Podcast #113

Revolutionizing Patient Care: The Intersection of Marketing and Technology with Ibrahim Albaba

This week on Ignite, Cardinal’s CEO, Alex Membrillo, is joined by Ibrahim Albaba, Analytics Manager at CLS Health. The two explore the intersection of healthcare services and marketing analytics and share their insights on marketing operations (MOps) alignment and the significance of seamless patient experiences. The episode touches on the use of EMR data in healthcare analytics, the impact of technology on patient acquisition strategies, and more!

Episode Highlights:

Ibrahim Albaba: “The idea is that marketing and operations never really talk to each other, but the language that allows them to is data. Its analytics. With a couple of buy-ins and clicks, we can figure out exactly what clinic needs what capacity.”

Episode Overview

Welcome to Ignite! In this episode, Ibrahim Albaba, Analytics Manager at CLS Health, joins our host, Alex Membrillo, to discuss the intersection of healthcare services and marketing analytics at CLS.

With a focus on being physician-owned and led, CLS Health stands out in the industry. Their facilities resemble hospitals but without emergency departments, providing a wide array of services including specialty care, imaging, and surgical centers.

Ibrahim shares CLS Health’s data-driven approach, leveraging technologies like Next.js and Luma Health to optimize marketing strategies. Looking ahead, Ibrahim also discusses the potential of AI in healthcare marketing, acknowledging the challenges of HIPAA compliance. He emphasizes the importance of innovation and brand awareness in healthcare marketing.

Overall, the conversation offers insights into CLS Health’s unique approach to healthcare delivery and marketing, driven by a combination of innovative thinking, data-driven decision-making, and a focus on patient and physician satisfaction.

Related Resources

Announcer: Welcome to the Ignite Podcast, the only healthcare marketing podcast that digs into the digital strategies and tactics that help you accelerate growth. Each week, Cardinal’s experts explore innovative ways to build your digital presence and attract more patients. Buckle up for another episode of Ignite.

Alex Membrillo: What’s up, everybody? Welcome to Ignite. We are going to have so much darn fun today. We’ve got a unique business model. We’ve got a unique guy that not only loves marketing analytics, but he actually loves connecting patients with care. He’s a healthcare nut, an aficionado, a wonderful guy in general, and he’s based in Houston. He’s time-traveling behind me. Ibrahim Albaba, welcome to Ignite. What’s up, baby?

Ibrahim Albaba: Thank you, Alex. Thank you for having me. You’re welcome.

Alex: You are welcome. Tell us about CLS Health.

Ibrahim: Yes, CLS Health. It was called Clear Lake Specialties. We recently changed that to CLS to fit the fact that Clear Lake is a neighborhood in Texas, but we’ve outgrown that neighborhood. CLS Health, if I had to describe it, it’s a two-part. The first thing is what are we to patients? What we are to patients is a multi-specialty, multi-location clinic that provides a model of healthcare that’s based on the premise of building a comprehensive care model under one roof. Essentially you get all your care services under one roof. That’s what we are for patients.

What we are for doctors is this physician-owned, physician-led entity that manages your healthcare practice in a way that you’re semi-autonomous and you’re semi-independent, allowing you to focus on what you’re really good at, which is providing good care, and less focusing on what you’re not really good at, which is the business side. Removing the administrative part of healthcare and pushing the healthcare to just be pure medicine for physicians. That’s our healthcare model. Today there were entities in Houston that were doing what we’re doing, and unfortunately, they were bought out by private equity insurance companies.

They’ve lost the essence of what makes CLS Health CLS Health, or what makes this specific model, I guess, great in the eyes of our consumers being both physicians and patients, which is that it’s physician-led and physician-owned. I think that is one of our biggest differentiators, and we really lean in on that. Today, we are the biggest physician-owned, physician-led independent practice in Houston, and probably in the top, three, let’s say, in Texas.

Alex: It’s a big boy status. I like it. It’s almost like a hospital, but you spread out the locations and you don’t have an emergency department. Is that the difference?

