Episode 17: Shifting the Conversation from Healthcare to Health

If Individuals are given information on their personal health risks, will they change their health behaviors for the better? How can a health system impact its community when it views itself as more than just a place to treat sick people? What can happen when healthcare executives lead by example? Suzanne Hendery, Chief Marketing Officer and VP, Marketing and Communications, for Renown Health, shares the story of CEO Dr. Tony Slonim and how Renown has shifted the conversation from healthcare to health, from patients to people, and from clinical encounters to community health.

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Show Resources

  1. Healthy Nevada Project
  2. Tony Slonim’s Ted Talk
  3. View from the C-Suite with Dr. Tony Slonim, CEO of Renown Health – Strategic Health Care Marketing

Full Transcript

Announcer: It’s time to think differently about healthcare. But how do we keep up? The days of yesterday’s medicine are long gone and we’re left trying to figure out where to go from here. With all the talk about politics and technology, it can be easy to forget that healthcare is still all about humans. And many of those humans have unbelievable stories to tell. Here, we leave the policy debates to the other guys and focus instead on the people and ideas that are changing the way we address our health. It’s time to navigate the new landscape of healthcare together. And here’s some amazing stories along the way. Ready for a breath of fresh air? It’s time for your paradigm shift.

Michael: Welcome to the Paradigm Shift of Healthcare and thank you for listening. I’m Michael Roberts here today with co-host Jared Johnson and Scott Zeitzer. On today’s episode, we’re talking to Suzanne Hendery. She’s the Chief Marketing Officer and VP Marketing and Communications for Renown Health. Suzanne, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Suzanne: It’s my pleasure, gentlemen. Thanks so much for having us on.

Jared: Hey, Susanne. We’re excited for one reason, just to hear more about the story of Renown Health, because you’re doing some really really cool things out there that those in the country, if they don’t know about it, they need to know about it, quite frankly, and we’re just excited to share this a little bit. There are a lot of efforts, I feel like, I’m sure this is one of those things that we only see even just the tip of the iceberg, of what’s above the water, in terms of how much effort it takes to pull off some of the things that the teams there, at Renown Health, are doing.

Where are some of the things, over the last couple of years, that you guys have been involved in to literally shift a conversation from what we consider of health care, to shift that conversation to health. From patients to people, and from clinical encounters to community health. Would you mind starting us out and giving us kind of an overview of those efforts and what was behind them?

Suzanne: Sure. Thank you, Jared. Well, I think it starts with leadership and certainly our CEO, Dr. Tony Slonim, who has a pretty diverse background as both a Pediatric Intensivist by training, as well as a registered nurse, a veteran, and a cancer survivor. He brings a whole different perspective to almost every challenge. And one of the things that really ignites his passion is public health. He’s got a master’s and a doctorate in that area. So, when he thought, “How can I change the conversation on health and healthcare?” he went a little bit off the traditional CEO path of spending a lot of time on the acute care or the hospital side and really delving into the health and prevention and wellness side of the healthcare equation.

So, under his leadership, we’ve taken on something called Healthy Nevada Project, which is a statewide research project which is intended to improve the health of Nevadans, which is pretty poor right now. I think we’re 49th out of 50 states in terms of the health of our population. So we have a lot of work that can be done to increase the health and wellness of Nevadans.

Jared: Gotcha. So, with that, I guess I’m curious in terms of what the vision was for that at the beginning and what you hoped to accomplish.

Suzanne: Great question. So, it all started over coffee, and a lot of good conversations I guess start that way. But our CEO, who’s from New Jersey originally, and the Chief Scientific Researcher from Desert Research Institute, which is also located here, in Reno, Nevada, met over coffee and they thought they were gonna talk about some of their exploits at home, in New Jersey, as kids. And they ended up talking about the health of the population, here in Nevada, and specifically Tony’s interest in public health and Dr. Joe’s interest in environmental social determinants and other pieces of the genetics equation. He’s a geneticist by training.

So they thought, “Wouldn’t it be so amazing if they could combine hereditary and ancestry results through a genome test and also combine that aggregate research with the environment?” We get a lot of fires out here, right on the California border, so upper-respiratory illnesses. Would there be a connection between someone’s hereditary background and the sunshine that we have here, in Northern Nevada? They had a lot of questions that they wanted to answer and they thought having these free genetics tests would be the very start of the research study.

Jared: So, with that then, how did it progress from there? I guess there must’ve been a lot of work that went on from that point on to understand where your objectives were and really what you wanted to accomplish with it from that point on. Did you see what you expected to see even early on in the project or did things kinda shift as it started happening?

