INTRO COMMENTS: Hello and welcome to Modern Healthcare’s Next Up, the podcast for emerging healthcare leaders. My name is Kadesha Smith, I'm your host. I’m also the CEO of CareContent, a digital strategy agency for healthcare organizations.
Today, we are continuing our conversation about the COVID-19 vaccination, specifically how organizations can educate patients about it.
As of February 9, 2021, over 43 million people in the US have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine. However, there are over 330 million people living in the US, so we have quite a far way to go to get to the estimated vaccination rate of 70% needed for herd immunity.
As vaccination efforts continue to ramp up around the country, one thing is certain: Many remain hesitant. This reluctance stems from a lot of things — social media, anti-vaccination groups, religious objections, the lack of long-term data. Other concerns come from our country’s history of racist experimentation in medical care and research, and this has made groups like Black Americans and Hispanic Americans uncertain about the vaccine.
Amidst all of this, the most important factor is that accurate information is available. Healthcare organizations and our nation’s public health entities play a key role in this.
In this episode, we’re talking to Tanya Andreadis, Chief Marketing Officer at UCLA Health. Prior to this, Tanya spent seven years at Penn Medicine as the Associate Chief Marketing Officer.
UCLA Health’s role in this pandemic has been significant — and challenging. In January 2021, LA County became the first county in the US to reach one million cases. They’re also navigating how to reach a community that’s extremely diverse in race, language, socioeconomic status, and mindsets about healthcare and the vaccine.
So, let’s dive into our conversation with Tanya Andreadis. She’s sharing her insight on how healthcare organizations can educate their patients about the COVID-19 vaccine.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Hello, Tanya. How are you doing?
TANYA ANDREADIS: Hi, Kadesha. I'm doing wonderful. Thank you for having me.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Thank you for making the time. Los Angeles is such an epicenter for all things COVID-19. As your team is trying to disseminate information about the vaccine, about your COVID-19 efforts, can you just give us a quick day-in-the-life description of your priorities and what's on your plate right now?
TANYA ANDREADIS: Yeah, sure. It's funny just, you know, before this discussion with you, I was on a call about vaccines. And it seems to be, you know, my norm is having at least four hours of discussion around communications mostly regarding vaccines, but also more broadly COVID-19.
So, we're — not just my life — but the life of my whole team, we're trying to balance the means of communicating with our patients. I think we took a pretty aggressive approach and we're realizing, gosh, we really have to deliver, and it requires a lot of work and a lot of pivoting and a lot of reorganization, to be able to communicate frequently and factually with our patients, letting them know what to expect, and sometimes telling them things that they don't want to hear. And so we've been really, really managing very tightly at sort of a monster in this process of communicating, all the nuances of vaccine distribution with our patients, while knowing we have to keep our business running.
Just after the spring COVID-19 outbreak, a lot of hospitals lost a lot of money, and it was all hands on deck with COVID. And we all went through a recovery period, and I think we're trying to avoid having to be back in that hole and have to go through this recovery period and make sure that people are keeping their health on track. Because we can manage COVID-19 cases, and the normal work that we have to do as an academic medical center.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: People are still having children, they're still breaking bones, they're still having chronic conditions that need to be managed. None of that stops just because of the pandemic.
TANYA ANDREADIS: The communities need the health systems to be vibrant to take care of the community. But more important is the health of everybody and their concerns about the safety of going to pursue their normal everyday healthcare needs. And that causes so many downstream effects, so yes, it's sort of day-in-the-life is trying to figure out how to do all of that.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: You have had some wins, though. So, you were part of developing the initiative TeamLA, which brought together major institutions throughout Los Angeles to combat COVID-19 together. It generated more than 12 million unique impressions in its first three months alone.
Can you tell us more about the TeamLA initiative, and then what are some of the other effective, but often ignored, tactics that health organizations can use to educate people?
