CMO Q&A: Dalal Haldeman, Johns Hopkins Medicine

Dalal Haldeman, VP of marcomms at Johns Hopkins Medicine, speaks to Lindsay Stein about leveraging social to engage with patients.

How do PR and marketing work together at Johns Hopkins?
All team members are in one department. When I arrived, PR and marketing functioned separately. I saw an opportunity for the teams to work together on common goals where they would meet with various service lines or strategic initiative leaders and devise a plan on how to best reach the audiences using everything we have.

First, we start with market and data analytics. Then we devise a plan that contains all the elements of communications. We have writers on staff, designers, and Web experts. The team has really grown. There was only one person in the Web department when I arrived. The PR unit has different skills than the marketing team, writers, analysts, and brand managers, and what's amazing to see is all the skills coming together to work on a common cause. It took a lot of effort to make that happen.

The PR team is excellent at taking charge and moving very fast. Our editors and writers like to spend a little more time to understand what the story is and what they need to do with it, while our marketing unit knows how to reach our audiences and targets.

We spend very little on paid advertising. I'm not a firm believer in spending millions of dollars on ads, nor does Hopkins have the deep pockets to do that. Instead, we do a lot of targeted communications and our priority is the digital presence.

Tell me more about digital.
Everything we do needs to be electronically available. Before I arrived, our websites were produced separately by each department and had different URLs. We had 473 of them for Johns Hopkins Medicine. We're consolidating all of these, streamlining the content, and we established Find a Doctor.

There is now a common URL and that platform has all the information you need. It is a 360-degree link so if you research a word, not only will it take you to the health library, but also to every faculty member who might be working on that disease or procedure and the location of where the treatments are offered. We now have seven URLs and we are still streamlining them. It's a huge effort.

What about social media?
Four years ago, the institution was very averse to social media, so I brought in an expert and invited our human resources and legal departments, along with my team, to an introductory course on the value of communications and social media. It took about a year to create social policies and guidelines and then we established our presence.

Social media is where conversations happen now. People want to be greeted as individuals. They express their opinions and expect to hear back through social media.

In 2010, we had a shooting incident at Hopkins where a son of a patient shot a doctor, his mother, and himself. It was horrendous. Social media helped us to monitor the news and share real news.

I changed the way we communicated and told the staff, "Every 15 minutes we're going to give an update whether anything has changed or not."

We worked very closely with the police department. We also discovered through social media that a staffer was leaking incorrect information to the media. That person was later fired. Social helped us get the news right and we took charge.

It also helps our conversations. We can put out a little bit of research and then take people to the site where the full story lives.

How has the Affordable Care Act changed communications?
We need to do two things in healthcare: continuously improve quality and lower the cost. It's becoming more important to decrease cost, so we question everything we do so that the communication is faster.

We just implemented an information system for patients' records and management called Epic, so patients can have access to their medical records online. It's also for physicians, nurses, and providers so they can have access to the medical record regardless of where the patient went into the system. We could use more efficiency now with the Affordable Healthcare Act. We need to look at how to manage populations even more effectively.

Tell me about internal communications.
In the past we didn't push any news about our research on internal channels. We pushed it externally with newspapers and the media. But I realized the research is the most interesting part of anything we do at Hopkins, in addition to patient care.

So I started telling my internal communications team, every night when we send a midnight update, I would like one of the top stories to be about some of our research that we're pushing out to the media. It is now the most-read part of the internal communications piece. People are fascinated.

Now I read our midnight news, which used to be all about training, requirements, parking, and the farmer's market.

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