In a previous blog, “Does Cost Matter to Healthcare Consumers”, we cited the lack of correlation between access to healthcare price information and spending less on medical procedures. The reasons for this revealed that much work remains in changing the culture of price transparency and how consumers can best use this data to make better, more informed decisions.
Some people are inclined to pay a higher price because they believe this means higher quality. Others will not, choosing to be largely influenced by price alone. And still others will fall in-between based on the procedure needed, their value system and their financial status.
The fact is, spending is not necessary highly correlated with quality. One of the key reasons for this is that price of the same service varies so much across healthcare institutions. Medicare payments are adjusted based on a variety of factors, including geography, medical education costs (e.g., teaching hospitals) and the share of caring for indigent patients. In the case of private insurer reimbursements, variation is due largely to negotiations with providers. Notice that the term “quality of care” is noticeably absent from the factors affecting price listed here.
So how do we treat price when marketing healthcare services?
The same way all other marketers do when they are avoiding the pitfall of competing on price … promote value. When healthcare consumers recognize positive experience and outcomes (quality), these factors can become more important than price.
Value is defined by this intersection of price, experience and outcomes. And it has the potential to make an everlasting imprint on your brand identity in the eye of the healthcare consumer. But to do so requires delivering consistent experiences and communicating meaningful information on outcomes.
With the healthcare industry headed more and more toward a consumer-centric (bordering on retail) model, the same consumer behavior we have seen in markets for other products and services will continue to emerge. Therefore, deciding where you fit into this positioning model and how you will communicate this positioning is not an option. It has become a marketing imperative. Your brand will be defined by it.
So how do you approach this process?
- All senior management needs to become aware of this brand positioning paradigm and prioritize it as a major hospital issue.
- Market research should be undertaken to understand the local healthcare consumer market, the value system in place and the decision-making process. This task is too important and impactful to be based on opinion and guesswork.
- A roadmap must be designed to guide how each of these three key brand elements – quality, experience and price – will be communicated, both individually and as a whole.
No approach to any of this will be perfect. For example, the quality message is currently communicated in a variety of often confusing, ways. Click here for our Quality Measure blog. Defining quality based on an award is a common practice, but the impact can be diluted when there is no context around the award.
Deal with this and other similar interpretations in the same committed manner you approach any other challenging topic or project. Devise a communications plan that a collaborative group agrees is best and further challenge it for any holes that may be distressful. Then run with it, invest in it and be consistent. Like any brand communications campaign, success will be a function of personal investment, time and funding.
Without this plan to effectively communicate quality and experience, you can be sure that price and out-of-pocket expense will become the market equalizer.
Your pricing and outcomes information is generally available now. And word-of-mouth is already playing a major role along with published measures in your patient experience reputation. Quality is communicated in a variety of random ways. If you haven’t already, it is now time to step up with a plan to lead public perception with a messaging plan that helps consumers make sense of all of this and differentiates you in terms of your own excellent brand dimensions.
Don’t wait until it’s too late. If you do, you’ll be chasing your competitors.
As healthcare margins tighten, the need to demonstrate marketing’s financial contribution has moved from a “consideration” to an “imperative.”
However, several major challenges stand in the way of progress in this area, including lack of data, no mutually agreed upon expectations and a narrow view of marketing’s role.
A publication released in 2016 by the Marketing Metrics Committee of SHSMD (Society of Healthcare Strategy and Market Development) aims to help. It offers, for the first time, a clearly defined set of metrics to help marketers demonstrate financial contribution to their healthcare system.
It is a breakthrough document.
The plan is laid out in Life Beyond Promotion: Core Metrics for Measuring Marketing’s Financial Performance, a whitepaper that defines a framework of four areas of strategic focus to which marketing contributes:
- Brand and Image
- Stakeholder Engagement
- Marketing Communications
In addition to creating this framework for metrics, the study calls for improved dialogue between marketing professionals and healthcare leaders, proclaiming that “there is often a fundamental lack of meaningful dialogue between marketing and executive leadership on strategy, appropriate roles, measurable deliverables and elements of success.”
