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Ascension rebrands for a seamless consumer experience

It’s more than marketing: Health systems make fundamental change to reach consumers in their communities


Composit graphicWhen Ascension, the nation's largest nonprofit health system with sites in 22 states, decided to rebrand the entire system to bring it all under the same umbrella, the organization's marketing team knew it would entail more than just swapping out some signs.

"It wasn't just putting the Ascension name on the side of hospitals, but to reflect that we were moving to an integrated operating company," explains Nick Ragone, senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer for Ascension. "Both for our associates and our consumers, we needed to make navigating all of our sites of care consistent."

It was also an essential element in the organization's greater goal of reaching consumers in ways that are relevant to them, not just convenient for the health system. Branding offers a uniform Ascension name and experience at more than 2,600 sites of care."This is paying off in our markets where the brand has become more mature, and making consumer engagement easier," Ragone says.

The huge rebranding effort has been underway for a couple of years and is about two-thirds completed. Before embarking on the journey to become "One Ascension," Ragone says planners were careful to build support internally before making the change externally.

"It's an inside-out process," Ragone says. "We spent a good 18 months just doing extensive socializing with all our associates. The message was, 'You're not losing your local name, but adding the Ascension brand to your local name.'" This was done carefully, because, in some locations, hospitals had histories as long as 150 years with a given name.

The branding efforts involved town hall meetings and experiential change management — a hands-on learning process — with all 160,000 Ascension associates. The internal work included not just employees, but also local boards and other community leaders, helping them to feel comfortable with the change.

An essential element to winning everyone over to the new name was educating them about the Catholic organization's mission, which is incorporated into the language it used around branding: to deliver compassionate, personalized care to all, with special attention to persons living in poverty and those most vulnerable. It helped to have a meaningful message to share with employees as they were brought under one umbrella, Ragone says. "You have to explain to your associates why you are going on this journey. It's a culture change, coming together as one, and making a brand promise you can live every day."

Nick Ragone, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, AscensionRagone said he was pleased and surprised at how quickly the change was accepted, including among physicians, who were moving into a unified Ascension Medical Group. "The physicians were the ones pushing us to go the fastest," Ragone said. "They liked the idea of being part of one of the largest medical groups in the country — sharing clinical outcomes ... and having a single brand identity."

The organization's leadership also has a role in establishing Ascension as a national brand, Ragone says, by taking a high-profile role in national initiatives to improve the efficiency and quality of the health care system. Ascension CEO Tony Tersigni speaks regularly on health reform topics and leads the International Confederation of Catholic Health Care Institutions.

"We feel like we are helping to lead the transformation of health care overall given the size and scope and breadth of our system," Ragone said. "That includes responding to the consumer, taking cost out of the system, making health care more accessible to everybody, and dealing with health inequities."

Uniform brand supports engagement with community members and seamless care delivery

The brand is meant to support a comprehensive effort to reach consumers, whose expectations for having a good experience with the health care system have changed remarkably in recent years. "Consumers are really taking the experiences in other parts of their lives, such as with Amazon or Uber, and juxtaposing [those] to health care," Ragone says. "They are challenging everyone in health care — whether you're a big hospital system or a physician practice or payer — to think in a more consumer-focused way and think about what the experience is like."

Building a strong brand that consumers trust and find convenient is just one step in providing that consumer experience, Ragone says. "We're committed to providing our patients with more convenient and seamless care delivery options in every way possible."

The unified brand makes it easier for consumers to navigate sites of care both physically and online, and with mobile devices, where many health care engagements now begin, Ragone continues. "Our unified identity supports our shift to a more quantitative marketing model that is allowing us to better understand the people we serve and anticipate needs before they even enter our doors. It means having a strong, accessible brand that consumers trust and find convenient and connected," he explains.

Some of the themes around Ascension’s efforts to reach consumers include:

  • Seamless connectivity: offering individuals choices by integrating offerings into one central point of entry.
  • Mobile technology: connecting patients in real time through online scheduling, no-wait check-in options, online visits with providers, real-time social media reactivity and online tools that offer price transparency, product offers and incentives.
  • Individual choice: offering a menu of ways to access health care services within a single brand, and emphasizing choice and convenience. These include urgent care, 24/7 virtual care, advanced patient portals and seamless navigation through online access points.
  • Close proximity: moving care into communities to enter new markets and improve access. The system plans to enter new geographic markets and adjacencies with a clear plan at affordable rates.

Meanwhile, the Ascension name continues to be added, region by region, to buildings, logos, and name tags. "The day when all of our 160,000 associates are walking into a building with the Ascension name on it and they all have badges saying that, then we'll have arrived," Ragone says.

Ways to make consumer engagement convenient

Case study 1: Improving the patient experience by using mobile wayfinding
Patients and visitors who are used to opening a map on their mobile phones to find a new destination can have a similar experience when navigating around Piedmont Healthcare facilities using a Gozio Health mobile wayfinding platform. Piedmont, an 11-hospital system in Georgia, uses the mobile wayfinding technology as a key part of its patient-engagement strategy. The technology offers step-by-step directions to any destination in their hospital system. Gozio's platform also has the benefit of exposing Piedmont patients to additional applications and tools to help with all their medical care needs such as access to medical records via MyChart, appointment scheduling, virtual visits, urgent care and emergency department wait times, patient education portals, physician directories and more. Development of the app required the involvement of leadership, marketing, patient experience, facilities and IT, along with a patient advisory group, and benefited from executive roadshows and pre-rollout activities to generate excitement among the staff. Learn more in the Piedmont case study.

Callout: The Piedmont Now app uses Gozio Health’s mobile wayfinding platform to offer step-by-step directions to any destination in its hospital system, along with easy access to care by providing urgent care and emergency department wait times and appointment scheduling. Gozio’s Mobile Wayfinding Solution has earned the exclusive endorsement of the American Hospital Association.

Case study 2: Consumers want choice, not just same-day appointments
These days, consumers aren't impressed with more hours at the same old medical clinic; they want a menu of choices, according to Mike Waters, senior vice president of physician services at Renton, Wash.-based Providence Health & Services. That's why the system is building out a wide variety of options for accessing care. These include 50 Express Care clinics in Walgreens stores that are owned and operated by the health system, not the retail chain, and outfitted with Providence's electronic health record system. The system is also experimenting with in-person home visits in two of its West Coast markets. The model could be attractive to a working parent who is home with a sick child, someone unable to travel to a medical appointment, and consumers looking for concierge-type service. Waters believes home visits could see a similar growth arc as telehealth has experienced, with growing acceptance by patients, providers, and health plans. "Payers' willingness to pay for certain types of care is evolving," Waters said.

Case study 3: Creating an ecosystem of health
Spectrum Health, which runs a 12-hospital system and health plan out of Grand Rapids, Mich., wants to provide a wide array of ways for consumers to use its products and services, and not just when they are sick. The system calls its concept "an ecosystem of health" that becomes interwoven into consumers' daily lives. The organization is finding innovative ways to do this, including co-branding products such as vitamins and over-the-counter medicines at a local grocery chain; the idea is to incorporate the Spectrum Health name into everyday consumer life. Through Spectrum Health Ventures, the organization is investing $100 million in venture capital into areas such as prevention and wellness, care delivery transformation, consumer engagement, and genomics. "We have to begin to ask the questions that we haven't asked before about what it means to be a health ecosystem, not just a patient-care focused system as we move forward," said Spectrum Health Chief Strategy Officer Roger Jansen, Ph.D.