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Marketing pro asks #whatthehealthcare and sparks a movement

Everyone has a health care story; Burt Rosen created a way for people to tell those stories.

7 min read


Marketing pro asks #whatthehealthcare and sparks a movement


The recent Health IT Marketing and PR Conference brought together professionals and leaders from across the industry to discuss trends, challenges and solutions in health IT marketing and communications. Among the highlights was a talk by Burt Rosen, vice president of marketing at software company HealthSparq, who was recognized at the conference for his contributions to the industry. SmartBrief caught up with Rosen after the conference to discuss the event and what he’s been up to at HealthSparq.

Congratulations on your recent recognition as marketing professional of the year by the Healthcare IT Marketing and PR Community at HITMC 2017. Can you share a bit about the exciting themes or ideas you took away from the conference?

The conference was great.  For starters it was the absolute nicest conference I’ve ever been to. Everyone was friendly, introduced themselves, shared ideas and solutions and hung out together. My first night there, I ate dinner with 10 people I’d never met because they invited me!  It felt like conferences should feel! 

Burt Rosen, VP of marketing at HealthSparq

There were some amazing things I took away.  My favorite quote (@ShahidNShah) which I’ve used every day at work since I’ve been back, is “don’t innovate to fix health care, go solve someone’s problem.” Great illustration of the fact that at the end of the day, the entire health care mess can be boiled down to a person and a problem. When you solve the problem for the person, you are fixing health care.

Before moving into your current role, you worked outside health care. How did that background shape your approach to marketing once you joined HealthSparq? 

I love this question!  Health care needs a lot more outside perspectives.  The industry touches everyone in some way, but those who work outside it bring a different lense.  I come from hospitality (Starwood Hotels) and early childhood education (KinderCare), two industries that succeed and fail based on customer experience.  One of my favorite quotes is from a former Starwood CEO who said in front of 4,000 hotel owners and general managers, “I don’t want to be in the hotel business, I want to be in the branded lifestyle business.” I’ve never forgotten that. Health care needs to focus way less on health care and way more on the people being impacted.

Health care is early in its customer experience journey, so my perspectives allow me to look to people and not get caught up in regulations, legacy, etc. I am definitely an ask-forgiveness-not-permission person, and since I am not dealing with PHI in marketing, the risks are limited. Almost everything we do at HealthSparq is focused on the impact that our products have on people. Whether it’s ongoing usability and research, recruiting consumer panels at tradeshows, or just our style of telling relatable stories.  Again, every person we talk to, client, prospect, press, influencer has a health care story, so being relatable with stories has served us well with them. Want to see head nods in a room? Talk about the expense of having a baby instead of tech specs. Those are some of the things I’ve learned in more consumer-driven industries.

HealthSparq’s #whathehealthcare campaign obviously tapped into something pretty important. Can you describe how it came about and where it fits with other outreach?

It’s been fun. As I said above, everyone has a health care story, whether it’s theirs, a family member’s, a friend’s, etc. We realized that although lots of people talk about these stories, there isn’t one central place where they are collected, so we launched #whatthehealthcare and  We wanted to aggregate the stories in one place and create a rallying cry for those WTF health care moments.  We also decided to make fun of the industry and ourselves a bit and posted some fun videos featuring a character that we affectionately call our “health care monster,” which is the embodiment of everything wrong in the industry.

Has the campaign grown beyond the initial vision, and where will you take it next?

We don’t want to become the cranks of the industry. As we have collected stories, our attention has also turned to how we use the stories to drive real change. That’s why we are hosting an event in June called What’s the Fix?, which lives in the world of #whatthehealthcare but is also kind of an answer to it.

We are bringing together real, normal people who have overcome major health care challenges and succeeded despite the system, not because of it. The event is in Seattle and online, and we aren’t charging anyone for attendance.  What’s the Fix? is intended to have the industry listen to real people about driving change. There won’t be any industry people speaking to industry people.  We are so excited about this that we are happy to discuss it with anyone who is interested.

#Whatthehealthcare looks like a great way to engage many different types of people, perhaps most importantly patients. In terms of sales, though, it looks like you are primarily looking to connect with health plans and employers. Can you talk about how you reach those decision makers? Does the same type of message resonate?

Our mission statement is “helping people make smarter health care choices.”  The operative word for us is “people.”  There are plenty of health care companies out there focused on technology, but we want to focus on how technology helps make people’s health care experiences better and more human. We feel that it’s a differentiator for us in our market space.

Our partners are health plans, which comprise a very small sized market.  We either have worked with most or have had interactions with most, so lead gen efforts have limited success for us. We’ve tried to build the brand to help us differentiate ourselves and our approach. Like I’ve said, we focus on storytelling, relatability and humanizing health care. I’ll give you an example.  We have a client summit once a year. This year, we led a design thinking workshop where we put 4 to 5 of our health plan clients on a team and added in a normal, real-life consumer (we recruited people from outside the industry) to work on solving pain points together.  The reviews from our clients were incredible.  So you can see how our brand and the focus on people, including #whathehealthcare, What’s the Fix?, and other things help our clients to focus on the real people that health care affects. We get great comments from our clients when we do this stuff.

SmartBrief has had the pleasure of working with HealthSparq for several years to reach this type of professional audience by promoting resources such as white papers and webinars. What’s the goal with these campaigns, and how have they worked out?

Those programs are more focused on helping us to get in front of the correct people at health plans and industry influencers.  The research we’ve used, whether how to engage people, what the future of health care looks like for people, or how people want to be rewarded all reinforce our brand while offering value to our clients and potential clients. The campaigns tend to work well for us and help reinforce the brand messages that our clients are seeing from us in market.

Find Burt Rosen on Twitter, and reach him via email at [email protected]