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CHRISTUS Health: New Retail Model Will Radically Alter Healthcare Marketing

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer
Preston Gee

Preston Gee, VP

Healthcare Success’ Kylie Ladd talked with Preston Gee, Vice President, Strategic Marketing at CHRISTUS Health. They spoke about Preston’s 2014 SHSMD (Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development) presentation titled: Surf ’s Up: Catching the Consumer-Empowered Tidal Wave Produced by Exchanges [SHSMD14 Speaker Series]

Hospital and healthcare marketing and strategy functions will be pivotal to the evolving era of market-driven dynamics, prompted by insurance exchanges, predicts Preston Gee at CHRISTUS Health.

While recent attention has been focused on the highly visible public exchanges, it is the impact of public and private exchanges, and the resulting consumer-centric model, that promises to radically alter the healthcare marketing landscape.

The new paradigm will be price-oriented “shopping” that upends the traditional purchasing model and significantly challenges the impact of provider brands at the point of sale.

Kylie Ladd of Healthcare Success talked with Preston Gee of CHRISTUS Health about this strategic perspective:

Kylie Ladd: Please give us a brief overview of your SHSMD14 presentation.

Preston Gee: Sure, I’d say the key takeaways from our presentation were that exchanges were a catalyst to drive heightened consumerism. And we’re already moving that direction anyway.

But what exchanges do, both public and private, is the reason some people get confused or don’t get the full picture. They say, "that’s Obamacare," I’m not going to pay that much attention to it, but you’ve got this parallel dynamic with the private exchanges where employers are migrating their employees away from the employee responsive model to privates exchanges.

What that all means basically is that the consumers, the individuals, will be much more empowered, they’ll be much more economically engaged and it will change the entire face of healthcare to a much more consumer-driven, retail-oriented market.

KL: A huge topic here at SHSMD is empowering the patient and giving them a voice.

PG: They not only have a voice, but because they have more economic "skin in the game," they’re going to be much more attentive to their decisions. Historically, when the employer was picking up most of the cost and was driving where they received care through their insurance networks, the patient was involved, but not as much.

They relied more heavily on the physician recommendation or the insurance direction, that sort of thing. Now that they’ll be paying more out of pocket, they’ll be paying much more attention to the price, to the access, to the quality, those kinds of issues…like we have in every other industry. So in essence, that’s why I say we’re moving to a retail model which we have not previously had in this country.

KL: Walmart is entering the healthcare market; have you seen anything about that lately?

PG: That’s another huge takeaway. Healthcare organizations, especially hospitals and providers, need to realize that their competition is changing, and has changed.

And not only is it changing in a very dynamic space, it’s also changing from a sophistication aspect. For example, Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, or companies like ZocDoc which is an online physician scheduling company. They get consumers. This is their space.

Whereas hospitals and physicians groups historically, our treatment of patients has been episodic…people come to us for treatment. But the Walmarts of the world, they really understand consumers. They know how to connect with them and stay connected with them.

KL: How has CHRISTUS Health positioned itself to keep up with big brand retailers?

PG: One of the things we’ve done is to introduce online scheduling for our primary care physicians. This is great because the competition is steeper, it’s not just a primary care physician across the county or a hospital in the region, it’s organizations like ZocDoc, where you can make same day appointments, or it’s CVS where you walk-in. We’ve made online arrangements both with our primary care doctors as well with our ERs. So people can go online, schedule an appointment. It’s patterned after Expedia or OpenTable.

KL: You’re really bumping up that patient experience?

PG: Yes, exactly. It’s all about convenience, access, ease of scheduling because that’s what consumers expect, and that’s what they really want. This is another point I drove home again and again at SHSMD that and we’re moving away from a patient-oriented model to a consumer-oriented model and that’s a very different dynamic.

KL: So where do you see CHRISTUS Health going forward as they continue to enhance their online and patient experience?

PG: The key thing is for us is to make our network much more accessible. We’ll also make the connective journey much more substantive. Many times, hospitals and health systems, their interaction with patients is periodic, maybe episodic.

For sophisticated consumer driven models, they’re never going to lose touch with consumers. It’s that stickiness factor. We will ramp up our efforts online, especially in terms of feedback. There are some very sophisticated models that measure online ratings.

KL: And that’s huge, as well as being able to pull from that data.

PG: Historically, what hospitals have done is rely on patient satisfaction surveys, but that’s more affirmative than informative. And now, with social media being such a huge presence, you really have to track what people are saying about your practice, what people are saying about your system. If you don’t, you’ll be left in the lurch. It used to be, if people had a favorable experience, they would tell three people; if they had a negative experience, they’d tell eleven. With social media, you’re telling thousands.

KL: And you also wrote a book about improving service lines to the consumer?

PG: The book is an update to the one I wrote about five years ago. It’s really about using service lines, and service lines are subdivisions of hospitals, so you have cardiovascular, oncology, etc. It’s about using service lines to stay connected to the consumer/patient.

The organizations that are going to succeed are the ones who are doing a good job of navigating and understanding the intersection of population health and rising consumerism. And that’s what a lot of people don’t see.   What they don’t recognize is that consumerism is as big as population health. Yet those two are rarely mentioned in the same paragraph, but the reality is that they intersect. And the most successful practices are the ones who see that intersection.

This article is part of Healthcare Success’ continuing education series featuring speakers at the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development 2014 conference.

FOR MORE IN THIS SERIES: Previous Healthcare Success marketing leadership conversations and articles are available on this page and on our iTunes Podcast channel.

Preston Gee, Vice President, Strategic Marketing at CHRISTUS Health, is an advocate for market-driven strategies in the healthcare industry. Recognized leader and experienced executive, he has held senior leadership positions with a range of hospitals and health systems. A frequent speaker at national events, Mr. Gee is the author of books and articles about planning and strategy in the healthcare industry. His most recent book is, The Service-Line Solution! Consumer-Focused Strategies for the Accountable Care Era.

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Kylie Ladd— Kylie manages the social media presence for several clients, constantly finding new ways to engage with community members and looking out for emerging trends. She has worked for several media companies including NBC Nightly News, Warner Music Group, and Gorkana Group. Kylie graduated from Fordham University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and New Media.

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