Suzanne: Well, yes. We were very surprised. We initially signed up with 23andMe. And I think because of the strong brand association that a lot of consumers have with 23andMe, and they’ve certainly done some really good marketing themselves, when people heard that they could get a free 23andMe ancestry test, we anticipated that it would probably take us at least 3 months to get 10,000 people to put their hands up and say, “Yes, I’d love to get a free test.” What happened was, in 72 hours, we had filled 10,000 slots.

Scott: 72 hours?

Suzanne: Yes.

Scott: That’s amazing.

Suzanne: So, it then became the fastest-growing genetic study and our physicians also became interested in it. And the next progression really was to go to a full genome-sequencing laboratory because, although 23andMe does a great job with ancestry data, we needed the full spectrum of the full genome sequencing in order to be able to predict future illnesses that might be encountered by our population.

So we partnered with a group called Helix, which is the largest genome-sequencing laboratory in the country, they’re located here in San Francisco, and that began the second part of our journey to be able to get to 25,000 people. And we expanded from Northern Nevada in Reno right through to Las Vegas. So we are now all across the state, measuring folks and having them participate in this research study. And we’re probably close to almost 40,000 people now who have taken the test and been part of this large data project.

Jared: Is it still going on right now?

Suzanne: It is.

Jared: Very cool.

Scott: Have you gotten any initial results back that has started to point you in specific directions?

Suzanne: Yes. We started with the first three kind of genetic illnesses that are most widespread and deadly in our population. So, the first one is called FH and stands for familial hypercholesterolemia. And these are people who have genetically very, very high cholesterol but they don’t look like they would have high cholesterol. And generally at a young age, they’ll have a heart attack, or cardiac arrest, or another kind of cardiac event that they had no idea was coming.

So we screened all of the folks in the database to see how many people had FH. And one of the stories is this beautiful 29-year-old mom with two children. Slim, would look on first impression like she had no health issues at all. She was finally able to find out why her father died at a very young age of a heart attack, so did her uncle and her grandfather, and that she indeed was at risk. And she was able to go on a medication regimen to put that in check, as well as change her eating habits and her health behaviors. And she was able to at no cost get the rest of her family screened because she’s concerned obviously for her children that they grow up with a healthy lifestyle so that, despite their genetics, they still have the best optimal chance for success.

Scott: It’s just terrific. And what were the other two?

Suzanne: The other was BRCA, which is the breast cancer gene. Those people that are BRCA-positive are more likely to develop breast cancer. So we’ve also made calls to all of the women in our community who came through with the BRCA gene. Now, it doesn’t mean that they have cancer, and probably none of them do, at this point, but they just have a very high propensity to develop it. So, getting them early screening mammograms, even though they may be in their 20s or 30s, and having their sisters and moms and grandmothers also tested so that we can see kind of the lineage of how this occurs is key to us. And third is something called Lynch syndrome, which is a precursor to colon cancer.

Scott: It’s really…you gotta hit… I was thinking in my mind what the top three were and I wasn’t thinking of colon cancer. And right when you said Lynch, I was like, “Yep, that’s the third.”

I went to the website and I looked at it and you’ve expanded past that in terms of just trying to teach people about good health in general as well. Correct?

Suzanne: Certainly. Because we’re also a health plan, a provider-owned health plan that’s a part of our system, including acute-care hospitals and community hospitals. It’s really important for us to make our local community as healthy as possible so, hopefully, they would never need to use us on the hospital setting. So we have numbers of primary-care offices almost on every corner to make it very convenient for people to be able to find us, especially when they need us. And spending a lot of time on prevention and community-health, whether it’s food pharmacies, or walking programs, discounts at local gyms. All of those things are within the health system in terms of what we provide to our community. Because, if we can change that equation and have people come to us healthy, fit, and well, certainly they’re much better able to deal with any kind of illnesses or stresses that they might encounter and more successful outcomes.

Jared: So, Suzanne, that sounds like Renown Health just considers itself…I’d be a little facetious here, but it sounds like you definitely view your role in the community a little differently. This isn’t just a place to go when you get sick, right? Tell us about that.

Suzanne: Well, I think it stems from the original question you asked around Tony’s vision, or Dr. Tony Slonim’s vision, which is, “Can you imagine if we put hospitals out of business? Wouldn’t that be the most wonderful thing?” That, if no one ever needed to have cancer surgery, or radiation, or other surgeries, if they didn’t need to have that anxiety, if they didn’t need to have that expense, and cost, and disruption to their lives, what would the world be like if we could actually prevent a lot of these illnesses from happening? So that’s why he thought, “Let’s get on the upside of this stream.”

