Episode 22: Sandra Mackey, CMO of Bon Secours Mercy Health – Part 1

Hey everyone, this is Rudy Fernandez from Creative Outhouse. I love these two episodes with Sandra Mackey, the Chief Marketing Officer of Bon Secours Mercy Health, a large nonprofit hospital system that’s in seven states. Now just for perspective, I read about healthcare, marketing and business for fun. So let that sink in for a minute. So for these two episodes, I recommend being late for work late picking up your kids, whatever you need to do to hear them. In this first episode, Sandra and I spoke about hospital consolidation and what that means for all of us and what that means in terms of marketing. We talked about how hospitals need to move more towards providing a continuum of health and what people treating healthcare the way they treat shopping for shoes means for marketing and hospitals. Our conversation was wonderful and actually a little weird for me. Let me explain. A few months ago, I presented to a small group of hospital marketing people my thoughts on the state of hospital business and marketing. I talked about how hospitals need to change dramatically from sick care to more platforms of health and how marketing can help them do that. It wasn’t a very flattering talk. And at one point, I compared hospitals to going the way of Blockbuster Video unless they changed. And let’s just say I didn’t get a standing ovation. Anyway, when I spoke with Sandra, she was saying that her team is exploring many of those same thoughts, the ones I’ve been preaching to whomever would listen, she even made the Blockbuster Video comparison, which made me feel less crazy, and also gave me hope. The fact that this large hospital system is looking to a more robust future to serve people is exciting to me. Because with new technology, hospitals are in an ideal position to become so much more in the daily lives of the people they serve, and marketing could be core to that. Anyway, enough of all that, check out this episode. And welcome to Marketing Upheaval.


Earcon  1:51 

You’re listening to Marketing Upheaval from Creative Outhouse.


Rudy Fernandez  2:02 

Hey, welcome to Marketing Upheaval. My guest is Sandra Mackey, the Chief Marketing Officer of Bon Secour Mercy Health, which is one of the country’s largest healthcare organizations. They have 48 hospitals and serve people in seven states. Healthcare is a category that at Creative Outhouse we’re pretty passionate about. And Sandra and I have worked together and known each other for a long, long time. So I’m really looking forward to this conversation. Thanks for joining us, Sandra.


Sandra Mackey  2:28 

Well, thank you, Rudy. It feels great to be back together again. It’s been a long time. I’m thrilled to have been invited to join you on the show today.


Rudy Fernandez  2:36 

I think one of the industries that has had even more upheaval than marketing is healthcare, and you’re at the center of both. So what are some of the huge changes taking place with regards to healthcare and healthcare marketing as it applies to let’s say, hospital marketing?


Sandra Mackey  2:51 

Oh, that’s a great question, Rudy. So when I think about the healthcare landscape and what it looks like today, we’re moving at a frenetic pace, which is great, as we look for innovations to make things simpler and easier for consumers, one of the key things that is driving that pace is the pace of consolidation. And you see a lot of consolidation within the healthcare industry that continues to dominate the industry is the headline, just about every day when you open any of the industry related publications, topping that news is probably consolidation, mergers, acquisitions, etc. This is not new for us. I mean, it feels like there’s a high intensity of that activity today. But it really has flowed over the years, it really has been a more gradual change that has taken place over a longer period of time. What we’re seeing now is just an accelerated pace from where we were in the early 2000s. When many of this much of this consolidation started to take place. And it really started with the formation of clinically integrated network that really gave rise to the independent practices affiliating with health systems. If we look back early 2000s, a lot of that activity started there. And so this is really not a revolution. It’s more of an evolution. In a recent Kaufman Hall study that I just read in 2017, that said, an annual record for mergers and acquisitions in healthcare across the country with 116 mergers and acquisitions taking place. In the study, it also cited that for this year, we are unpaid to exceed the growth of last year, the industry as a whole in terms of mergers and acquisitions.


Rudy Fernandez  4:44 

Why do you think that’s happening?


