View All Blog Posts

Evolution of Patient-Provider Communication


As technology and marketing tools advance, changes continue to come to hospitals, patients, and the people that connect them. Today, Jenny welcomes Dustin Horn, Associate Director of Digital Marketing and Communications at Siteman Cancer Center.

Dustin discusses different tools and platforms that he has found to be helpful in connecting and caring for clients. Having been at Siteman for over twelve years, he has seen the large shift and impacts that technology has brought to the health sector. Social media has allowed them to discover patients who have serious medical issues that they may be able to help, and it has made it easier for patients to find them. Automated chat and live chat have also been a successful tool in gaining new patients.

He also looks ahead and talks about the adoption of wearables to really make an impact in the patient-doctor relationship. This of course hinges on certain factors like accessibility, affordability and trust of data sharing. Jenny reminds us that with change and innovation, can often come with frustration. Dustin believes it isn’t so much the technology but how it’s utilized and how it functions will ultimately decide which technologies thrive.

Later in the episode listen as Dustin describes some of the most rewarding accomplishments of his career, some of the more frustrating ones, and his advice on the most important characteristic you can have if you want to succeed in marketing.

Watch their discussion below or listen to the podcast, We Are Marketing Happy – a healthcare marketing podcast.

Other Links and Resources

Connect with Dustin on LinkedIn:

Connect with Jenny on LinkedIn:


Full Transcript:

JENNY: [00:00:00] Hi, I’m Jenny Bristow and I’m the CEO and founder of Hedy & Hopp, a healthcare marketing agency based in the Midwest. We started the, We Are, Marketing Happy podcast because of our passion for improving patients’ access to care. And understanding the innovations and shifts in the healthcare industry are key to making that happen.

Please follow share, and let us know what topics you’d like for us to cover next. Enjoy.

Hi friends. Welcome to We Are, Marketing Happy, a healthcare marketing podcast. Each episode we talk about how technology and innovation can help make healthcare easier and better for patients. Today, we’re talking to Dustin Horn, the Associate Director of Digital Marketing and Communications from Siteman Cancer Center.

Dustin has been in marketing at Siteman Cancer Center for over 12 years, giving him an interesting perspective on the innovations that have happened in patient care and engagement. So let’s get into it. 

So Dustin, I’m [00:01:00] really excited to hear your perspective about what platforms and tools you think have shifted the way patients access care during your career.

I mean, technology is completely different than it was 12 years ago. What do you think has made the biggest impact? 

DUSTIN: Yeah, that was kind of my thought initially was that maybe my perspective was a little bit dated, although I know, many of my colleagues in healthcare have been around a long time.

From my perspective, it’s really been social media, by far, that has been the most influential. I can think of a number of instances where patient care was actually affected, but I think maybe one of the most interesting or compelling ones was a number of years ago. 

This was maybe as many as seven or eight years ago. We had a tweet. We had a follower of ours who was just very active in retweeting and messaging us and someone that he was connected with [00:02:00] sent something out about their child having a certain type of cancer and wondering if anyone could help. And he replied to them and he tagged us in the tweet.

And when I looked at it, I thought, wow, you know, sounds compelling. It looks legitimate. I think this is something we might be able to help with. I took the message and I sent it over to one of our pediatric oncologists and that doctor was, yeah, I think we could help. I think this would be a good instance of where we could intervene here. And I said, okay, great. 

So we used Twitter to exchange contact information and connect those folks with that particular doctor. And those instances happen all the time, frankly, people probably share a little bit more private health information or protected health information than they should on social media at times.

But at the same time, you can understand that, um, sort of the anxiety and difficult nature of health [00:03:00] issues, particularly serious ones like cancer people do reach out on social media tools. And so that’s been a big one where we’ve connected people with those. I think another big one really be AI or chat bots, anything around that.

Some health systems have really focused on the voice recognition piece. And I haven’t really delved into that a whole lot myself, but I’ve heard from other health systems that have. We use AI more in the form of a chat bot that also allows for live chat as well. That’s been a big one.

