A Look at Health Care Marketing in the Age of Consumerism

A Look at Health Care Marketing in the Age of Consumerism

As our country’s health care system becomes increasingly consumer-driven, health care marketers are finding themselves in new and unexpected territory. Today’s customers are looking for a different experience than yesterday’s customers, and marketers are having to suddenly rise to the challenge of unpacking complex consumer preferences, developing relevant products that meet the needs of an evolving target market, and designing sophisticated marketing programs that leverage consumer insight to enhance performance.

To help health care marketers determine how they can best adapt and remain a vital part of the changing health care landscape, a recent article from Forbes addresses some of the key questions that today’s marketers are asking.

What’s behind the shift to consumer-driven health care?

On a macro scale, the drivers of the move to consumer-focused health care fall into three main categories. In all three categories, rising costs play a predominant role.

ambulanceDemographic—The Baby Boomer generation has now entered a stage of life where health issues, including chronic or degenerative conditions, are requiring a greater degree of consistent care. The resulting strain on the system has been a significant factor in driving up costs, as has the high number of uninsured consumers who have little recourse but to rely on the inappropriate use of emergency services to address their health issues.

Legislative—Though its future is uncertain, the Affordable Care Act has already prompted a significant shift from the previous model of securing populations through employer negotiations to engaging health care consumers on an individual, more personalized level. The growing trend towards reimbursements based on medical outcomes and patient satisfaction also puts the consumer experience front and center.

Technological—Digital media has proved to be a major catalyst for consumerism in health care. A wide variety of resources, from online forums to wearable sensors, now give consumers the opportunity to become more informed about and more engaged in their own care process, and the long-established opacity of the health care system is gradually being replaced by transparency and openness.

What does the shift to consumer-driven health care mean for providers?

The new reality of consumer-driven care has three major implications for providers and marketers, all of which require careful planning and preparation.

hospitalMassive investments—Now that medical outcomes are increasingly tied to reimbursement, new technology to facilitate integrated patient health record sharing is a must for providers of all sizes, as are technologies for care quality measurement and reporting. However, these technologies don’t come cheaply, so providers must budget strategically in order to be able to make the appropriate investments.

Changing business models—Given the challenge of controlling costs and managing risk, not to mention other factors like burdensome administrative requirements and ever-declining reimbursement, it’s not surprising that more and more physicians and smaller providers are joining forces with larger health care systems in order to take advantage of economies of scale. With 39% of physicians aged 45 or under having never worked in private practice, it’s clear that traditional business models are increasingly dropping off the radar in the current landscape.

New competitors—The changing market is seeing a host of new competitors emerge—not only other providers like retail clinics and ASCs, but also enterprises like consumer technology start-ups. With so many new resources available to consumers, providers and marketers must work harder than ever to achieve differentiation in a busy market.

How can health care marketers know if they’re moving in the right direction?

To help develop strategies relevant to today’s consumer-driven health care ecosystem, there are four main dimensions that health care marketers need to consider carefully when assessing their practices and their organizations.

Data—Marketers need to know what data is already available to them through the legacy systems of their organization, and to identify what new data is needed in order to better understand and connect with the target population or consumer niche.

Systems—Data is only useful if the proper systems are in place to make use of it. Marketers need to assess whether available data is integrated, accessible, and usable through current systems and infrastructure. It’s particularly important that consumer insight information be easily aligned with purchase behavior and product testing data in order to be able to develop smart strategies and personalized consumer relationships.

People—A thorough knowledge of the health care industry is no longer enough for an effective marketing team. Now, the new “must” for marketers is consumer insight and behavior changing skills. Many providers and care organizations are finding that marketers with backgrounds in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry, for example, are better able to adapt to the health care market than traditional health care marketers are able to adapt to the new world of B2C marketing.

Processes—As new strategies and practices are being tested, key metrics are more important than ever. Marketers need to be able to measure how effective individual marketing tactics are proving, and to identify whether and how sales processes have changed to focus in more detail on consumer acquisition, satisfaction, and retention.

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