In Telehealth, Marketing Works

Craig Settles

Effective, well thought-out, multi-faceted marketing can make your community broadband network more money and can cost less than sales teams alone. When Marketing work in conjunction with Sales, the network does better financially in the short- and long-term. Let’s use telehealth as an example.

My 20 years of marketing work in the high-tech industry had me teaching a lot of folks in un-VC funded start-ups the values and virtues of marketing. It was easy to pigeonhole Marketing as a couple of folks creating snazzy brochures and snappy websites. True marketing is the graphics plus a combination of market research, market focus, spot-on marketing messages, and astute marketing partnerships.

Do your homework (research) well

Sebewaing, MI was the first community to complete the requirements of the state’s supposedly anti-municipal network law. Sebewaing Light and Water (SLW), the public utility, had to get city council’s approval, issue an RFP for private providers, wait 61 days, prepare a CPA-scrutinized cost-benefit analysis, conduct a public comment period, and a final public hearing.

“Developing an RFP that was subject to so much public scrutiny forced us to be thorough in designing the network, and also enabled us to get plenty of feedback from constituents to fine-tune our design to meet their needs,” states Melanie McCoy, SLW Superintendent.

You probably don’t want a feasibility study that only gathers dust on someone’s shelf. You want to be like Sebewaing that got lots of feedback by doing a thorough needs analysis process.  Even if you don’t have the state mandate, doing a similar needs analysis process ups the odds of success.  

It’s also important to have a few visionaries on the broadband team. In 2006, the Danville, Virginia public utility launched a fiber network (nDanville) that eventually created a virtual universe of medical knowledge and talent that contributed significantly to healthy constituents and a healthy economy.

“The healthcare argument was always understood, but it wasn’t one of the drivers to network at the time,” states Frank Maddux, MD and co-founder of Gamewood, Inc, an ISP that joined nDanville. “People didn’t understand how important the network would become and what healthcare applications there would be. They see it now.”

A healthy focus

How does a focus on telehealth benefit the marketing plan for a community network?

Telehealth applications and services help meet the healthcare needs of the community, giving the community’s network extra competitive muscle. Virtually everyone gets sick or knows someone who is sick, so telehealth drives network subscriptions and reinforces loyalty to the network.

“Healthcare facilities and, by extension, telehealth providers, particularly in rural areas, can serve as anchor tenants that help solidify business cases in community broadband projects,” says Ben Lewis-Ramirez, Business Development Manager at Foresite Group. “In big cities, funding a network strictly with revenues from telehealth will be a more challenging case to make. You may have to build limited-reach networks to serve the un-served or underserved communities.”

Isak Finer is the Chief Marketing Officer at COS Systems, which offers software to help communities plan and operate broadband networks. “Telemedicine offers a lot of potential revenue because everything related to healthcare is expensive to deliver, but which the Internet makes cheaper.”

Broadband owners use smart demand aggregation (needs assessments) to determine which neighborhoods want telemedicine, education, or the other types of services delivered over the network. Engineers subsequently build networks that “follow the money” and potential revenue for the city and service providers.

“If you have good software, you can determine that the north side of town has a heavy senior population, for example, and you recruit vendors that offer them telehealth monitoring services to check on people's well-being within the home,” says Finer. “Or the east side has a population with a tendency for diabetes, so you can recruit telemedicine venders that offer video group counseling.”

When you test the technology, test the marketing messages

Organizations often run pilot tests to determine if the technology works as advertised, that end users are comfortable with the technology, and how well the product will adapt to the organizations’ needs. Also, conduct telemedicine pilots that gauge the marketability of telehealth within the community as well as various marketing approaches and messages.

James Cowan, CEO of Docity, says, “Broadband teams and stakeholders’ teams should pick the particular telemedicine applications to be tested, but there also should be ample input from the community within the geographical area for the pilot test.” Consider presenting three categories of telehealth products and services for possible testing: 1) general medical services, 2) mental health services, and 3) home health care. Then summarize how or why these are ideal to offer to community broadband subscribers.

Former Ellumen’s Technology Strategist John Kornak recommended the following checklist of activities to increase the success of the pilot test:

  • Administer a survey to potential pilot test participants to gauge their expectations of the pilot;
  • Include local physicians either as participants or observers;
  • Document how healthcare is being administered currently in the medical disciplines that the pilot addresses;
  • Creates an analytical engine of some sort to access the data gathered.

Marketing partnerships for success

Any community broadband network delivering telehealth services needs to partner with The Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP) and Telehealth Resource Centers (TRCs).

States CCHP Executive Director Mei Kwong, “We’re a national telehealth policy resource center. Our responsibilities include policy technical assistance to the state TRCs, answering policy questions, responding to calls from Congress, people, national, and state officials.”

Broadband teams will find CCHP to be a good knowledge source, a strong advocacy partner, and a valuable marketing ally. CCHP is responsible for keeping current their Web-based interactive map in which they list all of the telehealth policies, laws, and regulations for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. They also do policy analysis and conduct research.

TRCs were established to provide assistance, education, and information to organizations and individuals who are actively providing or are interested in providing healthcare at a distance. Their charter is to assist in expanding the availability of healthcare to underserved populations, often free of charge.

Craig Settles is a broadband business planner who helps communities get more from their broadband investment. His latest analysis report is Telehealth and Broadband: In Sickness and In Health, Pt 2an assessment of why telehealth providers and community networks should unit to drive broadband and telemedicine adoption. On August 16, 2018, see Settles discuss how can community-own networks can partner with telemedicine apps at