Ibrahim: Pretty much. Right in front of me, we’re at the main campus, which was originally a 60,000 building attached to a 15,000 unit. Now we’re expanding to add another 100,000. We’re almost about 185,000 square feet. What that means is you have every single specialty. You have pharmacy, you have imaging center, your MRIs, all that fun stuff. Then the real cherry on top now is having a surgical center. For the most part, with the exception of an emergency room and overnight stay in a hospital, we cover almost the entire gambit of healthcare services. That’s our idea. Let’s keep healthcare outside the hospital, reduce cost of care. That’s really the value when you think about it.

Alex: And improve outcomes, because we’re not [crosstalk]

Ibrahim: Yes, hopefully, yes.

Alex: I love that. The costs of care are big until you guys are operating your own surgical center. I’ve heard that’s a big trend, keeping people out of the hospital, lower the cost of care. I love it. Ibrahim, you’ve got a large purview there. What are you most passionate about? Margie, analytics, driving, pacing, what do you focus on? You wake up in the morning, you’re like, [unintelligible 00:03:35] What do you love?

Ibrahim: It’s interesting, I started my, I guess career in healthcare really in the analytics side of things, providing operational analytics and revenue cycle analytics to physician practices and whatnot. I joined CLS Health as beginning their analytics manager, driving home the same exact concept. Let’s bring data to the forefront of our operation. Then somehow, somewhere, I got brought into the marketing side. In essence, what am I passionate about? I think I’m passionate about ways to make data work for the business in every single possible area.

That might be operation, that might be marketing, whatever it might be. Talking about it, I told you previously, I listened to some of your episodes, I like this word someone came up with, I think it was called MOPS or marketing ops.

Alex: Yes, Teresa, baby.

Ibrahim: Exactly, yes, I think that’s what. The idea that marketing and operations never really talk to each other, but really the language that allows them to talk to each other, in my opinion, is data, is analytics. With a couple of buy-ins, clicks, we can figure out exactly what clinic needs what capacity, and we can drive our marketing spend to that clinic, to that doctor, to that service line, and so on and so forth.

Alex: I love it seems like that would be obvious, but it’s the whole trend of the entire year is driving media, driving marketing to where it’s needed, and we talk about MOPS alignment all the time. I’m going to use that quote, the universal language for marketing and ops is date. I love it. Now we’ve got the Rosetta stone for how to align. That’s going to be the tagline, the headline for this episode. I have a feeling you’ve done some big things over the last year. Tell us about that website, looks beautiful. Is that new? What’s going on there?

Ibrahim: No, the website is new, but we’re actually pivoting to a newer website, a more scalable system. When you really think about marketing in general, especially on the healthcare side, at the end of the day, the last point of contact between a patient and their appointment, at least one of the last few steps is a website, right? It’s the website, the website gets the information, and then finally, you book an appointment, or you book an appointment straight from your website. That means your website has to be amazing.

When we’re thinking about our website, thinking ahead of CLS Health, thinking that we really aim to have about 1,000 doctors spread over maybe 12 different comprehensive care clinics and comprehensive neighborhoods in the city of Houston, we need a website that’s able to scale. That’s the biggest investment that we’re doing right now. We’re in the works, and what we’re really shifting is the infrastructure that drives that website. The infrastructure allows us to– and I mean by that, to get more specific, is we’re building off a Next.js and what they call compostable design website.

This allows us to scale our website to different needs, different things. I mentioned to you on email that we’re even thinking about ways that we can implement AI and generative AI into the field of marketing. You really can only do that when you have a website that supports that. That’s one of our biggest things moving into this year, create a website that scales with us, works with us, provides us the data that we’re looking for, and really just is, from a creative perspective, brilliant enough to really captivate patients into coming in and joining our system.

Alex: Yes, so you’re looking at a multitude of different things. The aesthetics, because it has to be beautiful, and you have to look like you’re a modern practice. Something somebody wants to go visit. Then you also need the backend to be able to scale out with you guys as you add location specialties. You guys are already ahead of the game. I see online scheduling there on every location page. What’s that powered by?