We actually get quite a few people who are happy to then become patients based on the interaction that happened on that live chat and even somewhat on the chat bot itself. We’re able to use our normal call center and use the HIPAA protected setup there to keep everyone safe and the information safe.

So it’s been a real boost to us as well, sort of meeting [00:04:00] patients where they’re at. Finally, the last thing would be, you know, things like MyChart, epic, where people can schedule, or even send emails. I personally have used that tool quite a bit to even schedule primary care health appointments personally, but probably the biggest one has been social media.

JENNY: Yeah, it’s really interesting how it allows people to feel like they’re taking more control and being more in charge of finding care. Right? It is shocking how advanced AI has become where tech bots can be more intelligent. I never really thought I’d see a day where it would be this successful. So, yeah, it’s interesting.

So. What do you think is next? What’s the next big innovation? What have you been watching? What have you seen in other systems, maybe on a trial basis that you are either considering doing or have been interesting to you personally?

DUSTIN: Yeah. So I’ve thought about this a lot in my career.

Where I work, Siteman, is part of Washington University, School of Medicine. It’s a very entrepreneurial [00:05:00] campus in the mindset of the physicians and researchers, many people on campus are very entrepreneurial. And, so where could we be out on the, the leading edge and really many Washington University doctors have pioneered new therapies, things that are used across the world today.

So I think about that in our space as well. And let’s say the past five years, one of the big ones was Google Glass, right? This was one of the big things that was going to happen.

And, we’re going to leverage this in healthcare and I saw some great presentations on it. The problem was the adoption of Google Glass never really took off. And so I think it’s not really new, but probably the next thing is the way wearables interact with healthcare.

The problem is that piece about access [00:06:00] and who can afford. A really good wearable today that has the ability to transmit information in certain ways, that are most effective, is maybe not where it needs to be. The other part is also just understanding how wearables work, even just sometimes that small screen is very difficult to know when it’s on and what it’s tracking and when, so I think that’s part of the issue. 

But I think overall wearables will probably be one of the biggest things. That’s not really super new. Righ? We’ve been talking about that for some time. I hate to give kind of a non-answer, but I think what it comes down to is what kind of technology are being really adopted by users holistically.

Because therein lies the next path for healthcare, as a healthcare marketer and somebody who’s been interested in technology for a long time. You think about, [00:07:00] the iPhone social media, which we just discussed. Those are the things that once they had widespread adoption by the general public, then healthcare started to move in and utilize those things.

Whether it be the iPhone or Android, or these app stores right now, we started launching apps and they’re really useful. A lot of healthcare companies are. And technology companies are involved in partnering together to develop better apps and some of those work with the wearables. So I think it’ll come down to, if we can get even wider adoption of those of the wearable technologies and people’s willingness to then utilize those tools effectively and share their data with their providers.

I think if we can build the trust necessary for that, I think that would probably be one of the big things. And then as we were talking about, I think there’s going to be new developments with a AI, maybe that I can’t foresee today that could potentially be even bigger than chat bots.


JENNY: So we’re talking about all of this technology and the exciting things it’s going to bring, but it’s probably gonna bring a whole bunch of headaches first. So what has been your biggest frustration specifically with marketing related technology and have you found any ways over the last 12 years to really overcome those frustrations, to leverage the tools more effect.

DUSTIN: So again, I, I would kind of tilt this question a little bit differently and say that it’s not as much a frustration with the technology itself. It’s maybe of a frustration with leveraging it as effectively as possible in the healthcare space. What I mean by that is thinking about marketing automation and CRM in these types of things.

This is fairly easy to do. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to characterize it as anyone can do it, but if you have the right people in place doing marketing automation and your CRM is not overly difficult to do [00:09:00] when you don’t have to be overly careful about protecting information or communicating at a bad time.

