The rules of healthcare marketing have changed as the definition of “healthcare consumer” has expanded.
Of course, they’ve been in flux for quite a while. But, regardless of the current state of healthcare, it’s been decades since the industry was dominated by employer-based plans.
The landscape of healthcare in America has been irreversibly changed as the culture of consumerism has made inroads into the industry; the opinions and decisions of the individual healthcare consumer hold more power than ever before.
In an industry where change has become the one constant across all healthcare businesses, the Affordable Care Act is a catalyst that will have the greatest impact. The learning curve of the legislation has proved insightful for healthcare marketers at every level of the industry.
Success in the healthcare industry is as much about not losing customers as it is about winning them.
Here’s what I mean:
On a recent to the Healthcare.gov web site, a colleague of mine was presented with 24 plans by 7 providers. It was easy to get a list of the plans. But things went downhill from there.
One of the first things that most consumers will look for when they reach the Health Insurance Exchange—or any website created by a business in the healthcare industry, really— is information that is helpful or relevant to their needs and interests.
On Healthcare.gov, this would be about finding a relatively inexpensive plan with good coverage. In my colleague’s visit, he found 24 plans that offered links to a list of covered providers. But 19 of those 24 links were dead. They led nowhere.
For a consumer, that’s like showing up at a store and having the store owner shut the door in your face. It’s unforgiveable—turning away someone who wants to put money in your pocket. Sure, these providers can blame this particular bit of ineffectiveness on the Feds which, with all of the problems that have plagued the site since its rollout, would not be surprising. But the truth is that it doesn’t make any difference whose fault it was.
It is still a discouragement for buyers.
Health insurance companies cannot sit back and let their initial contact with potential members—which will set the tone for the future of their relationship— be moderated by the Health Insurance Exchange or any other outside organization.
The same thing goes for pharmacies and care providers.
More and more of our interactions with our customers and potential customers will be digital, rather than face-to-face, and businesses cannot afford to absolve themselves of these processes. While you may not be responsible for the design or day-to-day operation of these programs, the perception of your business is affected by how these services function.
An auto-refill or notification system that only works part of the time will still drive customers away even if your hospital or pharmacy isn’t directly responsible for its operation.
Businesses must adapt to changes within the consumer base in addition to industry trends.
Today, the shifting of consumerism into the healthcare industry means that more of our interactions will be directly with consumers, whether they are searching for a new insurance plan, preparing for a medical procedure, or shopping for medications and other health products.
Healthcare marketing strategies must evolve beyond population-based approaches – on the Exchanges, employers won’t be delivering hundreds or thousands of members/patients/shoppers in an aggregated group. Understanding effective ways to engage with the individual consumer will be critical.
The future we have discussed for years is already here.
The consumer holds an increasing amount of power when it comes to healthcare, and they make decisions based on the effectiveness of services and how a business presents itself.
Having a good product is no longer a guarantee of success. It probably never was. But those who understand how to communicate their messages clearly, accurately and in ways that don’t antagonize customers, whether they’re corporate or individual, are far more likely to succeed.