Ibrahim: Today, we’re powered by Luma Health. That’s our digital platform. That’s part of creating that headless CMS website that I was just referring to, is, can we actually bring that in completely integrated within the website by leveraging the actual APIs that drive Luma or the APIs that drive eClinicalWorks, which is our EM?

Alex: Instead of being an iframe, man.

Ibrahim: Exactly, having one seamless experience. People can tell when there’s an iframe. We really just want it to look the same, feel the same, and have the control to make it as simple as possible.

Alex: Smart, I love it. That’s going to take a good bit of dev resources to make happen. The beauty of that is much better user experience and much more trackable. I assume you’re going to be able to pixel the landing pages and stuff much better. Tie that back to all kinds of different ad engagements and fun things like that. I love it. All right, so new website coming, already beautiful, but we’re going to make it even better so that it can keep up with CLS’s growth. What else do you have going on?

Ibrahim: We partnered with Cardinal recently. It’s been–

Alex: Oh snap, I led you into it.

Ibrahim: It’s been great. I think, having a PPC strategy before that was in-house obviously has its pros, but partnering with people who are constantly working with different clients across the country allows us to centralize a resource or a knowledge base that you guys have. By tapping into that, obviously, we’re getting more efficient. We went live April 1st with PPC. By the time Google kicks in and whatnot, we’ve doubled the amount of online bookings with the same amount of budget.

Alex: All right, I got to go tell my team, I love that. Is that what you wanted to get out of a paid search partner is, “Hey, we’re trying to drive more bookings, we’re trying to get more efficient,” and it’s the knowledge base, Ibrahim? That’s what you just said, “Hey, we’re trying to learn from the 70 other clients that an agency may have in healthcare.” Some of those ideas may be strategic in media, but they’re also in technology. Tell us about some of the technology things you’ve undertaken, marketing technology actually.

Ibrahim: One of the first conversations we had with, I think it was you and Lauren was about– and we already were thinking about how are we going to do this? In my data software brain, I was thinking how I was going to do this myself and how our team was going to do it ourselves. It was daunting. One of the first things you guys said was, “Hey, you really need call center analytics.” We’d already been looking at solutions, but you guys connected us with people called Line. I think every healthcare company needs to invest in these guys because what they’re doing is phenomenal.

For the first time ever, we have such powerful insights on what is actually happening from a marketing perspective in the practice. What’s working, what’s not working. Are our investments having a return? I think previously, a lot of healthcare companies were relying, and so were we, on the data that was provided by the platform that they were investing in. I’ll give an example. That’s not to throw people under the bus or something, but you got WebMD and you got Healthgrades. These platforms, you invest in them a significant amount of money and then they tell you how well they did.

That was the one thing we did. We thought, “Listen, great. You give us data every month. We’re going to actually integrate ourselves and then fact-check this.” When we found out, “Okay, 90% of the traffic coming to this website were actually people already existing in the system. Those calls-

Alex: Driving existence.

Ibrahim: -those leads were not really leads. Only 10% of them were leads. I don’t even think they knew that. You really have a powerful way to now really determine what’s the ROI per segment per medium in that in which you’re spending. I think it’s a phenomenal tool and probably one of the most important things. Of course, Line is not just a call center tracking system anymore. They track everything. They’re able to work with us on the online booking, which is Luma, and make sure that even when a patient converts online, they track it back all into one system, one platform that allows you to track those kinds of things.

Alex: They do cool stuff with lead track and email forms. If anybody out there has lead forms, when lead form comes in, they call the call center, it makes an automatic call to call center and patient to connect them right then, because nobody answers lead forms. I submitted one three weeks ago to a Durham group. They still haven’t called me back. Line’s awesome. Charlie owes me dinner in Chicago at a healthcare conference next week. I’ll make sure he knows that. You’re also integrating your EMR data. Are you putting it all together so you not only know marketing data, but if patient actually came in reimbursement, all that stuff?