With healthcare, how terrible would it be for you to get the wrong message at the wrong time in via a marking automation platform? It could just be so detrimental to your relationship with the patient, right? And so these things have to be done really carefully and then integrating them and keeping all of the the protected health information actually protected.

It’s a frustration and so it’s not really the technology that’s the problem. It’s being able to integrate it effectively in the healthcare space and then leverage it to its full measure in healthcare. Due to the nature of what we do, of having to make sure our messaging is correct.

It is accurate. [00:10:00] It is timely. And that it’s not going to fall at the wrong time. Also that we’re protecting individuals information. So I think, I think that’s the biggest frustration

JENNY: So, that completely makes sense. When I think that about the new technology coming out, and even things like understanding HIPAA and hitech, our roles are continuously shifting. As marketers in healthcare, what training or tools do you use to make sure that you’re staying up to date, both around regulations around what you do, and then also the technical components?

DUSTIN: You know, it’s interesting. The old saying – the best way to learn is to teach. And so really the way I stay on top of it is I actually teach digital marketing at a local liberal arts university. I’ve done that since about 2018. That is really how I stay on top of it. There’s nothing more compelling about having to be right than, than marking points off somebody’s score and, and you being wrong when you [00:11:00] mark those points off.

Right. And then coming back and say, actually, that’s not true. So you have to stay up to date really just for your own your own safety in those situations. And so that’s one of the main ways, it forces me to continue to learn myself, because if I’m going to teach, I have to really be also learning. You know, my boss always said too, that I’m teaching at our organization.

And so I work at one of the premier research institutions in the entire world, a national leader in cancer care. So you might guess that we have a few brilliant people around. And so when you’re in the place of teaching brilliant people, that’s a challenging spot to be in and you have to have a great deal of patience with it.

Many of those people are very accomplished themselves. They’re also excellent learners- that’s how they sort of got to where they are. And they’ll challenge you in ways that if you don’t have [00:12:00] the stomach for it could be very difficult. So between being challenged by my students and being challenged by my colleagues, I have to continually learn and absorb information. Couple of the ways I do that is certain websites I rely on, but even more so is conferences, relationships I have throughout the industry, really just staying plugged in with the right people and those who I know put out quality information.

And I don’t really lean on any one piece, any more so than the other. I’d like to accumulate as much information as I can from as many resources I can. Even sometimes information will come from places you don’t expect. It’ll just be in a meeting and you’ll overhear something that really changes how you think and how you go about it.

And so I, I think it’s really just keeping a learner’s mindset all of the time. And as I said, being a little bit on your toes [00:13:00] for the challenges that you might undertake when you’re teaching.

JENNY: Yep. I, I think you’d be phenomenal professor to have, it would be fun to sit in on one of your classes.

DUSTIN: well, unfortunately it’s online only. So I do video lectures, but it’s not the same level of of great interaction that you might have if you’re standing in front of a classroom. I do wish it was like that, but I don’t live particularly close to the university. So that would be a little tricky.

Aalso then obviously after 2020, courses went online, but I was teaching online already. I do hope one day to teach a little bit in person. I think it would be fun to bring in, much like this podcast scenario or bring in other experts and have them talk. I think it would bring a new perspective. So I, I hope to one day be to do that myself. 

JENNY: Okay. So 12 years at Siteman, let’s step back, big picture. What is the biggest accomplishment you’re most proud of? [00:14:00] At this point that you feel like had the most positive impact on patients. Cause that story about Twitter was so meaningful.

You could have literally changed that family’s life trajectory. So what have you done in your career that you can step back and say, yeah, I did that.

DUSTIN: That’s a really big one. I would have to say that it’s really revolutionizing the whole of my institution’s digital footprint and communication to take it way back.

When I arrived at Siteman, it had a completely out of date website. Then there was a new site sitting on a test server waiting for me to launch it back in those days, I was actually doing some hand code HTML and CSS. There wasn’t a bunch of money to spend with agencies and that sort of thing.