Defining marketing’s influence has been, at best, a nebulous exercise, but the SHSMD plan attempts to clarify this influence by defining each area in two ways: accountability (marketing’s singular responsibility) and influence (marketing shares responsibility with other parts of the organization). By assigning metrics to each of the four strategic areas, financial performance can be judged more accurately.
The whitepaper offers specific measurement recommendations for a variety of metrics in each of the following four categories:
- Growth (Accountability and Influence)
Take ownership by identifying your role and goals. How will that promotional event lead to an increase in admissions and surgeries? Will market share over your competitors improve? By agreeing on a baseline starting point, you can measure changes in volume, revenue, new patient acquisition and market share on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis.
- Brand and Image (Accountability)
Few factors play a greater role in your success than image and reputation. Greater brand awareness can help you negotiate more favorable prices, while brand strength creates opportunities for growth. It is vital to annually review where your hospital is ranked, especially among your competitors. Equally important is your reputation. What kind of feedback are you receiving when people are polled about your services? How aware are they of what you have to offer?
- Stakeholder Engagement (Influence)
This is about patient satisfaction. How likely would someone be to recommend your hospital to a family member or friend? It’s not something that marketing can directly control. But it is an area where you can have influence by identifying areas of opportunity and suggesting programs that will create a positive impression in the community.
- Marketing Communications (Accountability)
How are your media campaigns influencing patient loyalty? Are those paid TV spots and newspaper ads leading to transactions? How many people are you reaching through company-produced publications? How often are you interacting on social media? Is the tone of free coverage positive, negative or neutral? What is the value of free coverage vs. the cost of advertising?
Although finance executives aren’t in complete agreement concerning all the ways to measure marketing’s contributions to a healthcare system, they did agree 100 percent on one thing: “Having metrics in these areas would create dialogue with our management team and our marketing department.”
The document concludes with an eight point plan of action to get started:
- Start here by using the applicable metrics offered in the whitepaper
- Seek consensus on a broad definition of marketing
- Get direction on specific, measurable activities prior to the fiscal year
- Get agreement on the metrics in advance of the effort
- Clarify when marketing is accountable versus influential
- Establish a review schedule
- Identify and apply the lag time between events to desired results
- Collaborate with peers
Getting to where we need to be to improve the culture of healthcare marketing measurement is no easy endeavor. But all agree that the need is acute. It is time for more focus and attention to be dedicated to the endeavor. Activating the eight point “Get Started” plan offered by this excellent SHSMD publication would be a great first step.
People seeking healthcare providers have more information at their disposal than at any time in history, so it’s more important than ever for healthcare marketers to be creative to ensure their message stands out.
In the generally conservative world of healthcare marketing, that’s not always easy. However, when you find that right campaign, the results can be eye-opening. Here are three great examples.
Marketing Is More Personal Now, So Be Personable
Dare to be fun, engaging and interactive. United Healthcare did just this with their award-winning 2014 campaign called “We Dare You.”
The campaign included monthly health tips shared in the form of dares. One month they challenged people to share a photo of fresh produce. Another included a challenge to incorporate 30 minutes of physical activity into your day. Participants tagged their entries #wedareyou and won prizes for top entries. More than 3,000 photos were shared per month.
Give a Voice to Your Biggest Advocates
Medical device manufacturer Medtronic achieved this by sharing the stories of how their equipment has helped a wide range of people live fuller lives. Each of their patient stories, in written and video form, is about a person who had a problem solved by a Medtronic device. To encourage sharing, they offered rewards to patients, such as a $20,000 charitable grant that winners can use to serve their communities. This successful technique is an example of promoting benefits instead of just features.
Connect with Consumers in their Language
The 2015 campaign called “Melanoma Likes Me” by Melanoma Patients Australia targeted 15-30 year olds, the age group at the highest risk of contracting melanoma. Rather than an all-encompassing, multi-channel marketing approach, they went right to where young people live: Instagram and Twitter. And they had some fun doing it.