And he actually reorganized…in our most recent strategic plan, we have two structures, one is all around health, and we have a lead for our health division, and then, we have a lead for our healthcare division, which is all of our hospitals and service lines. But the focus on prevention is real and we’re very fortunate to have a community that’s interested in participating along with us.

Scott: It’s a interesting thing. So Dr. Slonim basically has literally created an entire structure around health? Of course healthcare, I mean he runs a hospital system, but he’s made it so important that he’s created an entire structure just around health?

Suzanne: You’re exactly right. And the fact that we’re a nonprofit healthcare organization who spends millions of dollars back in community benefit to support over 90 other organizations in the city and across the region to do what they do best, which is health and outreach…we couldn’t take it on by ourselves but certainly being able to fund and fuel a lot of these initiatives, whether it’s in behavioral health, or whether it’s in community-health workers, or working with the food bank to have kind of low-salt alternatives and things that patients with diabetes can take advantage of in terms of their food, that’s all been part of his initiative, here at Renown.

Scott: He kind of had to step out of his comfort zone a bit, from what I understand. I mean… Although he’s got quite a background, to put it mildly, I don’t know if there’s any more degrees that he can get, you know.

Suzanne: He loves education and he loves learning. And I think of him as an inventor because he has a very blue-sky, although grounded and evidence-based with results, approach to solving the healthcare equation. But I don’t think he’s easily satisfied by the status quo. So he’s always challenging us, as a leadership team, to bring him new innovative ideas and ways of doing things. Which I certainly appreciate because he’s been able to hire a lot of people who think that same way. And it’s surprising because, for a moderate-sized healthcare system, our goal is to make an impact first in our own state and then help other people around the country to be able to implement similar programs in their communities with testing for genetics and social-health determinants so that they can also get the research that they need to say how is New Orleans different from Reno different from, you know, Wisconsin.

Scott: Absolutely. A lot of what Dr. Slonim has done has required him, as I mentioned, to step out of his comfort zone. Was he able to do that by working with other leaders? He seems like he’s extremely intelligent but he seems also open to other ideas. What are some ways that he’s worked with other people that’s kind of helped out the community?

Suzanne: Great question. Well, he’s very extroverted and he gets a lot of energy obviously by talking with other smart passionate leaders who want to improve the world. So he is a dream, as far as a Chief Marketing Officer is concerned, because he loves meeting and talking with our 7,000 employees. He’s constantly rounding, writing down notes, talking to business leaders, and legislators, and donors, and basically anyone who’s doing some whiz-bang cool things in this area. Which is really just percolating right now, here in Reno, Nevada. So we’ve got Amazon, and Google, and Apple, and Panasonic. And most of the drone companies have also relocated here from California. So he regularly meets with folks in that tech space because they know the technology and he knows the healthcare, or the health applications, for things such as drones.

So, the other day, he was talking to us about working with the drones companies to be able to deliver AEDs, or defibrillators, when and if needed to rural parts of the state via drones. So, there’s all kinds of neat things that could be done if you get the right people in the right room, and he certainly is a champion of that.

Scott: It’s just fantastic. How long has this been, two years, three years? How long has it been?

Suzanne: So Dr. Slonim just finished his five years here.

Scott: Five years? Wow. Okay.

Suzanne: And the program started…is three years. And it will probably keep going because, again, the more people who we can get to participate in the study, the greater the research impact and the more people that we can reach. We’re just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of giving clinically actionable results on those top three conditions. But there are hundreds of genetic things that we could start to look for in the population. And our hope is that we could do…we’re already starting to use it for workforce planning. So we found upper-respiratory diseases are higher than the national average, here in Reno. So we’re hiring more pulmonologists and cardiologists so that we can really start to structure, not just the talent and the expertise and the equipment that we purchase, but the facilities, to be able to deliver that care.

Michael: Suzanne, it sounds like you guys have no shortage of big ideas there, which is just amazing. And you talked about expanding these ideas beyond just your own state and talking about moving this into like nationwide kinds of communication. So many of the ways that we now depend on this kind of communication is through social media, through online communication. And so, I understand that training physicians on social media is part of your overall effort to communicate with the community and working with physicians, specifically on Twitter, on all these different, you know, platforms that are out there sounds fairly challenging. So what are some of the challenges that you faced and how have you overcome them?