TANYA ANDREADIS: That's a great question. I'm happy to talk about TeamLA because I'm just so proud of that initiative and the work of the team. I think we did go out on a limb, sort of early on in March, when COVID-19 was such a mystery to everybody and also just terrifying. And we weren't sure how to respond, honestly, because we felt that as a health system, and as a public organization, that it was our duty to be present and helpful, and to provide value to the people we serve. But it was changing so rapidly. It was new for us, and you know, we had all these issues around PPE, and it was a time where we thought, gosh, we don't really know what's in front of us, but we have to get out there anyway. We're just going to go. And we don't have the whole thing planned out. We don't know what we're going to say next week, even. But let's be present, and let's offer value every step of the way.
It really helped the team, I think, to focus on that initiative of, "We are here to help." And in marketing that's not always the case. We are always here to help, but we also have other things tugging at our priority strings. And this was all hands on deck, let's figure out how to be present for our community and provide value. And we quickly realized, you know, with just the enforcement of these behaviors — washing your hands, staying six feet apart, wearing a mask, staying home — that was like a new normal that was difficult for people, often like socially isolating as we know.
And we really felt like, well, this is a team sport, and we are embedded with these partnerships with really highly acclaimed sports teams, people that Los Angeles adore — the Dodgers and the Lakers and even our own Bruins at UCLA. We thought we would just ride that energy around sports and teams here and try to appeal to our community, regarding COVID-19 as a team sport: Let's fight this together. That was sort of our launchpad. And as we got into it, we started to have conversations with our partners who were also nervous about getting out and talking about it because they didn't understand it — none of us did. But people quickly rallied and realized, no this is what we have to do. We have to stay home. We have to stay apart. We're not going to get past this if we don't. And so we were able to appeal to our partners to really contribute to this mission. And it grew.
I mean, I think, one of the things we realized as a team, relationships — whether they're these sponsorship types, or they're just the relationships that you have in your community or in your donor community or in your alumni community, so many different angles on this, you know we work with many employers in the community — that those organizations really can be leveraged. And I think we realized that through this initiative.
So, when you talk about new things, I think, beyond COVID-19 that's, in my mind, something to really explore. But with the TeamLA, people got on board because everyone wanted to fight for this cause. And we had these pillars. It was citizen action, it was gratitude to thank the frontline workers and to thank so many people who were really trying to figure out a way to support us and to support one another with donations, food, or clothes, or lotion. I mean, people were like, "What can we give you?" You know, so it was just to show our gratitude for that kind of community outpour of support.
And also to give hope and and to inspire and to really make the message strong. We are going to get beyond this. This is not a forever thing. So, and that was also going out on a limb, you know, in some ways because, even our medical staff, they were nervous to say well, are we sure this is not forever? Because in the beginning we really, we didn't know what was happening. So, but we wanted to provide hope, and we had a pretty good sense that this would not be forever. And thank god it's not going to be forever.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Absolutely. So, you just mentioned, you know, the relationships are important. And a lot of our listeners may not be in markets where they have these marquee name organizations they can reach out to. But there are partners that can add value. There are people that they can work with, who can help spread certain messages.
Which key partners should help organizations be working with to ensure they're reaching their patients, especially those hard to reach populations? And should the healthcare organization be the one leading that charge?
TANYA ANDREADIS: I think healthcare organizations are at least one of the organizations that should be leading the charge because we are here to serve the community, we all come to work every day really with one mission in mind, which is to improve the health and well-being of the people that we serve.
And it is our job. What I realized in activating the voices of our partners, is the hesitancy to speak out on issues. It's often just because people don't understand them. And if in our roles, we are well-suited to provide education, and we're well-suited to explain these complex issues, like, "What is an mRNA vaccine?" When we provide that education, we simplify these concepts, and we give them to people in a way that are easy for them to explain to their friends, to their families, to their employees, to their network. Then, I think we can really amplify. So, in that way it is our role because we're uniquely positioned to provide that kind of education to the public.
In terms of the types of partners, we have lots of voices we can tap into here that have really big platforms. Not every healthcare organization is, you know, sitting in the middle of Hollywood. I get that. But I do think that there are untapped resources that come in many forms, and every community is unique and different. And I think about the past communities that I've worked in and things that, if I had the knowledge I have today, that I may have pursued, even in different locations. It's your alumni, it's your donor groups, its students in other schools, it's leaders in your community. You made the point of, how do we really influence those who need it the most? It's partnering with those community organizations. Could be things like Boys and Girls Clubs. It could be churches.