You know, the digital shift hadn’t really happened in a big way in healthcare at that time. And so getting resources was really hard. So the [00:15:00] biggest impact I would say is really just changing that website. Changing the social media footprint as well. I launched our Twitter page. I took over our Facebook account at the time.

Certainly many others that I’ve hired and worked with have contributed to, especially the social media in a big way, but it’s really changed the mindset at the organization. And that’s been something I’ve been proud of my entire career prior to healthcare. I was in news.

And I remember, it’s easier to tell stories about jobs that you don’t have anymore than it is about jobs you currently have, because your colleagues might hear these things and, I would hate for them to take it the wrong way. But, at a previous job, I remember it upset somebody that I had, the job that I had in the newsroom. I think because the person I replaced was one of his friends and for sure, he came to me one day or I, I went up to ask him a question and he gives me this sort of terrible look and he goes, what do you even do? And I was like, oh, [00:16:00] okay. Well, that’s nice. And I said, I’ve been accused of, of being a little bit quick with a response

And so I said, I do a whole lot more than you know. I left it at that and I walked away. And then what happened was we had an incident, a major incident in town that happened. It would be small news in a big town but it was really big news for the small town.

And so the story came up and he came to me and he goes Dustin, what do we do with this? And it was funny. He was like, I thought you were asking me what I even do. I don’t know why you’re asking me what I’m supposed to do with this. But I didn’t twist the, you know, too much. I just went ahead.

I said, you know, I know exactly what we can do with this. I said, we, I can build a section on the website. So you funnel me as much information as you can. I’ll do it as breaking news and we’ll just keep doing updates. Well, we drove so much traffic. We shut down the servers for the entire news organization that had [00:17:00] like something like 10 locations!

It was what people wanted at the time. They wanted to see imagery. They wanted updates. And even though we couldn’t give them everything they wanted, it was enough to keep them hooked and keep them coming back. And so people more and more people were sharing the URL. Very similar things have happened in my current role.

Very similar sort of what, what is the value of this? I don’t know why we’re doing it. Why would I dedicate my time to it? That was in the early days of digital communication. And so I would say it’s sticking with it. Building that trust by doing really good work. And as a result, just like that individual at that news organization came around to, we ended up being great friends and he really believed in the work I did after that, the same thing has happened in my current role.

And today we have massive buy in from some of the biggest names of medicine. They don’t hesitate to jump in when we ask for their help. They know the value cause they hear it from their [00:18:00] patients. They know that they’re looking at at the things we do. And they also hear about it from their colleagues around the country when they go to meetings.

So. I’ll end it with this. When I arrived at Siteman, it was not surprising to walk in a meeting with executives or physicians or physician executives, and hear strong criticism of the website to your face. Today, that criticism doesn’t exist. Instead people are complimenting and then asking what they can do to help you build it better.

That change is probably what I would sort of hang my career at Siteman on.

JENNY: A lot of patient experiences have been impacted by that, for sure. So what are you doing right now? What’s your big initiative? What are you hoping to accomplish in the next year or two?

DUSTIN: I think the biggest thing is tracking our marketing in a new way. We really need to understand as [00:19:00] healthcare marketers holistically, what it is we do that actually has an impact on our audience. And this is not just about making revenue, right? Of course that’s important. You know, we need to pay our doctors and staff and nurses and stuff, but we also need to really mee the audience needs for patients.

And so we can’t do that if we’re not tracking and understanding what resonates with them. And today, you still have this sort of talk between digital and traditional and what’s more effective and what’s going to work. And we do have locations in St. Louis, obviously. So it’s this thing where we do have some rural markets that really traditional might actually perform better with certain groups there as to where digital is going to play better with this other group. And then sometimes we just make assumptions about that. Right? We don’t actually know the facts. We make assumptions about which one’s going to work. If we’re tracking marketing holistically through looking at digital lift. [00:20:00] Using custom URLs, vaity URLs, custom phone numbers, and that sort of thing, not for the purpose of tracking people and trying to tie that to actual individuals.