Ibrahim: Yes, exactly. That was one of the first things we did as an analytics team, and I think one of the more powerful things that we’ve been able to do is tap into our EMR data. EMR data is crazy. There’s 60,000 tables in our EMR. I’d say we only know about 10% of the stuff that we’re actually looking at. There’s this mysterious 90% that we haven’t even tapped into. What you’re able to do is once you start pulling that data in and then you start pulling your patient engagement data, which is Luma health, and you start connecting that to things like Line and your Google Analytics, you put them all into one, we call it lake, data lake like they call them these days.

You’re able to really drive some really powerful analytics. Now not only do we know, where our PPC spend is, now we know every single patient when as funny as that, a long time ago in this practice, they used to have a question at patient registration. How did you hear about us? Then you put us in and then I was like, “Wow, that’s a lot of people over the years have filled out that question. Who looks at that?” It’s like nobody has ever looked at it. We have the question for no reason. Now with the digital form, you’re able to put the question in digital format, you track it back and you’re actually able to look at it.

Now we’re looking at it and we were shocked ourselves. We never knew where patients were coming from. Now we know with relative accuracy, not only where every single patient’s coming from, but per service line, per clinic, per location, and the results shock us, it’s way different than we thought.

Alex: I love it. A lot of the technology you mentioned, like a Line, helps you optimize towards the net new patient. That’s a resounding thing. You get the MR data, you get the Line, and then you can optimize towards net new, not the organic. That’s why your media has been so much more effective is we’re not wasting time. You got to be able to feed the ad platforms back who the net new opportunities are. I love that you got the MR data. Ibrahim, I’m thinking while you’re talking, your brain is so unique. A lot of groups just don’t have access to someone like you that can think through all that and look at it.

What do they do? They go to Upwork and they find a great analytics, a BI. It’s almost like you have a BI instinct because you can do the analysis, not just the connection of the data points. What does everybody else out there do that doesn’t have you?

Ibrahim: I honestly have no idea. I don’t know what other people were doing. Actually in our Genesis as an analytics team, we actually started selling our consulting services to other healthcare companies.

Alex: I love it.

Ibrahim: Actually, that’s where I came from. I told you at the beginning somewhere during college, that was how I got into healthcare analytics. I created a startup with me and my brother-in-law and we had sold to several companies. A long story short, we shut that down, but what are companies doing? I think they’re accelerating there. I don’t think they’re at the place that they need to be. I know for a fact, pre-COVID people didn’t know anything. Somewhere during COVID, people started accelerating to that. I talked to someone recently, they said they work out one of the biggest healthcare systems in Houston. I’m not going to say what it is.

Probably actually one of the biggest healthcare systems in the country. They work as a data analyst and they say, “What do you do exactly? What’s your day-to-day? Because I’m thinking like, ‘Hey, maybe this guy maybe recruit him to the analytics team.” Now I want to know what are they doing over there as well.” Then long story short, they get requests– think about this, this is funny if you’re from my brain, ithey get requests from operational people. It’s simple like, “Hey, how many encounters did we get last month?” Then they go on Epic and run the query by clicking a couple of buttons, export it to an Excel and then send it back to them all day.

If you told that to the data analysts working in software, in tech, or the data engineers, they’d say that’s ridiculous. This was what was happening 25 years ago. These things should be automated. Alice, I know that you guys know all about this. You guys are using Looker Studio on Google. Things are streamlined, in sync. No one has to ask somebody to pull some data anymore. That’s where the biggest healthcare systems today are. They need to shift towards something more streamlined, more engineered.

Alex: Long story short, they can call you and sell your services and consult and find them on LinkedIn, everybody. I love it. Healthcare marketing is advancing pretty quickly, but still there was such a gap from what retail and everybody else was doing. Even attorneys and law firms and stuff like that. We’ve got to move much faster. Conversations like this will help the Baptists, the Adventists, the HCAs move much faster because they’re going to say, “If CLS can do it, why can’t we with all of our resources?” What are we looking? You mentioned AI, what are you excited about this year? A lot of it seems to be people don’t know how to apply in healthcare, is it HIPAA compliant? What can I do, what can I not do? What have you seen work, what are you interested in?