Suzanne: Thanks, Michael. Yes, well, I wish I had a budget that was big enough to be able to put big ads in “The New York Times” magazine on Sundays. Unfortunately, I don’t. And maybe fortunately for us, we have to be very creative on a shoestring budget. So, we started with Dr. Slonim who was being teased by his adult children that he didn’t know how to tweet. And they almost challenged him to learn Twitter and begin to start tweeting some of his old messages out to the community. And Tony is never one to back down on a challenge, so he took them right up on it and wanted to learn how to tweet.

Certainly in the marketing and communications department, we have a process where our social-media coordinator has a phone call with Dr. Slonim every Monday, at 7:30 a.m., and they go through his whole week in terms of who he’s meeting with, what he’s thinking about, where he may be presenting. And they jointly put together the tweets for the week and that has worked beautifully. And Dr. Slonim has done such a great job that he was very excited when he could take his first selfie out in the community and create his own tweet and send it out and get responses.

Michael, you asked about some of the kind of potential pitfalls or downsides, I think the first one is just that it’s a two-way communication. Right? That you’re sending out information but you need to have enough space in your calendar, as a physician or a leader, to be able to respond and know when it’s appropriate to respond and open up your conversation. And then, just understanding that, if you have a bold opinion, there will be people who love you for it and people who don’t. And learning how to engage with all the cultural appropriateness of cyberspace takes a little time to learn. Right?

So I think it’s an evolving process but because the CEO was so passionate about it and took it on with such a vigor…and I would say, a lot of the things that we do in marketing and communications people are very excited about for the first 6 months, like the new newsletter for the laboratory, and then, they get bored with it and they wanna move on to something else. The fact that Dr. Slonim has been able to sustain the communications on a daily basis, on Twitter and LinkedIn, is really a testament to, once he gets involved with something, he’s in it for the long haul.

Scott: That’s really great.

Jared: That’s awesome. One of the things that I wrote down, as you were talking about this, was the intentionality behind it. I’m really impressed by meeting with the social-media coordinator and planning through the week so that it’s not an afterthought of, “Oh, hey, I’m gonna throw this out there too, but it’s a deliberate part of the communication plan.

Suzanne: It’s a great point and we’re hoping to get even more deliberate and strategic. We’ve been spending a lot of time on our brand values and what do we represent in this community, not what we think we represent but what does our community tell us that Renown represents in their lives? And they talk about hope and determination as the two brand values that they attach to our organization. So we’re now working on the next phase, which is, “What do we stand for and what won’t we stand for in our organization?”

Unfortunately, and I think this is probably a national issue, we’ve had more and more of our care providers actually being physically beaten up in the course of caring for a patient. And it’s not that they’re under anesthesia or they’re confused, they’re just gonna beat somebody up and it just happens to be, you know, your nurse at the bedside. Which we now have a zero-tolerance for and we’re really working to partner with our employees to say, “If you don’t feel strong enough to prosecute, certainly we will, as an organization.”

So, talking about things like that… Tony’s a pediatrician and intensive-care physician, so we live in Nevada where it’s a very gun-friendly state, you can buy a gun here pretty readily and carry a gun pretty readily, but he says things as a pediatric-intensive care physician who’s seen too many children brought into the hospital with gunshot wounds that he is quite provocative and edgy about what he wants to talk about. You know, as a marketing professional, I appreciate that he’s got a credible stance on which to base his opinions, and that’s really been what we’ve used to create a national footprint, surprisingly enough.

Michael: Absolutely. There are so many times when, you know, the easy path, right, is just keep talking about the positive things and talk about the wins that you have. But getting some of those wins is much more than just sticking to that easy-talking point. It is going out there and actually challenging some things. So, that’s wonderful, I’m so glad to hear that he and the organization, that you are all taking that on as a group. So that’s awesome. Thank you, Suzanne, so much.

We’re nearing the end of our show time but there’s so many more things that we could talk to you about and just learn more about how you guys are jumping into all of this and going after these kinds of changes. It’s really very encouraging, especially to see…one of the things that I’ve been amazed about I think, as we’ve been talking to a lot of different folks in somewhat similar spaces, is the health system not trying to take on the issues all by themselves. I think that’s very encouraging for a lot of other nonprofit organizations that are out there. A lot of other systems that have been very standalone in the past coming together in a way that really works to bring unified solutions, which is just wonderful. So, thank you for that.

Suzanne: Thank you, Michael. Thanks for letting us be a part of your program and helping to share the story. We appreciate it.

Michael: Oh, it’s certainly our pleasure.

Scott: Thank you, it’s our pleasure.

Announcer: Thanks again for tuning in to the Paradigm Shift of Healthcare. This program is brought to you by P3 Inbound, marketing for ortho, spine, and neural practices. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, or anywhere you listen to podcasts.