Healthcare Consumerism: Marketing’s New Imperative

By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer

Doctor holding a tiny shopping cart with a stethoscope insideThe concept of consumerism in healthcare delivery is a page from the retail world. Although it predates the Affordable Care Act—a major driver in consumerism—it’s a trend that has gained significant traction with health systems, hospitals and medical practices. And, by most indicators, healthcare consumerism is rapidly becoming a top imperative for marketing professionals.

The high-altitude definition tells us that: “Health consumerism is a movement that advocates patients’ involvement in their own healthcare decisions. It is a movement from the ‘doctor says/patient does’ model to a ‘working partnership’ model.” [Wikipedia]

From a provider’s perspective, the broad definition embraces desirable factors including:

  • Closer physician-patient communications and cooperation;
  • Patient buy-in and compliance with treatment recommendations;
  • Patient lifestyle and wellness awareness; and
  • Preventative and healthy activities and habits.

Clearly, these are important influences in the provider-patient partnership. And healthcare communications plays an important role in fostering the positive relationship and enhancing healthy outcomes. From a marketing perspective, it’s a slice of the ongoing challenge where “having a relevant brand means engaging consumers today for solutions they may need tomorrow.”

The rise of empowered consumers…

In reality, our nation’s healthcare delivery system is far more complex, and it’s constantly changing. Previously “passive patients” have become empowered consumers, due in large measure to the swing of the financial burden to their personal pocketbook. And, with that money-shift, consumers search for and expect greater value and quality of service, timely and convenient care, transparent information, and a positive (if not outstanding) patient experience.

“The health care system in the United States is edging toward a recalibration,” according to a comprehensive article in Deloitte Review titled: Rising Consumerism: Winning the hearts and minds of health care consumers. Among the Deloitte observations:

“Existing business models are being challenged to find and deliver new sources of value and to develop innovative approaches to make health care less complicated, and to improve outcomes:

  • “Health care is moving toward value, not volume, as a central organizing principle. That impacts how patients are cared for, how physicians and hospitals are paid, and how life sciences companies approach the market.
  • “Those paying the bills—employers, government, health plans, and increasingly, individuals—are looking for better value and better outcomes.
  • “Entrepreneurs, retail organizations, and communications and technology companies see opportunity in the large and growing health care market.

“Of essence to the health care industry is how to step up to a consumer-centric system. An active and engaged consumer is implicit at the core of the health industry of the future—a value- oriented market-like system.

“As consumers begin to shoulder more of the financial burden of their health care, industry players must weigh up innovations and actions they can take to build lifelong connections with consumers.”

Answering consumerism with value and convenience…

The individual—healthcare’s customer/consumer—is increasingly cautious about how, when and where they pay for health and healthcare services for themselves and their family. The nation’s economic downturn (and slow recovery) has impacted discretionary spending and fueled their demand for quick, convenient alternatives to the classic “doctor-office appointment.”

Healthcare providers, administrators and marketing professionals recognize that the retail world is learning healthcare faster than healthcare is learning retail. Savvy marketing and advertising messages now recognize that competition has shifted from “the colleague down the hall,” to the “retail store across the street.”

Convenience has become the new currency. And for health systems and providers to capture a competitive position in the minds of consumers, convenience is a primary consideration.

On the provider-side, this means assuring that the patient has easy and prompt access to care; that the deliverable received includes a strong sense of value; and that the clinical quality of care (which is difficult for the consumer to judge) matches the highest of standards.

Reinventing healthcare delivery…

The rise of consumerism in healthcare—meeting and exceeding patient expectations—is pervasive and has become a top imperative for healthcare marketing. Moreover, the old model of “passive patients” is fast disappearing. And future marketing plans—and ultimately, success in business—requires a re-engineering of the healthcare delivery system. It’s healthcare reinvented, with the patient/consumer now center-stage.

FOR MORE ON THIS TOPIC, read: The Shape of the New Consumerism in Healthcare Marketing.

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Stewart Gandolf, MBA, CEO

Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer at Healthcare Success
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Success, one of the nation's leading healthcare and digital marketing agencies. Over the past 20 years, Stewart has marketed and consulted for over 1,000 healthcare clients, ranging from practices and hospitals to multi-billion dollar corporations. A frequent speaker, Stewart has shared his expertise at over 200 venues nationwide. As an author and expert resource, Stewart has also written for many leading industry publications, including the 21,000 subscriber Healthcare Success Insight blog. Stewart also co-authored, "Cash-Pay Healthcare: Start, Grow & Perfect Your Cash-Pay Healthcare Business." Stewart began his career with leading advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson, where he marketed Fortune 500 clients such as Wells Fargo and Bally's Total Fitness.



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