We almost never do that. It’s really not the motivation. The motivation is really to understand what resonates. And so if we know that when we go into a market about this particular type of cancer, this cancer screening or this just general awareness project, and we put these tracking mechanisms on it, we pull it in the dashboards.

We can look at pretty quickly what worked and what didn’t. And I think when you’re talking about tight budgets, when you’re talking about proving ROI, this is what will really revolutionize how we consider our spends and how it might actually change a spend in one piece of our market versus how we spend in another piece of our market.

So that has been a goal of mine [00:21:00] for quite some time and it remains the goal of mine until we get it to a point where it’s hard coded into how we work every day. But that’s not how it is today. And so it’s really continue to get buy in on educating people on the importance of it and showing leadership why it’s important and how it can help us be more effective.

JENNY: We hear so many different healthcare providers and systems focusing on the same thing, but whenever you have all of these competing priorities and all of these different groups speaking into those priorities, how do you, as a marketing leader, decide what to prioritize each year as you going into budgeting decisions? And what tips do you have for anybody else in healthcare marketing around the decision trees or processes to be able to figure out what makes it into this year’s budget versus what unfortunately may have to be pushed.

DUSTIN: That’s maybe the [00:22:00] toughest question you’ve asked. I would go about it like this, and maybe this isn’t even just for marketing, right? This is really for all of life to really think that you’re going to make a plan. And that that plan is going to be executed without interruption, without change is something that only we as humans are naive enough to believe, right? It just never happens. I’ve made some excellent plans, both at work and in my personal life that were just man, they were really good. I don’t know that any of them have ever turned out exactly as I envisioned. And, and that’s probably best, no matter how good the planning was.

So we do make a plan, a roadmap each year about what we’d like to do. But we’re also wise enough to pivot when needed. And also we have to respond to the needs of the organization. Sometimes even the needs of the patient might change. Inevitably, everything we’re doing is for the [00:23:00] patient though.

So what I would say is that when those distractions start to come in, you really have to look at the things that really aren’t negotiable to you. My dad said one time, I was talking to him about making some plans and to go out of town or to go camping or something. And he goes, yeah, Dustin, sometimes you just gotta, you know, make the plans and just do it.

You don’t let the distraction or whatever comes up, stop it. You just, you just make the plans and you just do it no matter what. And I would say you should probably have a thing or two like that on your list. It doesn’t matter what happens. You’re going to do. The tracking piece is like that.

So I might make plans to reevaluate a paid search budget, for example, Hey, there’s probably gonna be increased competition this year in this particular campaign, you know, really need to build a case for giving an additional funding. While that’s very important, that [00:24:00] is sort of a smaller impact, in my opinion. Having this bigger tracking project completed changes all the other roadmaps from here on out, right?

This campaign thing is sort of a flash in the pan. And I don’t even know for sure that the competition will increase, but what I do know for sure is that if we don’t get the tracking, if we don’t understand what people are responding to and what they’re not responding to, that we will continue to guess in our marketing.

And as we continue to guess, we’ll inevitably have waste of time, waste of money, waste of general resources. And so there’s certain things that you say will change every other plan from here on out and this won’t. And so the things that will change every other plan are the things that I prioritize that are really not negotiable. 

That doesn’t mean that I’m dropping my shoulder and running into people with it, but it means that I’m continuing to bring it [00:25:00] up, throughout the year, at the right time or what I perceive as the right time with other decision makers, key opinion leaders, KOLs, that that will help me get to the finish line. It doesn’t mean that I’m running over people with it, or I’m bringing it up every meeting. It means that I’m continually preaching the importance of it in how it will change things. So it may not even happen by the end of the year, but if I’m keeping it moving along, then it inevitably it will happen.

So that’s sort of how I do it is I look at what’s going to impact every other plan from here on out. And I try to mark those things as not negotiable.

