In addition to being the leading provider of disease management services for health plans across the country, American Healthways has for the past several years worked with the prestigious faculty at Johns Hopkins Medicine on an annual summit that looks at leading care-management issues.In the past, these summits had limited appeal beyond a small segment of the healthcare community. But when the November 2003 event took a look at defining the patient-physician relationship, American Healthways and Johns Hopkins Medicine decided to use the report on the summit's findings, which was released in February, as the centerpiece of a mass market PR effort aimed at educating Americans on how to maximize their relationships with their doctors.
American Healthways took the lead on the campaign early this year and immediately came to the conclusion that it was more than a trade and medicine story. "We felt the recent uptick in health coverage overall would give us some broader avenues to pursue," explains Heath Shackleford, American Healthways PR manager.
"So our main targets were healthcare reporters, but we also pitched a variety of feature writers and freelancers."
Steve Libowitz, director of the health business group at Johns Hopkins Medicine, notes that the reputation of the two summit partners gave them strong credibility that could be leveraged in the media. But the two also wanted this to be more than a clinical results story, so they worked on a program that put journalists in touch with representatives at American Healthways and Johns Hopkins, as well as with real-world patients and physicians to give the topic a human angle.
With input from Libowitz, American Healthways developed a 10-page media kit that included a fact sheet and tips list. "We created the top five recommendations that physicians can do and the top five things patients can do," explains Kriste Gaud, American Healthways PR director. "That really helped simplify things and gave us some key talking points."
After developing a supporting patient-physician website, the team then targeted Laura Landro, who pens the The Wall Street Journal's "Informed Patient" column, to break the story.
"We gave her first dibs on the material because we felt she was more apt to make this into a big piece, which could serve as a launching pad for the rest of our efforts," says Shackleford. "So we cooperated with her to issue the press release on the day her column was going to run."
After the initial story broke, Shackleford and Gaud followed up with a national radio tour.
"We were able to get quite a bit of coverage, as well as ex-pose our chief medical officer to live interviews that really helped hone his ability to think on his feet and deliver even more concise messaging," says Gaud.
The Wall Street Journal exclusive triggered a flurry of follow-up stories in a number of general- interest outlets, including The Washington Post, Washington Times, and Dayton Daily News, as well as trade coverage in The Journal of the American Medical Association, American Medical News, and the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants. The radio tour led to segments on 20 stations across the country - many during the key morning drive-time period - that were heard by 14 million listeners.
The team was also able to drive more than 7,000 visitors to the www.patient-physician.com site in the first seven months.
The success of the Physician-Patient campaign has helped lay the PR groundwork for subsequent American Healthways-Johns Hopkins summits, including the November 2004 event.
"We're well poised to do another strong campaign around the release of this year's findings," says Gaud.
PR team: American Healthways (Nashville, TN) and Johns Hopkins Medicine (Baltimore)
Campaign: Defining the Patient-Physician Relationship
Time frame: January to November 2004