes. While Henry Ford already uses Epic as its electronic health record tool and has found it helpful, Rose says it doesn’t quite cover enough ground as it only allows existing Henry Ford patients to make appointments. “We see this as a growth strategy for people looking for a physician,” she explains. “Being able to connect them with real-time scheduling is really exciting and we're beginning an initial phase of development of that tool.”

Like most in the industry, working on search optimization is another focus for Henry Ford. Rose says their team is continually working on what she calls “basic blocking and tackling” to increase keyword visibility.

Henry Ford Health System

Anna also chimes in that having outside consultation has helped Henry Ford streamline its process and determine its focus moving forward. “We did an analysis of our website and identified some no-lose goals, so we’re able to tie all of our projects and strategic initiatives for the year up to those main areas,” she says. “One of them is growth, increasing our organic traffic. We’re also working to integrate our blog into the larger website experience. That is just really timely, fresh content that will enhance not only the Henry Ford brand but the overall traffic to both the blog and the site.”

“We really need to make sure that everything is optimized for mobile.”

And, of course, the organization has a keen eye on improving its mobile experience, and Rose credits Anna with making and keeping that a priority. “Prior to 2015, we really didn't have much of a mobile experience so we’re really excited to have one. Now we know that we can improve upon it, especially with some of our navigation,” Anna says. “We are looking to increase our self-service capabilities and looking at accessibility. We really need to make sure that everything is optimized for mobile.”

As we’ve discovered with other industry thought leaders, the common denominator among the most successful digital marketing strategies is having organizational support for marketing endeavors. Henry Ford definitely has that linkage between organizational and marketing priorities down pat.

“We’re looking at what the organization’s goals are and are linking our objectives directly to those.”

But, I asked Rose, what can you do if that isn’t the case in your organization? “I think it all goes back to whether you're operating as a silo or you're operating as a critical engine to the business imperative that the organization articulates and we always do the latter,” she explains. “We’re not siloed. We’re looking at what the organization’s goals are and are linking our objectives directly to those. It’s crucial to get those operational leaders really engaged from the very beginning.”

To that end, Rose notes that Henry Ford’s Web Steering Committee has played a key role in the organization’s plans: “Representatives from all of our business units and different departments meet to set the strategy for our website. We talk about new projects that are coming up. We go to them for advice, for direction. It’s been really helpful to have that governing body and it’s continuing to evolve.”

Before Rose and Anna dashed off to continue their jam-packed day, Rose offered up one more terrific piece of advice, one that involves the sometimes ego-bruising admission that we can’t all be innovators in our field all the time. It’s equally important, she says, to be an adopter: “The smartest thing to do is to be a fast follower and learn from other people’s mistakes. Get out there and understand other people’s best practices and bring them back to your organization because you really add value when you do that. You do not have to be a huge risk-taker in the digital world to succeed. You just have to understand what the people who are successful are doing and look for ways to recreate it in your organization.”

Socialize with Rose Glenn:
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Socialize with Anna Hansard:
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