Ibrahim: You just hit it right there. Fortunately, obviously, that healthcare has all these legal restrictions and generally lags behind in almost every industry because of those restrictions and one of them being HIPAA. There’s a lot of use cases, especially in marketing, of how people are using generative AI. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of what CarMax is doing.

ALex: Tell me.

Ibrahim: The concept is that CarMax sells cars, people write reviews on cars, and what they did was they built a large language model on the reviews that people built on cars. Now when you go look up Audi R8 or something, it will generate what people like about the cars, blogs, from the reviews, based on their actual internal AI data. It’s a brilliant use case because they’re pushing SEO to a new level because they’re [unintelligible 00:15:55] sorry, not patients, but customers, what they need, what they want, what they’re really looking for, based on real user inputted data, not some fake large language mode, like ChatGPT, “Hey, what’s good about an Audi R8?” There’s some real reviews.

Question is, haven’t really been able to figure out what we can do. There are some use cases I’ve thought about, but I’m not sure how HIPAA-compliant they are. How can we apply something similar in the healthcare world to drive, basically make the patients, I wouldn’t call it transaction, but for simplicity, the transaction of finding a doctor easier by using AI.

Alex: Good for you. On June 6th, we’re going to have an AI for healthcare live stream where our team’s going to go into– I promise I didn’t mean to lead you into that one, but we’re going to have some cool that could be done in media that’s HIPAA compliant, all that fun stuff. It’s going to be also a discussion because people are doing cool things. My friend, Maite, she’s using it as a chatbot to answer lots of questions with actual relevant information on the website, HIPAA-compliant, and helps reduce call times because people aren’t calling in asking if you have certain kinds of treatments and stuff like that.

It can just answer instead of someone having to go through the website or really what they do is call the call center, “Hey, do you have this treatment for this condition?” A lot of it can answer that. That’s one cool thing I’ve seen, but there’s lots of things. It’s an idea starter and a force multiplier, but it’s not like it can’t do all the thinking, thank God, yet, or we’re going to be in Terminator a little too quickly. Give me a hot take. I know you feel you have a strong opinion that I think is very important. You told me this before the podcast. What do you think about healthcare services?

Ibrahim: It’s not to be said with a blanket statement, but I do think that a lot of healthcare services are almost like a commodity, right? At the end of the day, you have a UCI. It doesn’t really matter what doctor you’re going to go to for the most part, especially if you’re in a competitive area like you said, for the most part, you’re going to get treated almost identically like they’re saying. You need to get a vasectomy from a urologist. Now, a vasectomy is a vasectomy. It’s going to happen regardless of whatever. In many ways, a lot of the healthcare services are commodities. It’s like a gas station. I need gas.

I don’t care if I’m going to Shell or Chevron. I just want to get whatever’s on the right side of the road for me, more convenient and probably more cheaper. I’ll go there. Now, the thing about healthcare is that you can’t really play with the price. Price is set by insurance. It’s like a commodity that you can’t really mess with the price. When you’re thinking about it from a marketing perspective, what are the levers that we can shift to get people to come to and be attracted to where we’re at? I think one of the biggest things, especially when you’re selling a commodity like healthcare and one with CLS, which is this multi-specialty, multi-location, it’s something that people want. There’s only three players in the market.

It’s just like Chevron, Shell. It’s all about creating a brand awareness. No one wants to go to a gas station that has no– you’ve seen those gas stations with no logo and it just looks suspicious and is bad lighting. That’s the idea is we just need to sell this commodity by creating almost an awareness of who we are. That in and of itself will create the traffic. Then when we think about also what we can do in terms of levers, we have to make access more convenient. I’ll say a small story, even though I work at what I consider one of the best clinics here in Houston, and I have access to virtually a lot of different types of physicians, when I needed– people are telling me I’m balding.

I was like, “Oh my God, I’m going to get minoxidil for an astrocyte.” I know exactly what I want. Instead of going to a doctor, I just looked online. I got this app and within 10 minutes, I was able to get prescribed this medication. That’s convenience and access. That wins in the marketplace a lot of the times because I don’t really care. The same doctor over there was going to give me–

Alex: Unless it’s a high acuity type situation, oncology, cardiology, the stuff like that. A lot of it is just convenience and access. That’s why we talk about running media where there’s capacities. People want to be seen quickly. If they can’t, they go to the next gas station. I like that. I’m getting a hair transplant next Friday, by the way. I’m in there with you. There’s medication.