JENNY: That’s a really smart way to tackle it. I really appreciate that perspective. So last question, and this is one that I have been curious about your perspective on. Siteman’s a super well known and well respected brand, not just throughout the United States, but globally.

Do you think that makes your job harder or easier or both?

DUSTIN: I think the easy answer [00:26:00] is both. Probably where it gets nuanced is you have to talk about which project it is because the resourcing determines at what level you can do a project. So the good part is by working at Siteman is youre always selling a good product, right? You always selling something that you can believe in. I really believe that patients will be better for engaging with our system. That they will do better by coming to our doors or at least getting a second opinion from us and that it will impact them in a positive way.

So when you truly believe that, and I believe it, cause I’ve seen it, then that makes things much easier because you don’t have to question the motive behind what you’re doing. Also, because of the recognition, it’s fairly easy to sell also, because people know Siteman as being a great place.

Where it gets a little [00:27:00] bit trickier is sometimes there is this assumption that because of your great reputation and sort of being known widely that then you have unlimited resources. I think sometimes the idea of how money flows in healthcare leads people to think that marketing budgets are really high.

And that I’m personally earninga bucket of a monstrous amount of money and that I’m spending monstrous amounts of money and wow. It must be a nice kind of thing, but that’s really not the reality. And so I think at times people expect more from what I would consider to be a small project, because we don’t have always have the resources to do it at the level that I wish we could.

So that’s kind of what I would say. It just depends on the way you look at it and the situation in which you look at it. It’s both, it helps sometimes [00:28:00] is a little bit of a hindrance others.

JENNY: So anything that we have not talked about that you think is worthwhile sharing that our listeners would wanna know.

DUSTIN: If I could share one bit of thought or advice that, that has gotten me through. I work at a matrix organization, right? So this means we have BJC Healthcare. We have Washington University School of Medicine. We have Washington University Physicians, and these are kind of all related institutions, but separate sort of entities within and of themselves.

That makes for a lot of people to keep happy. You won’t ever keep everyone happy. I think we’re probably at this point in our lives to realize that, but the biggest thing that you can cultivate the biggest personality trait that you can cultivate, that I think will be an indication of whether you’re going to do well or you’re going to enjoy your work is your level of patience to do this work really well. 

You [00:29:00] have to be patient and timing is vital. And if you can be patient, and work on the timing and get that right, tou will get it right a hundred percent of the time, but you’ll be far more successful than if you are the type of person that has a really tough time with patience.

If you aren’t patient, healthcare marketing may not be the best field for you. But if you have patience and you can bring that with you as a tool in your personality and how you approach your work every day, I think you’ll find that that patience will be rewarded in a very meaningful way.

If healthcare marketing is a call to you, a call in your life and something that you’re compelled to do because of how you care for people – and not saying that if you’re not in healthcare marketing, you don’t care about people – for many people this is the way in which they express that.

But [00:30:00] with it, you know, we wanna make the changes now. Not wait. But if you have the patience for it and you can stick with it, some things take a little while, but it’s worth the payoff. That’s kind of the last thing I would say is that patience is key to being successful. 

JENNY: It’s slowly pivoting a slow, a big ship at sea isn’t it? No sudden movements. 

DUSTIN: Yeah. that’s right.

JENNY: Well, Dustin, thank you so much for being on our podcast today for our listeners. We’ll be sure to link Dustin’s LinkedIn profile in the show notes. If you wanna connect with him. And thanks for tuning in to the, We Are, Marketing Happy podcast. We’ll see you soon.



About the Author

Jenny Bristow is the CEO and Founder of Hedy & Hopp. Prior to starting Hedy & Hopp, Jenny launched, grew and sold a digital agency in Seattle and worked at Amazon. She was named one of St. Louis Business Journal’s 30 under 30, won a Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2018 and speaks regularly at healthcare marketing industry events.

More from this author
Next Blog Post

When Healthcare Marketing Becomes Politicized

EPISODE 02 Today’s episode is so timely and so important to listen to. Jenny is…