Piedmont Healthcare blazing a trail as a content provider

With its new HealthWatchMD website, the Atlanta-based hospital system, with agency partner TRIO, has become a media producer.


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You expect certain things from your local hospital. Emergency services. Health education. The capacity to do various procedures. Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta has added an item to that list: news.

“We wanted to create something that didn’t feel like an advertisement, that really felt like a news source,” says Ed Lovern, executive vice president and chief administrative officer at Piedmont Healthcare.

In early March, Piedmont and Trio Media Group launched HealthWatchMD, a site that features videos on topics ranging from heart valve replacement and melanoma to dog walking and coffee. The site also includes hand-picked links to health articles from national news sources.

“Our vision was to really create a way to help people make more sense of those things,” Lovern says.

Piedmont and Trio hope to make the site, which stars Dr. Randy Martin, a TV health care reporter for 15 years, into a local health care resource—and not just in Atlanta.

Development

The information that people find on most health care websites is “pretty routine,” says Lovern. It isn’t often dynamic or interesting. Piedmont was looking to break away from that pattern, he says. Plus, doctors at Piedmont hospitals had been asking for years for a platform on which they could communicate just what they could do.

“It’s hard for traditional media to be able to satisfy all the different capabilities we’ve got,” Lovern says.

So Piedmont reached out to Trio and Martin, a cardiologist on staff, to build an online news source. Martin would be the personality behind the new website. TRIO would develop the site and create its content.

Trio built HealthWatchMD from the ground up, says Denise Elsbree, the firm’s chief executive and the site’s news director. “We wanted to have a clean, simple environment so the portal would be easy to use,” she says. Even the tweets at the top of the homepage and the links to news articles are hand-picked by a TRIO staffer, she says, rather than being an automated feed.

“Everything on there has thought attached to it, from a content standpoint,” Elsbree says.

About 12 Trio employees do the video production, writing, editing and content curation for the site, she says. But Piedmont and Martin play a role in what’s covered.

“We really collaborate daily on the stories that we cover and how we cover them,” says Lovern. “We each bring a slightly different perspective to the discussion.”

Audience and content

Piedmont hasn’t spent much on promoting HealthWatchMD—a little bit on Facebook ads—but the numbers are going up every week, Lovern says. So far, about 5,000 visitors have come to the site, averaging three minutes per visit, he says.

“We’re encouraged by that,” Lovern says.

Elsbree says she’s not expecting visitors will come to the site by typing the URL into their browsers or even via search engines. They’re more likely to come to the site from links that feature crossover content—content that has a health care component but touches on other hot topics as well.

“We want to go where the trend is going,” she says.

For instance, a recent piece in which Martin discussed radiation showed up on several blogs. Likewise, a video about dog walking and exercise drew attention from pet owners, says Lovern. Seeing what strikes a chord and what doesn’t has been “interesting for us to watch,” he says.

HealthWatchMD is still in a pilot period through June 30, the end of its fiscal year, Lovern says. He characterizes the six weeks or so the site has been active as “a great learning experience.”

“If nothing else, we’re going to produce a lot of good content that’s going to have use in other mediums,” he says. “There was a clear return in content development, even if the site doesn’t work in the way we envisioned it.”

Plus, Piedmont’s community of doctors has taken notice. “Physicians have really been engaged with it in a surprising way,” says Lovern. “Any time we call one of our physicians to participate, they’re much more likely to do this than they’d be to do a routine media call.”

Costs and expansion

Lovern didn’t give exact cost figures for developing and running the site. The big expenses are the contract with Trio and Martin’s time, he says.

Piedmont is “transitioning from more traditional media to this type of activity,” says Lovern, but he stopped short of saying the system had to pull resources from other communications efforts to get HealthWatchMD up and running. “It wasn’t a clear-cut decision to, hey, let’s not do this, let’s do this instead,” he says.

So are content creation and media production the next big step for hospitals? It’s too early to say, says Lovern. But Elsbree says Trio is absolutely looking to take HealthWatchMD’s content to other regions.

“We have every intention of taking it outside of Atlanta,” she says. “Everything that we do is scalable to other markets.”

HealthWatchMD’s videos could be augmented to include local experts from other regions, Elsbree says, or they can be used as they are. She says she also plans to syndicate some HealthWatchMD videos on local TV news stations.

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