Review of “Patient Engagement is a Strategy, Not a Tool” by Colin Hung

The following is a guest blog post by Colin Hung (@Colin_Hung), Co-Host of #hcldr and SVP of Marketing at Patient Prompt.
Colin Hung
If Leonard Kish’s new eBook –”>Patient Engagement is a Strategy, Not a Tool was a song, it would be categorized as a “mashup” – and that’s a good thing.

Never heard a mashup song before? Just go to and type it into the search bar and you’ll find thousands (or try this one Mashups are a unique form of music. To make one, DJs will take snippets (called samples) from other songs usually from different artists and combine them into a single piece and in so doing create a whole new song in the process.

When done properly a mashup is both familiar and fresh. It has elements which you know and love yet the composition as a whole feels new. That is exactly what Kish has done in his eBook. He expertly weaves together numerous ideas, themes and approaches from different people and different industries into a single cohesive arrangement.

Kish starts by laying down a central idea that is carried like a melody from page 1 through to the end:

“The key to [patient] engagement in early stages is to get people’s attention and to let them see what’s possible by using the tools available to improve their health. It’s a process and a strategy, not a data set or any one tool”

With that idea track locked in, Kish proceeds to mix in concepts from:

  • Marketing – target audiences, key messages and clear calls-to-action
  • Product Management – inclusive design and agile development
  • Behavioral Science – Maslow’s hierarchy, social interaction and motivation

The eBook starts off strong with a nice definition of patient engagement – a rather amorphous term in healthcare right now –  and gets stronger with examples of successful “attention grabbing” marketing campaigns that could be adopted by healthcare organizations.

One particular statement that stands out:

“Engagement requires what marketers know very well: motivation, context and messaging.”

As a person who works in HealthIT Marketing, I’m tickled by this statement…but I think Kish is giving those of us in Marketing a bit too much credit. Although it is true that marketers should have a good grasp of our target audiences (their needs, wants, motivations and fears) – we are not seers. In fact, it is common for marketers to be a little “off key” when approaching new markets or when working with new products.

Truly successful marketers are the ones who are open to being wrong…and who can quickly adapt their messages/approach based on real data and feedback from the target audience. Like a good DJ, you must read the reaction of the audience and change the tune in order to keep things hopping.

The idea of iterating, fitting engagement into the world of the patient (context) and using feedback are the themes that fill the middle portion of Kish’s eBook. Using anecdotes, quotes and statistics from a wide array of leaders he encourages readers to draw parallels with healthcare and to think critically on how that wisdom from outsiders can be applied successfully in their own organizations.

Fittingly there is a section that draws a parallel between healthcare and music. Kish quotes former Talking Heads singer David Byrne in a particularly memorable and interesting chapter.

The finale is where “Patient Engagement is a Strategy, Not a Tool” shines. Having laid the ground work in the prior chapters on why getting patients’ attention is so critical and how difficult it can be to turn that attention into meaningful behavior change, Kish closes by giving readers 10 concrete steps to follow to “win the attention war” in healthcare:

  1. Know what health problem you are trying to solve
  2. Know whose attention you’re trying to get
  3. Use social tools
  4. Know behavior models and behavioral economics
  5. Focus on goals and narratives
  6. Start Simple
  7. Try something and measure results
  8. Understand context
  9. Take an open approach
  10. Follow an analysis-driven implementation plan

I was hoping for a little more depth from Kish on the Agile approach, especially as it relates to A/B testing, iterative design and high reliance on real-user feedback – something that I believe could DEFINITELY be used in healthcare – but perhaps he is keeping these concepts for his next composition.

Overall, Kish’s eBook is a solid mix of familiar theories/approaches from other industries and new ideas/success stories from within healthcare. It offers insight and practical advice on how to change from a tools-based approach to patient engagement to a process and strategy based one. If you work in healthcare and are involved in your organization’s patient experience, access or engagement initiatives this eBook should be on your reading list.

I am looking forward to Kish’s next release – which I hope drops soon.

“Patient Engagement is a Strategy, Not a Tool” can be downloaded for free courtesy of the good folks at HL7 Standards (