Sandra Mackey  4:46 

You know, I think a lot of this is really to provide scale. In fact, I don’t think, I know it is to provide scale. When you think about healthcare as an industry, healthcare is way behind and it’s been woefully behind for you years in terms of the pace in which they have consolidated. When you think about what the industry looks like today, there is one provider that holds the most market share of all healthcare organizations, and that providers in the single digits only 3%. There’s no other industry that you can point to that has that type of representative market share, airlines, telecommunications, banking, and many, many other industries, experienced this type of consolidation years ago, essentially, that scale allows us to better manage costs and resources across the board. And so it’s not just growth for growth’s sake, it’s thinking about ways that we can manage the cost pressures of declining reimbursements and provide the best value to consumers by consultants. services, especially in areas like shared services. And shared services are areas like finance and supply chain and marketing and human resources. That’s a good point when you can spread that across a broader geography, creative value that can bring to the organization by saving on some of those expenses and creating a scalable model.


Rudy Fernandez  6:21 

So what does that mean in terms of marketing? Because I guess what you’re saying is that we’re going to see fewer and fewer smaller community hospitals, and more larger hospital systems. So what does that mean in terms of, let’s say your job?


Sandra Mackey  6:36 

So when you think about marketing, you know, as marketers, we have to think differently. Not really about the sell, but the engagement of consumers. And so I think there’s been a dramatic shift in the way that we think about and engage consumers. That really is more about building relationships. understanding where they are and meeting consumers where they are, and not expecting them to conform to the traditional marketing practice, right. And so things like virtual care, ambulatory care, points of access, they all become an important part of the services that we offer. For marketers the challenges now is how do we connect the dots for those consumers and make their journey as easy as possible in ways that they want to consume it, not necessarily the ways that we’re used to delivery it. It challenges all of marketing.


Rudy Fernandez  7:37 

So I have this idea that healthcare marketing can be more than like what you just said, “Come to our hospital for whatever reason,” and it could become actually a service that’s provided. So a way to improve patient experience or a way to improve adherence to whatever it is a doctor needs you to do to be healthier, be more of a public health. message. I’ve always thought that hospitals could take that mantle, and marketing in particular can help them take that mantle. And here’s something more than a hospital could offer. And that’s advice and experience. And they’re not just about, “hey, come in for whatever blank procedure.” Are you finding that that’s something that you’re evolving to?


Sandra Mackey  8:22 

Absolutely Rudy. And I think that, you know, raises a really important point. When we think about what the drivers for that are. We are really shifting as an industry, from a fee for service to a more value based care environment in which we really have to think more creatively about how to engage consumers. The other points of clarification I’d like to make is that it’s no longer just about the hospital. I think from a brand perspective, we used to think or our consumers used to think about how Hospitals as that point of service for acute care. What we’re focused on is really the entire continuum of care from start to finish. And the fact that many of these procedures that are performed in a hospital are not performed in outpatient setting. And so there’s a declining volume in the inpatient space and increasing volume in the ambulatory setting. So we’re no longer just thinking about the hospital. We are creating demand around an entire space that is built not just on sick care, but primarily on wellcare.


Rudy Fernandez  9:46 

Well, but how do you monetize that? The wellcare aspect?


Sandra Mackey  9:48 

That’s a great question. So, you know, our population health initiatives really do incentivize us well for taking care for the whole person and caring for unique lives. It really is by incentivizing and taking care of patients and being compensated for their wellness rather than their sickness.


Rudy Fernandez  10:17 

Yeah, you know, I think last year, insurance companies grew at 1.5%, which is not very much so they’re looking for ways to lower their costs. And you see more and more of them incorporating these lifestyle plans. So it is if you incorporate healthy choices in your lifestyle, they’ll lower your premiums. Are they are will they start to compensate hospitals for wellness programs?


Sandra Mackey  10:41 

Oh, yes. What they call that today is population health. So there are many programs in place that really do reward hospitals and healthcare systems for keeping their patients healthy. At the end of the day, it really is a deep commitment to improving lives within the communities that we serve. But there’s lots of incentive to keep people healthy, and not just treat them in an expensive acute care setting when they’re sick.


Rudy Fernandez



Sandra Mackey

That’s where you’ll see a lot of the shift, certainly for payers, to look at specific treatments and procedures that were once performed in a hospital and shift those procedures to an outpatient setting. It’s more efficient, it’s less expensive. But again, I also want to reiterate the importance of having that entire mix of access points and settings in which you can provide care. You can’t do it without an inpatient setting alone, you can achieve these economies with an outpatient setting alone. It really is a combination of that type of care that provides the continuum for the patient.