There's so many areas of community influence, and I think just creating those deliberate relationships and being available to help is a really huge opportunity. And one that should not stop here with the vaccines. Industries should think through how to fully leverage it in the future.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: And that kind of just builds that rapport. Don't just come when there's a crisis — have that touch point, in general.
TANYA ANDREADIS: Right.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: So, once you have your partners in place, you talked about developing coherent messaging that they feel comfortable sharing on their own platforms. Can you walk us through your process for developing key messages around the vaccine efficacy and around how it's being distributed?
TANYA ANDREADIS: Yes. I would say, get messaging out there and get feedback quick. So, when we were creating a messaging platform — just kind of thinking through the tactics here — it was, okay, the way many people might approach it, right? Let's create the message. Let's tell people this if you're going to do a Tweet, if you're going to post on Instagram, if you're going to post on Facebook, wherever the channel is, create the tweet, have it be within the right amount of characters to meet all of the specifications of each channel they might distribute on, and give them compelling images, and just provide this toolkit. I would say that's not enough because we started there.
And it was actually someone who's become a friend of mine who works for the Lakers, who we work with, and we were saying, "Well, can we get the players or the administration or some key groups to share this information?" And she said to me, "I know you think this makes a lot of sense, but it doesn't. And it was like, "Aha." Because we had worked so hard to refine it, and we thought, oh, this is crystal clear, we are making so much sense, and this is so helpful. And it wasn't actually because we're so in our own worlds with the language we use and the understanding that we have we take for granted. It really helped me to work with her to just simplify, simplify, simplify — four or five levels of simplification.
And so I would say that is of critical importance, and anyone you can get who will give you honest feedback — get that feedback early, and use it to refine your messaging so that it is easy for people.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Education awareness and promoting trust — that takes time. And at this point, the sentiment is that people are kind of starting to tune out. They are sick of the messaging around COVID-19. They're sick of the information deluge. Some people are still following the statistics, and others are kind of glazing over because they just want this to be over. And they're not really capturing the messaging.
TANYA ANDREADIS: Right.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: So, how can healthcare organizations keep that message of urgency about the vaccine, about the pandemic, especially as people are starting to get fatigued?
TANYA ANDREADIS: It's such an important point. And, you know, I'm even getting fatigued. I'm sick of telling, you know, people the same things over and over again. And it seems repetitive and not interesting in so many ways. Part of the challenge we've had with the last year honestly is, how do we stay on point with the right tone? Because you don't want to be tone deaf and telling people to wash their hands again. No one's listening to that anymore. So, it's like, what's the right message at the right time?
I guess I would say, being really in touch with public sentiment is one way to do that and to, again, not be in our own heads with, well we think this is important to say. But to think about what are people wanting to hear right now? And how can we add value, how can we contribute? One thing that we, I mean, the first time around I called COVID — the March through, you know, maybe, October or November — phase one of COVID. And then the holidays hit, and it was a whole nother animal, and of course the vaccines elevated that to another level in a good way. But it was easier to communicate the first go around because it was easier, I think, to address that sentiment. But then, you know, people are sick of being at home, people are sick of talking about wearing masks, people are doubting, like is that really even making a difference? Because we're still in this. And it got harder to figure out how to message.
And we pivoted, actually. Our new platform for messaging is not so much on that citizen action, team sport, or unhealthy behaviors. But now, it’s a responsibility to seek information, and to get the facts, and to look to science.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: OK. And you mentioned keeping a pulse on sentiment. How do you do that? Are you looking at keyword research, are you doing social listening, are you doing a mix of different efforts? How are you keeping a pulse on what your service area and what your catchment area are feeling and saying about this vaccine?
TANYA ANDREADIS: One of the things that we're doing now — and I think UCLA is just phenomenal in this regard because our CEO and our whole executive team is completely supportive of the concept of the voice of the customer. And so, we're all dedicated at every level of the organization to listening to feedback. And we have a report that we send every day to core groups of people in the organization that collectively brings together all the feedback that we've received that day on social media channels. Sometimes they just come in the form of emails. They come from our web forms. So, that's one thing that we're doing is, every single day, there's a group of people, and they're reading these emails.
