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Major Healthcare Consumerism Shifts You Need to Embrace Now for Marketing

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Healthcare consumerism isn’t just “coming.” It’s already here. 

What’s more, healthcare consumerism means big changes for healthcare organizations and officially ushers in a new era of the patient experience.  

Are you modernizing your business to meet your patients' changing needs and expectations? If not, you’re already falling behind.

In today’s blog post, I share some of the biggest healthcare consumerism shifts you need to understand for marketing your healthcare organization, hospital, or multilocation practice. 

Healthcare consumerism is here, and so are the disruptors. 

Though healthcare consumerism has been on the rise for several years, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced many reluctant businesses over the technology tipping point to meet these changing needs and expectations. 

According to a 2020 McKinsey Global survey, nearly 900 C-level executives representing a full range of industries, company sizes, and functional specialties were “three times likelier now than before the pandemic to say that at least 80% of their customer interactions are digital.”

As a result of a societal shift into more frequent digital interactions and ever increasing out-of-pocket medical costs, patients expect a healthcare experience as innovative and digitally advanced as other service sectors

Patients want providers and other healthcare organizations to deliver value and “patient first” care, emphasizing:

  • Affordability
  • Accessibility
  • And a seamless, easy experience. 

The Disruptors: Your Competitors 

While many companies are late to the game, others are disrupting the marketplace. Highly recognizable brand names such as CVS MinuteClinics, Walmart Care Clinics, Target Clinics, and Walgreens Healthcare Clinics; new companies such as Optum Health, Luna Physical Therapy, Roman, and HIMS; and innovative outpatient services such as urgent care centers, and Telehealth are all giving consumers what they want before they even know they want it. 

According to survey data released from Press Ganey, a healthcare experience leader, 66% of 1,000 respondents believed brands like these might pose a significant threat to older hospital and provider institutions. 

Why? Disruptors offer comparable health care services, but in an easier, more convenient, transparent, and seamless way

In a recent survey by National Research Corporation (NRC) Health, 52% of 300,000 American households say that convenience is one of the most important drivers for choosing their healthcare providers. Healthcare consumerism is also shaping the way organizations deliver medicine. With all this in mind, healthcare organizations must prioritize the patient experience to stay competitive.

Now that we’ve established that healthcare consumerism is here and there are many industry disruptors leading the way, how does your organization compare?

Where do you start? 

How you market your healthcare organization is a good place to start. By changing the way you market your brand. But that doesn’t mean the way you “advertise” your brand.

To help you prepare for or embrace this major shift, let’s consider the five Ps of marketing through the lens of healthcare consumerism. 

The five Ps of marketing are:

  • Product
  • Price
  • Promotion
  • Place
  • People

Healthcare Consumerism: 5 Ways Marketing has Evolved for the Patient-First Era

Let’s look at how healthcare consumerism is changing the 5 Ps of healthcare marketing:

1)      Product

Whenever I speak live, I always emphasize that “product” is the most important P. So let’s start here.

Healthcare has always been a service industry. However, it was built upon the needs of providers and staff, rather than patients. The ‘product’ has always been the appointment and the treatment, and while they remain vital to your organizations’ success, it’s just one piece of the puzzle.

Thanks to online access to patient reviews and comprehensive information about specific physicians and hospitals, patients are more informed than ever before. They’re weighing options and making decisions based on the overall healthcare experience they want—and what they want is a streamlined digital experience. 60% of the Press Ganey survey respondents said they prefer booking appointments digitally (online or in-app) than scheduling them over the phone. 

Have you thought about all your consumer touchpoints from start to finish (e.g., online or print ads, online reviews and ratings, scheduling, phone calls, emails, billing, etc.)? If not, it’s time to look at your business through the eyes of your patient and make some much-needed changes.

Today’s healthcare consumers want:

    • A helpful website and local directory profiles
    • Educational content on your social media and blog
    • Easy, online appointment scheduling 
    • Accessible and responsive doctor-patient email communication
    • Secure, online access to medical records
    • Digital bill pay capabilities

More than half (51%) of Press Ganey survey respondents said they used the internet to research and select a new primary care provider, a statistic that has steadily increased for the past three years. If you’re not optimizing your online experience, you are losing patients.

2)      Price

The United States has some of the highest global healthcare rates, period. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), 14% of patients struggle to pay high out-of-pocket medical costs. As healthcare costs continue to rise, patients are empowered to find alternative, more affordable healthcare options offering an experience similar to other service sectors.

How can you effectively address these expectations? We understand pricing transparency includes hospitals, providers,  health plans and medical manufacturers. Still, it’s essential to find and implement ways to make treatment less expensive. Price transparency tools and low-cost, flexible care options (e.g., fee-for-service or capitated HMOs) can help ease the financial burden on your patients.

Today’s healthcare consumers want:

    • Clear, transparent pricing
    • Affordable options and payment plans
    • Free healthcare screenings
    • Discounts and offers (when appropriate)

Providing affordable treatment options, accepting several insurance plans, and offering reduced prices for simple tests and appointments can also help you attract and keep more patients.