Ibrahim: Where are you going?

Alex: Dr. Anderson in Alpharetta, Georgia.

Ibrahim: Oh, okay. Because a lot of people go out of the country.

Alex: No, I’m not going to Turkey. I saw all the Turkish planes with all the guys, they have bald heads coming back. I said that to the doctor. He’s like, “Yes, they do it because it’s cheaper. No, we don’t have to make you entirely bald.” I said, “Thank God, let’s do it.” It’s convenience, it’s access. That is so important in healthcare. A lot of it is a commodity. You also mentioned making sure they’re aware of your service. When they do go looking for the next gas station, they say, “I’ve heard of CLS. I don’t remember how or what, but okay, they’re there and they have appointments that are readily available. Let’s go.”

That’s the secret sauce, right? It’s pretty simple. Make sure patients are aware of you as a brand. Then when they go looking, make sure you can access them or they can access care very quickly. Guys, it’s not a huge secret sauce here. I think Ibrahim states it very cool. Before our chat, you also mentioned something really funny.

Ibrahim: I think most social media use cases in healthcare are not being leveraged at least the right way. You look at most of our competitors and we track and look at them. They make so much content and a lot of it is good content, but they get 300, 400 views and it’s like wasted energy. We were the same way. We had 1,000 videos before I came on leading this marketing effort. People try to sell a service, be promotional on social media, but that’s not why people are on social media. What are the odds that you’re going to be at home scrolling on TikTok and having a vascular problem?

Then, “Oh my God, there’s a new vascular surgeon at CLS Health and he just opened and I happen to be in Pasadena, Texas. He’s open from 8 AM.” That’s the content people are putting out there. That is so random, it’s probably never going to happen. You got to go use this sort of platform to create fun, maybe educational content, and really use it as a lever for brand awareness or that type of fun. That’s really what we’ve done. With a focus on our social media strategy was just super viral, just get viral by getting– get on those trends, do this and that. Actually, funny enough, I told the social media person, I was like, “I’m getting on the podcast and I’m going to talk about it.”

I’m going to shout her out. Her name is Yang, she’s awesome.

Alex: All right, Yang.

Ibrahim: Yesterday, our video hit 1.2 million views. How much do you have to pay to get 1.2 million views if you want to do pay, if you want to do a billboard? Just think about how much you have to pay and then if you really run a good organic strategy, it can be very useful. If you’re running a strategy that’s getting 200, 300 views and you’re trying to be very promotional, it’s going to end up, I guess, not really working. That’s my take.

Alex: The take is social media, you need to use it in the right way. It’s educational, it’s supposed to be there to entertain and make people aware of your brand. If you ever get an email from Ibrahim, you’ll see in his signature, you got Facebook, Insta, LinkedIn, YouTube, TikTok, and formerly Twitter for CLS Health. They’re on every channel. They take social media serious. They’re there to get awareness, they’re there to get morality and they understand the use case. Ibrahim, I can’t tell you how many times I hear from prospective clients, they say, “Hey man, we want to test Meta for lead acquisition.”

No, you don’t, we’re not going to do that. It will impact lead acquisition down the funnel from some of the other stuff, but very rarely is it very effective in driving quality leads. It doesn’t do that. It needs to be a blended packets there to assist Ibrahim. This has been one of the– I knew it was going to be one of my favorites and I don’t tell all my girlfriends the same thing. I knew it was going to be one of my favorites because you’re one of the most intuitive people. You’re so focused on the data and you really actually love healthcare. Thank you for joining us on Ignite.

Ibrahim: Thank you, Alex, appreciate it.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to this episode of Ignite. Interested in keeping up with the latest trends in healthcare marketing? Subscribe to our podcast and leave a rating and review. For more healthcare marketing tips, visit our blog at cardinaldigitalmarketing.com.

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