Rudy Fernandez  12:02 

So how can marketing drive this messaging? And what I mean is, you know, we’ve sat in those meetings, there are doctors and doctors are expert at being doctors, but they also sit in these larger business operations meetings. And you know, they’re concerned,  and rightly so, with healthcare operations of a hospital. But if marketing is going to have more of a say, well, I’ll ask you, does marketing have more of a say? Or will it to have the clout necessary to impact healthcare in a bigger way than it has in the past?


Sandra Mackey  12:31 

I will speak from my own personal perspective. I’m with a health system that has a really strong and positive culture, around engagement and around some core culture behaviors that really facilitate great dialogue between clinicians and people that are in support services. And so that’s a great starting point, right? When you’re able to socialize concepts, and really have open and direct dialogue with clinicians about the challenges that they’re facing, and some potential solutions to help them overcome those challenges. That, to me is the ideal setting. There’s not always agreement and that’s okay. Certainly clinicians have, over time become way more savvy and pinpointing what not just the patient’s overall physical, mental well being, but they become really business savvy in terms of their understanding of what drives in this business. And so when you have that collaboration, right up front, it becomes very active and great discussion about ways to solve some of the most complex problems in healthcare, socialization, engagement by providers is critically important. I’d also say that from our health systems perspective, there is tremendous value placed on the role of marketing.


Rudy Fernandez  14:05 

I think marketing can play a role in patient care. I mean, don’t you? And by that, I mean, helping physicians, for example, helping the endocrinologist get his diabetes patients to monitor their blood sugar, take insulin, or motivating patients to live healthier lifestyles, just various ways of engaging the patient that improves their health, not just from a, “let’s bring in some more patients”. But a “let’s improve health”. What do you think of that? Is there anything that you see in the future or even the present that’s going in that direction?


Sandra Mackey  14:39 

Oh, absolutely. When I talk about the strategic partnerships, and alliances that exists between marketing and providers, that’s what we’re experiencing today. So as we’re sitting around a table with providers, talking about some of the most complex issues from a clinical perspective, as well as a business perspective, that’s the voice that we’re bringing the table to help work through solutions that can solve some of the issues both from an access standpoint and a compliance standpoint, in terms of care management. It doesn’t stop at putting up, you know, flyers and posters everywhere and thinking that we’re making an impact on patients’ lives. I think there’s a genuine respect for the role that marketing can play in really helping to ensure that we are promoting wellness, as a community. And from our brand perspective, rather than just beating people through the door when they’re sick, sending them home and thinking that the end of the journey it’s not the end of the journey. In most cases, it’s the beginning,


Rudy Fernandez  15:51 

Who are some of your audiences and how are you reaching them and speaking to them.


Sandra Mackey  15:55 

So I think for us, the audience is twofold. One Is our provider and recognizing the role that provider plays. I think we have to actively tell a story to those providers that are parts of our clinically integrated network to help them understand the type of services, the breadth of services that can be provided by their colleagues within the network. And so that truly is one audience for us – to keep on telling a story about the services we provide and the benefits to the patient that we can accomplish together. The second audience, which often takes primary footing for us is the consumer audience. And when we look at consumers, we really have to narrow that down to a target audience for us. And it will come as no surprise to you that target is still female, the female co decision maker of the family really is the person that we need to reach as we think about ways to engage them to take care of their families.


Rudy Fernandez  17:02 

There’s obviously this consumerization of health care happening. People are looking at online reviews, people are shopping around more. And there’s just more and more call for price transparency. Again, there’s some complications with that. And we probably won’t go into it. But how is all this changed who you reach, how you reach them, how you approach them in terms of marketing?


Sandra Mackey  17:25 

That’s a great question Rudy. And certainly from our perspective, it starts with understanding who a consumer is, what their current perceptions are of healthcare, and then honing in on the specific ways that we can enhance their experience. And that really is looking to wellness more so than is looking at acute care. How can we keep them well, and how can we become a partner on that journey to wellness? We also then explore what are the forms in which they best receive information, and what is the most appropriate care setting for them when they do need to access care. So all of those components are triggers for what really drives a marketing plan for us.



So what are some trends you’re seeing in terms of how people shop, let’s say for healthcare?



Oh, gosh, so, no surprise, digital. So I think when we look at the platforms in which consumers best engage, you know, we are more reliant today than ever, on sort of more tech functionality, marketing, technology stack functionality, than we are on traditional marketing. And that’s changed over the past several years, where we have come to better understand what consumers needs are and meet them where they are right? And trying to force consumers to conform to our current structure. That’s not an innate capability that consumers have want or need, especially when they’re used to shopping in a digitally sensitive world where they can get what they want, where they want at the time that they wanted.


