With the US health care industry in the midst of what may prove to be one of the most transformative periods in its history, all kinds of stakeholder groups are working to deal with the sweeping changes that are disrupting the ways they have traditionally done business. Health care marketers are one such group. Factors such as the move from fee-for-service to value-based payment models and the rise of informed and empowered health care consumers have serious implications for conventional medical marketing strategies, and many health care marketers are finding they must scramble to adjust to changes that affect both how they develop their strategies and who those strategies target.
A recent article from digital marketing firm DMN3 identifies four major trends currently facing the health care marketing industry that all future marketing efforts will need to take into account.
Physicians becoming employees.
New regulations introduced in 2010 by the Affordable Care Act led to a substantial increase in the purchase of physician practices by hospitals; the goal of such a move is to provide more coordinated care by better integrating care delivery among physicians, hospitals, and other parts of the system. The result is that a growing number of doctors are now employees rather than independent practitioners.
A recent survey by Jackson Healthcare shows that, as of 2014, more than one in five (21%) of physicians in all specialties are hospital employees, while 14% are employed in a hospital-owned single or multi-specialty. Furthermore, between 2012 and 2014, the number of primary care physicians who were hospital employees doubled, increasing from 10% to 20%.
So what does the fact that more and more doctors are now employees mean for health care marketers? Simply put, it means that decisions about purchasing medical services and products are no longer made exclusively or entirely by doctors. Rather, they are increasingly likely to be made by a group purchasing organization in which doctors play an important advocating role, but are not themselves the final decision-makers.
Increased consumer research.
Another factor that is influencing the role of the doctor as decision-maker is the changing way that patients themselves are approaching their own health care. Thanks to the power of the Internet, today’s health care consumers are better informed and more empowered than ever before. No longer content to simply accept a doctor’s opinion, today’s patients do an incredible amount of research on symptoms, conditions, and treatment options, both before and after they see a physician. Increasingly interested in taking responsibility for their health and for making the decisions that will affect it, today’s patients see health care as more of a collaborative process than an exchange between an expert and a layperson.
For example, according to a survey conducted by Pew Research, over one-third of US adults reported having used the Internet to try to diagnose a medical condition experienced by themselves or another person. Of these so-called “online diagnosers,” more than half (53%) discussed the information they found online with a clinician, and 41% had their self-diagnosis confirmed by a clinician.
Consumers and payers as new marketing targets.
Although physicians remain the most important target group for health care marketers, particularly in such areas as pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical devices, marketers are increasingly focusing their efforts on consumers and payers. Payers and patients were each identified by 56% of the respondents to a 2016 MM&M/Ogilvy survey of health care marketers as belonging to their three leading target groups, ahead of shareholders, advocacy groups, and other providers.
Such a shift is not surprising given the trends revealed in the first two points above: that doctors are increasingly making fewer decisions about health care products and services while patients are making more. While there’s no question that physicians still underpin most marketers’ overall strategies, the balance of the decision-making power is clearly on the move.
Digital channels surpassing traditional marketing.
The trend toward digital marketing may only have kicked into high gear over the last few years, but its rate of acceleration has been impressive. Today, digital channels have overtaken traditional marketing channels across all marketing sectors. Just like other industries, health care has found that digital is no longer an option when it comes to attracting consumers—it’s a necessity. In pharmaceuticals, biotech, and medical devices, marketing budgets for social media, mobile applications, and digital sales materials are growing substantially, while mobile, social, and digital ads are an increasingly important staple of consumer marketing tactics.
Even hospital providers are turning to digital channels in order to attract health care consumers, and it’s no surprise when you consider the numbers. As far back as 2012, a Think with Google study found that over three-quarters (77%) of patients used a search engine for hospital research before they booked their appointments, and that nearly half (44%) of patients using a mobile device to research hospitals scheduled an appointment.