Sally Mildren, Chief Strategist & CEO, and Emily Martin, Communications & Engagement Manager, attended the 2023 Society for Health Care Strategy & Market Development (SHSMD) Conference in Chicago last week. With a combined 35+ years in healthcare marketing, communications, patient and employee experience, and engagement in rural, regional, and small healthcare settings, here are their takeaways from the conference.

Just over a week ago, we were honored to attend and present at the 2023 SHSMD Conference in Chicago. Sally partnered with one of our Critical Access Hospital clients to teach a two and a half hour workshop to 50 attendees about, Elevating Your Marketing Strategy & Impact in Small & Rural Health Care.

Our attendees exemplified what it meant to work in rural healthcare – the juggling act of managing marketing, internal and external communications, event planning, patient advocacy, and sometimes “interior decorating” for their hospitals and clinics. Note: The term “other duties as assigned” works well here. 

Our attendees visited from states throughout the U.S. and even the U.S. Virgin Islands – rural heroes and healthcare champions – eager to learn and collaborate about how they can effectively communicate with their diverse communities. There’s nothing more energizing than being around people driven to empower the world and their communities to be a better place. 

Here are our three key takeaways from the 2023 SHSMD Conference: 

1. True connection and belonging need to be at the forefront of healthcare marketing and communications strategy, especially in rural health. 

More than 46 million Americans (15% of Americans) live in rural areas. Rural healthcare providers and workers face different challenges than their urban counterparts due to health disparities in all ages of individuals living in rural communities. Beyond health challenges – struggles with provider recruitment to retention and lack of access to transportation, healthcare, and education – all play a crucial role in the difficulty of working in rural health. 

In the hustle and bustle of working in rural healthcare marketing, are we pausing momentarily, taking a breath, and focusing on WHO matters most in our daily work? Are we noticing our impact? 

Here’s an example: 

After a very long, hot day and months of planning…we were ready to go home. The site was being cleaned up, we had been on our feet for hours and not eaten all day. The event came off well, but we were glad to be done.

It’s then that I noticed an older lady and two others sitting the shade of the food truck, they had just gotten there and were eating together in a little huddle trying not to get in the way of “clean up”.  I went over and introduced myself and asked how they liked the event. Rosa, the older of the three, began to cry. Her daughter and granddaughter, began to share how Rosa had struggled with alcoholism for years and they had no idea there were so many resources for her to get help. Rosa, stared at the ground, shame and age showing in her face, as she picked at  her sandwich.  After a few minutes, Rosa, finally able to speak, beamed as she shared, “I get to go to recovery next week – I am so excited.”  It was in that moment that I was reminded – we deal with a lot of tactics, stuff, planning, details and tasks, but we must never forget WHO we are doing the work for and WHY we are doing it.  After all, in  healthcare we can never lose sight of the fact that humans matter most of all. That day wasn’t just about balloons, posters, food, and fun, it changed the lives of THREE GENERATIONS of people.

We know that in rural healthcare, you aren’t just serving patients – you’re serving your neighbors, your child’s soccer coach, your community’s pastor, your middle child’s teacher. It’s personal. It’s constant.

That’s why we encourage you to always stop and remember WHO and WHY you are in this work before launching into the next marketing campaign or event. 

And a very important part of making sure your efforts are aligned and making a difference, is by listening to your patients and customers.  Are you offering what they need and want?  How do you know? Are you connecting with the very things that your patients and community say are the most meaningful to them? Are you sure? When’s the last time you checked?

Everything you do matters. Your impact is so great and we are here to help you create even more impact through human-centered strategy.

2. Rural, small, and community-focused healthcare organizations need MORE support on a local and national level. 

As rural marketing and communications professionals, It was cathartic, healing, and fun to connect with others and have a little bit of “same boat” therapy to discuss the issues that these organizations face when it comes to provider recruitment, employee engagement, patient experience, marketing, communications, public relations, reputation management, operations, funding – ALL OF THE THINGS. 

One resounding message at SHSMD is that rural healthcare marketing professionals need support. Rural healthcare marketing budgets are tight, staffing is low (one or two-person marketing teams – we see you and celebrate you), and the workload feels astronomical. 

At ClarityPX, we’re passionate about partnering with small healthcare organizations, rural healthcare organizations, critical access hospitals (CAHs), federally qualified healthcare centers (FQHCs), and regional health systems because we know what you’re going through – we’ve been there.  And we also know that when brand, culture, and experience are aligned – that’s where the real magic happens. That’s what lights us up.

3. In order to really grow revenue, volume, reputation and value, we must create effective strategies focused on all the people first.

Humans are the heart of healthcare. Period. 

You cannot create positive patient experiences if you neglect your employees. You cannot create positive employee experiences if you do not know who you are, what you stand for, and how you will hold fast to those values.

If your brand, experience, and culture strategy is not focused on your people, it will not be sustainable and will not drive the kind of growth that is imperative in small healthcare markets.

Want to learn more about creating effective human-centric brand, culture, and experience strategies for your small healthcare or rural healthcare organization? Check out our full take aways from SHSMD and the slides from our Rural Health workshop here.




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