Rudy Fernandez  19:22 

So yes, people are starting to shop for their health care the way they shop for, I don’t know, shoes, which, you know, they’re not the same thing. I was talking to someone recently who was looking at a surgeon’s review online, and that surgeon got a three out of five stars or something. And I knew this surgeon and went “No, actually, he’s, he’s pretty good.” And when you look at the comments, it was well, you know, things like, well, he was short with me. He was rude. And like, Yeah, he’s a surgeon. You know, I think it would be nice to have a nice surgeon but really, you want a good one. So I guess the point I’m trying to make is you can evaluate your healthcare the way you evaluate other things, because we lay people don’t know enough about the actual procedure, and what is a good procedure and not a good procedure? We know whether or not somebody’s nice to us, of course. So how do you educate people? How do we get to the point where people can go? Okay, these are the parameters by which I need to evaluate a provider?


Sandra Mackey  20:28 

That’s a great question, Rudy. And what I say is, you know, I think the landscape has changed so dramatically, right. And the one thing that is constant is referrals, recommendations from a family, a family member or friend, right? You, you trust people who have experienced those services. To give you a good recommendation based on their own experience, that’s still probably the number one referral source that consumers rely on. And that’s not just the healthcare, they rely on the same sources across the board. You know, you buy a great phone, you’re going to tell your friends about how great it is. And before you look around your friends around and got the exact same phone, same concept in healthcare, and it is different and it’s more complex, however, that can no longer be an excuse. The fact that it’s complex, and the drivers for health care are numerous. We as marketers cannot stand behind that premise. And just hope that people will understand. We have to take the time as marketers to help them understand and help them understand how to evaluate services. If you journey map a consumer’s journey from the time that they suspect that something is wrong, and they need to see a physician, to the time that they actually arrive in a physician’s office. There’s a lot of opportunity for healthcare providers to educate them, the consumers along the way. So it’s almost like a decision tree. What do you need to be treated for? What do you think is wrong? And so going through that, learning about the specific treatment options along the way, by the time they reach a primary care office, they come into the office, armed with great question. The ability for our providers to be able to answer those consumer questions can define utilization by a consumer in that office. Either the physician could ask my questions, or they couldn’t and if they can’t answer those questions, and don’t take the time to answer those questions, that could be a game changer for the consumer. So understanding that there’s a level of customer service here that really plays into delivery of care is critically important. I think getting a consumer into a practice and having them talk to the knowledgeable providers that are on the other side of the door, really does make a difference. Overwhelmingly consumers are listening to their physicians and that statistic hasn’t really changed over time. Frankly, as marketers, how do you actually optimize that? I think we constantly think about engagement mechanism. That so we are top of mind as consumers go along their journey to get to the physicians office.


Rudy Fernandez  23:27 

Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. you’d mentioned sick care versus healthcare, which traditionally, hospitals have been sick care sort of a point of service type structure. I’m happy to see that hospitals are evolving to true healthcare. And I think that’s how you do that by constantly keeping people informed, or however you keep a relationship going to monitor their health, or talk about their health or however you choose to do that. And if you do that consistently, you’re going to be top of mind for if and when something does occur, which I think is a smart investment for any brand.


Sandra Mackey  24:01 

Yeah, that’s exactly right.


Rudy Fernandez  24:03 

Hey, thanks for listening to Marketing Upheaval from Creative Outhouse. To learn more about Bon Secours Mercy Health, check out their website at bsmhealth.org. Or check out Sandra’s LinkedIn page. For show notes, previous episodes and previews to upcoming episodes visit CreativeOuthouse.com/podcast. And if you liked this podcast, give us five stars. Subscribe, share it with all your friends. Our producer is Susan Cooper. Special thanks to Gopal Swamy and Acoustech Music for creating our earcon and to Jason Shablik for his audio advice. Well, that’s it for this episode of Marketing Upheaval. And remember, if the current state of marketing has you confused, don’t worry, I’ll change. See ya.




Podcast credits:

Host: Rudy Fernandez

Producer and Cover Art: Susan Cooper

Earcon sound design: Gopal Swamy

Audio Consultant: Jason Shablik

Post production provided by: Music Radio Creative

Hosting provided by: Buzzsprout

Transcripts by: https://otter.ai