And then the other is just this concept of constant feedback. And I think that goes to using your partners, you can use your partners that way. And asking more than telling. What do you want to hear? What's important to you? What are your employees saying? So, we have these really great employer relationships. You know, what do your employees want to hear? And that helps us to keep tailoring and changing. And we're sending weekly emails to our patients and our list of prospective patients, and we purposely left the ability to respond open. And now some people might think that's crazy. It's not been easy to keep up with it because the responses back are not always straightforward, and people are asking pretty complex questions.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Yeah.
TANYA ANDREADIS: But, gosh, I mean, you just sit with that inbox for a day, and it's game changing the things that you can learn. We're doing that, and we're really struggling. Now, actually, we've decided to assemble a team just to respond to emails.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Wow.
TANYA ANDREADIS: Yeah.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: And I love what you're saying, because so often marketing teams will kind of go into a dark room. They'll come up with what they're going to put out there, and that's it. There is no feedback loop. There is no way to understand, did this resonate, reach the people that we were trying to reach? Getting that feedback and being eager to get it is really encouraging.
TANYA ANDREADIS: Yes, you know, if I were to start over, I would start with that team in place. Because you don't really realize how much time and attention it takes. But I do really believe it's worth it, and it's worth realigning marketing resources to do that work.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: So, when you get all this feedback, you have to then act on it. You have to change something or, you know, especially if you're getting a groundswell of feedback about a particular issue. How do you prioritize what you're going to focus on and fix?
TANYA ANDREADIS: I think we are, again, lucky to have a very patient-centered executive team, and we prioritize, as simple as it sounds, based on what we think will provide healthier outcomes to our patients. Not all things are in our control.
We are trying — through this phase of the vaccination distribution, for example — to be extremely transparent and open with a process that's, frankly, extremely confusing. One day, this group is eligible. The next day, they're not. Then they're eligible again. And then, then it's, you know, we're following the county, then we're following the state, then it's up to the hospital system to decide who to give it to. And there's risk algorithms, and then there's not risk algorithms. And so, it's very difficult to be transparent when it changes so much, because people start to be skeptical. Like, well, yesterday you said it was 75, and today it's 65? So, we are really trying to be very transparent and to address that upfront.
So, I think when you talk about what issues to address, how do you choose? I mean, one of the things is just, what is going to add value? What's going to contribute to better health outcomes for our patients and for our community? And how can we be transparent where there's a lot of confusion and we know that it can add value to just provide good information? That's kind of where they "get the facts" thing comes in.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: That makes sense. So, last question: How can health organizations ensure that they're communicating in appropriate ways with all of their patient populations to ensure that everyone gets equal access?
TANYA ANDREADIS: It's a great question. We are starting to be more focused than ever on these micro-cultural audiences. LA, I think, is the most diverse city in our country. We're 10 million people. And every town, sometimes even like smaller than a town — a section of a town — has a completely different culture. Then, you layer on the cultural ethnicities. And there's so much here to think about when it comes to segmenting the way you communicate to your audiences.
Our COVID-19 site is translatable into, I think, five languages including Spanish, Chinese, Farsi. So, that's one step. And we're really working hard to get all of our COVID content translated into Spanish, and even pushing on social channels, translated social posts about vaccine education. That's just the start. We have a lot more to do and to figure out.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Well, this pandemic, we're going into year two of it. So, as you figure it out, it seems like the lessons learned will certainly be valuable going forward.
TANYA ANDREADIS: For sure. Yes.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Thank you so much for making the time again to share all of this insight and experience you've gained. We really, really appreciate it.
TANYA ANDREADIS: It was a pleasure to talk to you.
OUTRO COMMENTS: Thank you, Tanya Andreadis, for that insight on how UCLA Health has gone about educating patients on the COVID-19 vaccine. This is still something that our healthcare system is trying to figure out. It’s important to pivot and try things, and like Tanya said, leverage those community partners who can speak to those communities where there might be hesitance and reluctance.
Again, I’m your host, Kadesha Smith, CEO of CareContent. We help health systems reach their growth goals through digital strategy and content.
Look for more episodes of Next Up at modernhealthcare.com/podcasts, or subscribe at Apple podcasts or your preferred podcatcher. Thank you again for listening.