INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD AVERBUCH
Working at the Massachusetts Coalition for Serious Illness Care (a coalition consisting of more than 90 Massachusetts-based organizations) must have been uniquely satisfying, with a far-reaching impact. In your time there as the Executive Director, what have been some of the collective achievements?
The Coalition has become a vital organization focused on improving how we care for those with serious illness. The group produced rigorous original research on the nature and scope of challenges we face in meeting the needs of patients and families – and to help set benchmarks for measuring our progress over time. We also generated extensive media coverage which in turn helped raised public awareness about the importance of the issues. Most importantly, the group provides a supportive venue to convene the health professionals who are doing great work in this field.
“The most inspiring leaders I’ve worked with also demonstrate compassion and a connection to the deeply human aspects of health care.”
You’ve been very fortunate to work with some of the most interesting innovators and game changers in healthcare. What are the qualities you continually see in these exceptional leaders?
Effective leadership stems from having both a compelling vision and a commitment to concrete action. Of course, we also look to our leaders to possess substantive expertise in their chosen field, along with being fluent in the research and data needed to inform the work. The most inspiring leaders I’ve worked with also demonstrate compassion and a connection to the deeply human aspects of health care.
Strategic marketing in healthcare often involves working with many different audiences concurrently, which may include patients, families, doctors, counselors, clergy, hospital and health plan administrators, social workers, etc. When it comes to juggling different audiences, what insight can you share based on engagement strategies you’ve deployed over your career and how may this help to inform a start-up like Doctorpedia with its Go-To-Market strategy?
Having a diverse set of audiences is a common challenge in health care marketing. It’s critical to have a well-articulated strategy, including identifying which segment is most important. Potential marketing tactics need to be evaluated in terms of how they help achieve specific goals related to the target audience. There will always be a temptation to want to reach everyone but when you do that, you risk diluting your messaging and your brand identity. Sticking to the strategic plan requires real discipline!
Communicating medical information with its difficult terminology and unfamiliar concepts is uniquely challenging. What role can Doctorpedia play in helping people in the often confusing and fearful online health space?
Doctorpedia is well positioned to help patients and their loved ones coping with illness. That’s because they offer substantive and practical information directly from physicians who have the necessary expertise. Most of us rely on our clinical team for guidance – and also augment our education by going online. Doctorpedia makes it easy to find credible and useful videos and articles addressing the full range of the patient experience, from diagnosis to treatment.
“What really sets Doctorpedia apart is the strong presence and involvement of physicians. As I watch the online videos, I feel like I’m getting to know the individual doctors – including their manner, approach, and communications style.”
What growth and changes have you seen over the last three years consulting with Doctorpedia?
The biggest development over the past few years has been the significant expansion of physician partners working with Doctorpedia. The result is a dramatic increase in the amount of content that delivers tangible value to users – especially in the form of videos with practical information about key health conditions. Augmenting this has been the ongoing development of relevant articles and reviews of health care products and services. I’ve also seen the launch of many new condition-specific sites over this period.
In what ways do you feel the Doctorpedia model is innovative and unusual?
What really sets Doctorpedia apart is the strong presence and involvement of physicians. As I watch the online videos, I feel like I’m getting to know the individual doctors – including their manner, approach, and communications style. In the process of sharing information and data, their individual personalities emerge, and this enhances the user experience. Also effective is the organization of content by all the phases of the patient experience: symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, recovery, and living with the condition. This taxonomy helps users to more easily find the information they seek.
You’ve put a lot of emphasis on Doctorpedia’s information architecture (IA) to ensure that the design and production values are at a high caliber and so that the site and videos convey a clean, friendly, compassionate, clear, and sophisticated presence. You’ve also looked to ensure that there’s a tangible physician presence throughout. Why do you feel website design and video production are particularly important in healthcare?
A clear and streamlined IA is critical in any digital communication – but it’s especially important in health care, where information can feel bewildering and overwhelming. My watchword: simplify whenever possible. I try to put myself in the place of a patient or family member as I review the IA and related user experience. Is it intuitive, uncluttered, and user-friendly? Can we consolidate any sections to help users more easily scan the content? The physician videos are core content for Doctorpedia, so we’re working to make sure that all aspects of the video effectively convey the relevant information, including the doctors’ comments and all supporting visuals. In terms of the big picture, I also consider the effect of the overall design – including graphic design, photography, typography, and color palate. The same goes for assessing the editorial tone of the content. Taken as a whole, these elements determine how users experience the brand, and whether we’re successful in reaching our audience on a human level.
You recently retired from the Coalition. How have you been filling your time and do you have any plans or personal goals you would like to share that you are looking forward to accomplishing?
I’m continuing to follow the important work of the Coalition and keeping in touch with my colleagues there. In a previous life, I had a career in the performing arts – so I’ve also been involved in teaching acting. It’s been satisfying to come full circle and reconnect with people looking for creative expression.
Before his recent retirement, Richard had a lengthy career in health care marketing and health policy. Among other positions, he served as Chief Marketing Officer at Massachusetts General Hospital and as Executive Director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Serious Illness Care.