3)      Place

A little attention to design goes a long way toward improving workflow and patient satisfaction at your physical location. Once your marketing and advertising pay off and new patients visit your office, you've got to make a great first impression.

Does your waiting room offer an inviting atmosphere? Are you using technology to streamline their check-in process? Do you provide alternative options to increase access to your providers? Today’s healthcare consumers have an unprecedented number of choices and access to tools to make informed decisions. They’ve come to expect high-quality amenities such as:

    • An uncomplicated, fast digital check-in
    • A clean, welcoming waiting room
    • Sanitation stations
    • Shorter waiting times
    • Walk-in clinics 
    • Telehealth services
    • Easy and convenient parking locations

4)      People

“People” refers to your doctors and staff. Patients want to feel respected and listened to. Create a friendly and relaxed atmosphere from the moment they enter your office. Have knowledgeable and friendly staff members in the front office and physicians who are personable, great listeners, empathetic to the needs of their patients. 

We understand the current employment market exacerbates this issue due to massive shortages at every level. Businesses struggle to find, hire, train, and keep high-caliber employees in many sectors. However, strong relationships facilitate trust between you and your patients, allowing for more open communication and better treatment.

5)      Promotion

We are covering “promotion” last on purpose. While amateur marketers always start with promotion, marketing pros consider all the other marketing Ps before contemplating their promotional strategy.

Healthcare consumerism has shifted from word-of-mouth and physician referrals, today marketing should include branding, digital marketing, and traditional advertising.

Consumers use an average of three online sources when looking for a provider. Search engines were the most common source (65%), followed by insurance websites (45%) and hospital or health system sites (43%). Of these consumers, 78% used Google, 27% used WebMD, and nearly 20% used Facebook.

Now that you know where you need to promote your services, it’s time for your message to evolve as well. Today, savvy consumers prefer brand-positive messaging that draws them to your brand through long-tail nurturing campaigns that build trust over time. 

Today’s advertising and content involves so much more than just good writing:

    • Video
    • Infographics
    • Social media posts
    • Images
    • Blogs
    • E-books

The Customer Journey Before & After Healthcare Consumerism

Let’s say you run a multi-location hospital chain catering to locals and patients who need your specialty care services. How has the consumer journey changed in the last ten years? Let’s take a look at a typical consumer journey through the 5 Ps of marketing:

Before Healthcare Consumerism

  • Product
    Minimal to no attention to overall patient experience. Most patients scheduled services based on friend, family, or doctor referrals.
  • Price
    Minimal to no communication about the cost of professional services to individual patients and incomplete or inaccurate pricing information about life-saving services and procedures.
  • Place
    Minimal to no emphasis is placed on the aesthetics or amenities available in patient waiting rooms or exam rooms. Patient flow was designed to benefit provider efficiency. Convenience and aesthetics weren’t even considered.
  • People
    Staffing front offices involved hiring educated individuals with (ideally) good phone etiquette. Staffing exam rooms and hospitals involved hiring knowledgeable, experienced physicians and specialists dedicated to treating patients.
  • Promotion
    Advertising consisted of traditional print ads, radio, TV, and billboards. Patients received push marketing messages that served as a general, one-size-fits-all advertisement.

After Healthcare Consumerism

Healthcare market disruptors are making healthcare simpler, more accessible, and transparent for everyone. As a result, healthcare providers and organizations are rethinking their business models and making sweeping changes across every consumer touchpoint. Here’s what they’re doing:

  • Product
    Optimizing the patient experience through consistent messaging, easy online scheduling, digital doctor-patient communication tools, and secure online access to medical records and bill-pay capabilities.
  • Price
    Offering clear, transparent pricing, affordable options, flexible payment plans, free health screenings, and special offers.
  • Place
    Developing aesthetically pleasing waiting rooms complete with educational materials, sanitation stations, and a streamlined digital check-in process. Meanwhile, Telehealth and urgent care locations are integral components of the patient experience.
  • People
    Staffing front offices, exam rooms, and hospitals with compassionate, knowledgeable, and skilled specialists that are dedicated to enhancing the consumer experience.
  • Promotion
    Building trust and confidence through personalized nurturing campaigns that include educational materials, healthcare reminders, special offers, and brand-positive messaging.

Healthcare consumerism is not only here, it’s here to stay.

[Podcast] Improving the Patient Experience

I have interviewed my friend Dr. Jim Merlino many times, and something he said last year comes to mind as I write this article. (In case you don’t remember, Dr. Merlino is Chief Transformation Office for the Cleveland Clinic, an accomplished surgeon and national leader in improving the patient experience.)

He said, “Over the last ten years, the healthcare industry has advanced from an idea that the patient experience is about happiness and satisfaction to an understanding that it’s much more transformative than that.”

It’s time to implement a patient experience that’s digitally connected, patient-centric, and focused on wellness. As healthcare costs continue to rise, more and more consumers are empowered to search for and expect greater value and quality of service, timely and convenient care, transparent information, and an excellent patient experience. 

Organizations must embrace these changes and meet their patient’s expectations or risk losing them to the competition.

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