Boyden Executive Search

Boyden's Steve Nilsen spoke to Matt Gove, Piedmont Healthcare’s Chief Consumer Officer, about the new focus on patient experience, and how it’s transforming the role of marketers.

By Steve Nilsen
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Nilsen: You have been in healthcare marketing for just under a decade now. How did you make the decision to go from property development to healthcare?

Gove: I ended up in healthcare because I was part of a business community movement to save Grady Health System, Atlanta’s primary safety net hospital and the source of 40% of the new physicians in Georgia every year. I worked on the Grady project from my seat at Cousins Properties for 18 months before joining Grady. We helped change public, political and philanthropic perceptions of Grady, made some important operational improvements, and put Grady on the path to long-term sustainability. It remains the work that I’m proudest of, and it also put me on the path to Piedmont Healthcare, so I’m eternally grateful to [former CEO and Chairman of Cousins Properties] Tom Bell and [former Chairman of the Grady Memorial Hospital Corporation] Pete Correll for asking me to jump from real estate to Grady.

Nilsen: What are the rewards of being a marketer in healthcare that you don’t get elsewhere?

Gove: The most obvious benefit of working in this industry is knowing that the work you’re doing is making a positive difference in people’s lives every day. That gets lost in the political debates over healthcare - people rely on healthcare providers in a unique way, particularly when their health takes a bad turn. The trust we have earned and work to maintain with our customers and communities also helps explain why healthcare is so resistant to significant change. Disrupting healthcare is almost like disrupting a public utility. There aren’t many good examples of successful disruptions of the power company or the water department. Healthcare often plays a similar role in people’s lives.

Nilsen: What are the unique obstacles and challenges to marketing in healthcare?

Gove: Marketing is an immature discipline, particularly in health systems. This goes all the way back to the 19th century, when the AMA said that healthcare marketing was “unethical.” As systems created marketing functions, they tended to add the function to a communicator’s plate. Not good.

At the same time, the decision makers in most systems - hospital administrators and high-end specialty physicians – push marketing to highlight the high-acuity, lifesaving work at systems. The problem with that approach is that most customers start with a low-acuity visit and are then referred by physicians through a specialty journey. Yes, there are exceptions, but our data show that more than 80% of our high-acuity and high-margin patients started that journey with a primary care or urgent or retail care visit.

Just as important, customers at that end of the acuity funnel are some of the only healthcare customers that actually make decisions like a consumer. So, the challenge for healthcare marketers is to modernize our work and concurrently shift the mindset inside our organizations to focus our most impactful consumer marketing on the low-acuity customers, the ones who act like consumers.

Nilsen: From the standard title of SVP Marketing and External Affairs, you are now Chief Consumer Officer. What is your scope of responsibility – how does it differ from an SVP Marketing or Chief Marketing Officer? 

Gove: I oversee the functions you would expect of a Chief Marketing Officer - brand, marketing, physician outreach, communications - plus patient/consumer experience, government relations and community benefit. The most important difference is in the name itself.

Nilsen: What does the title itself communicate – for you – for Piedmont Healthcare? Do you know of any other Chief Consumer Officer in healthcare?

Gove: When I took on the Chief Consumer Officer title in early 2015, I could only find one other health system executive, Jesse Cureton at Novant Health, using it. In recent years, I’ve seen more systems adopting the role.

The decision to change my title was made jointly by my boss, CEO Kevin Brown, and me. We chose it for a few reasons: 1) to reflect my expanded role after we added patient experience and consumer strategy to my plate, 2) to formally signal to our internal audiences that consumer expectations would play a larger role in our marketing strategy and experience design, likely resulting in operational changes over time, and 3) to help lead the industry as it continues to understand consumerism and what it means for our systems.

Nilsen: Does the industry currently hold the talent it needs to make the leap into a “patient as consumer” reality, or does it have to be imported from other industries?

Gove: In short – no. We need to hire talent from outside the industry, with the obvious caveat that every situation is different and highly dependent on individual talent. At Piedmont, our marketing strategy and data insights team is made up primarily of folks from outside the industry. In my view, that’s the fastest way to modernize our approach to marketing and catch up with other industries.

That said, I think it can be risky for systems to hire senior execs from outside the industry, particularly if the system doesn’t already have strong marketing and experience strategy in place. A large part of my role here is helping to explain our strategy and translate modern marketing and consumer experience for our executive and physician leaders - I’m the primary buffer for my team. It’s harder for someone new to healthcare to do that.

Nilsen: What do you wish you knew 10 years ago when you embarked on a career in healthcare, that you know now? What would you have done differently if you had known?

Gove: I’m a big believer in failure as an opportunity to learn and make you better, so I don’t tend to have regrets. I’m very grateful to the people who’ve enabled our success here and those who continue to encourage us along the way. I think the next 10 years promise even more movement toward the healthcare consumer than the last 10 held, and I’m very excited to help lead us there! 

Matt Gove has been Chief Consumer Officer at Piedmont Healthcare since 2011. Prior to that he spent almost three years at Grady Health System as Senior Vice President, Marketing and External Affairs, also in Atlanta, GA.

Piedmont Healthcare is a private, not-for-profit organization serving nearly 2 million patients across Georgia. Today, more than 110 years since it was founded, Piedmont is known as a leading health system in cancer care, treatment of heart disease and organ transplantation with 11 hospitals, 21 urgent care centers, 28 Piedmont QuickCare locations, 527 Piedmont Clinic physician practice locations and more than 1,800 Piedmont Clinic members. The system employs 18,300 employees.

Grady Health System is the largest public hospital–based health system in the Southeast, providing more than 200 specialty and subspecialty health care clinics. Included are Grady Memorial Hospital; Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Hughes Spalding; Crestview Health and Rehabilitation Center; nine neighborhood health centers; and the only level-one trauma center within a 100-mile radius of downtown Atlanta. Grady Memorial Hospital alone holds 640 licensed beds and 17 operating rooms, and employs 6,600 employees 

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