In 2011, Sharp HealthCare was one of two organizations recognized in the inaugural class of HIHOF Innovative Provider Organization inductees. We recently spoke with Kelly Faley, Vice President, Web Strategies & Customer Contact Centers at Sharp, about the organization’s digital journey.
HIHOF: What does it mean for Sharp to have been inducted into the Healthcare Internet Hall of Fame?
Kelly Faley (KF): It was a real honor for Sharp to be honored as one of the inaugural inductees. It meant a lot because it gave us external validation and confirmation that we’ve been going in the right directions and doing the right things over the past years.
HIHOF: When did your digital program begin at the organization? What were your challenges then?
KF: The first website was launched in the early 1990s, but it was very brochure-like. About 1993 or 1994, we put up a very basic website, and in 1996, we added to the site and did more. In 1998, we got more organized. We engaged Greystone and focused more on digital strategy. We launched our new site in 1999. We were able to get the CIO and marketing SVP on board, but it was almost like we were working in secret. We were meeting with a few stakeholders and working with Greystone. Most of the stakeholders did not think the new strategy would fly – they did not think the internet would bring in new patients. Ironically, those naysayers are now among our biggest champions. In 2010, we launched our first patient portal, which was a game-changer. Between the extensive tools on Sharp.com and the tools we built for our patient portal, our digital tools were seen as much more than brochure-ware. I think it helped the organization to look at digital as a viable way to solve business problems and interact with our patients – rather than just looking at the web as place to put information.
HIHOF: How has your organization achieved its advances in the digital space? To what do you attribute your success?
KF: I’m blessed to work with an executive team that values innovation and understands the value of the Internet and is very focused on consumerism. Our successes over the years have helped to drive even more support from the highest levels of the organization.
In addition we’ve done a great job of recruiting and retaining a very talented digital team. We would not have seen the successes we’ve had without this amazing team.
Last, Sharp – and especially the digital team – has a culture of innovation. We are willing to take risks, to think big, and to put resources behind our ideas that will make a real business difference. That can be scary for people because you have to be willing to risk errors or even complete failure. Of course, we’re not reckless but you have to be willing and ready to apologize and take responsibility (and the consequences) if and when plans go wrong.
HIHOF: What challenges do you have today?
KF: Perennial budget and time issues – not enough of either. There are too many priorities. Second, as more digital properties move beyond pure marketing tools and do more and more operational functions, roles and responsibilities get more confusing. When we started Sharp.com 20+ years ago, its primary purpose was to encourage people to choose Sharp as their provider. Potential patients still use Sharp.com that way, but current patients are increasingly using the site for operational functions like scheduling an appointment, getting directions and paying a bill. At Sharp, that means we now have digital strategists, who are part of the Marketing department, working directly with the Patient Financial Services team, or the Access team to design user-friendly digital patient tools.
The same thing happens with advertising. Twenty-plus years ago, advertising was placed on TV, radio or the newspaper. Now, we’re placing ads across the web. Well, who does that job? Do digital display ads “belong” to the advertising expert? Or the digital expert?
As we continue to move more and more business roles online, responsibilities and reporting structures will become more and more confusing. That said, it’s a great problem to have! Digital experts are so needed!
HIHOF: Where do you see digital going for provider organizations? What effect do you think it will have on the healthcare industry in the future?
KF: I think we have to focus on making it easier for our patients to work with us. We need to allow our patients to interact with us without having to come in to a facility or making a phone call. That’s not a traditional marketing communications function but it speaks directly to retaining our current patients.
On the advertising/marketing communications side, I think we all need to focus on the continued evolution of advertising and the growth of advertising online. We need tighter integration with our advertising teams for more cohesive—and ultimately successful—campaigns.
HIHOF: Do you have any advice for other organizations that are trying to digitally transform and innovate?
KF: You need a strong foundation before you can be innovative. Make sure your basics are solid before you start more complex projects. Be sure you have a great physician finder before you launch chat or telemedicine.
Listen to your customers. Do focus groups and surveys. Listen to what they say about you on social media and through emails. Prioritize (and organize) your site according to what your patients say they need, not what your executive suite wants.
Last, go mobile first!
HHOF: What digital achievements are you most proud of?
KF: Hands-down I am most proud of the team we have here. They are dedicated and passionate—they make the magic happen. As a result, this organization shows tremendous trust and respect for the digital team.
Thinking about functionality….I’m really proud of our Find A Doctor tools and our Classes and Events tools that allow patients to find and register for classes and events.
I’m really excited right now for new bill pay tools and single sign-on functionality that we will introduce this year – all to make our patients’ experience with us easier.
Sharp Healthcare continues to be a leader in digital marketing in health care. The Healthcare Internet Hall of Fame is pleased to recognize Sharp and other organizations and individuals for their contributions to our industry.
If you are part of an organization or know of an organization doing exceptional and innovating work on the web we invite you to nominate at them for the 2017 Healthcare Internet Hall of Fame Class. You can find more information regarding nominations at HIHOF.Com. We also hope you’ll join us at the 21st Annual Healthcare Internet Conference in Austin, TX, in October where the 2017 Class of Inductees will be presented.