MPA created an online persona for Melanoma that responded to, liked and followed over two million young Australians’ social media activities. After visiting the Melanoma Instagram or Twitter accounts, consumers were directed to a Melanoma prevention website intended to raise awareness and urge people to think about their choices.
As the campaign concluded, the algorithm that cost $430 to create had earned over $5 million in media value. Melanoma Likes Me was recognized for a Silver Lion at the Cannes Media Lions Festival of Creativity.
Modern consumers have no problem searching the internet for healthcare information. Facts and figures alone are not always enough to win them over. As these three examples showed, you need an emotional tie.
As out-of-pocket expenses for medical care continue to rise for consumers, the need for hospitals to become as transparent as possible with pricing is more important than ever. Clearly, consumers should have greater access to what their treatment will cost so they can evaluate their options and make the best, most cost-effective decision.
But is this happening? Do consumers shop around for the best price when their health is at stake?
A recent Harvard Medical School study showed patients with access to a price transparency tool spent the same amount of money on their outpatient care as those who did not have the information. The study, which involved outpatient care for 149,000 employees at two national companies in 2011 and 2012, found that only 10 percent used the tool.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Health at a Glance 2015 edition reports that the US spends more than any economically developed country on healthcare because of, in part, the “highly fragmented nature of the health system.” There is a lot of waste within the US healthcare system in the United States, consumers have no real understanding of what they are spending and they are not taking advantage of the tools available to lower their spending.
It Starts with Perception
Even though there is no evidence that higher prices translate into higher quality, many consumers still believe this to be true. In a survey published by Health Affairs, a journal of health policy research, most of the people who had compared pricing believed price and quality were associated. Thus, the challenge for healthcare providers is to train consumers to understand pricing and how it relates to quality, and to educate them on how best to compare the medical services being offered.
Price transparency was designed to give consumers more control of their spending and, by extension, lower overall healthcare spending. The Harvard Medical School study revealed a need for healthcare providers to find better ways to engage consumers to research medical costs.
“We’re trying to change a culture here,” said Barbara Anthony, a senior fellow in healthcare at the Pioneer Institute, a non-profit think tank, in an article by the Boston Globe . “You don’t do that by saying, ‘Here’s a site, go use it.’” According to Anthony, insurers need to “double down their efforts to motivate consumers to choose high-value, low-priced services.”
In an article that appeared in the American Medical Association’s AMA Journal of Ethics, a key tie of cost to quality would be to tailor payments to decision-making entities (clinicians or health care organizations) based on outcome measures. Increased adoption of value-based purchasing practices and the creation of accountable care organizations, which tie reimbursements to quality metrics, are examples of this.
Transparency Tools Made Easy
Hospitals can make price transparency tools more user-friendly through mobile apps, text messages and emails that encourage consumers to take advantage of the pricing resources. An immediate reward such as a gift card for using a pricing tool is another good idea.
Insurance companies and healthcare facilities can work together to create tangible benefits that will drive consumers to research medical costs. It works. For example, in another study by Health Affairs, patients given a price transparency tool generally choose less expensive options when selecting an MRI provider.
Educate and Build Loyalty
Consumers obviously want to reduce their out-of-pocket expenses and the best way to achieve that goal is to have the ability to shop and compare when considering a medical procedure. Healthcare providers that enable consumers to do that through pricing transparency that is quick and easy will gain consumer trust. You may not always be the least expensive, but if you can explain why, you will gain consumer respect and a new patient.
By engaging and educating consumers from start to finish with detailed pricing and data, patient satisfaction is enhanced and loyalty is built.
Your son and his buddies are playing touch football in the backyard after school when he twists his ankle. He’s in pain and you’re not sure if the ankle is broken or sprained.
It is 6 o’clock and too late to get in touch with your primary care physician. You consider bringing him to the emergency room, but the wait could be long, the expense considerable and, after all that, it may just be a sprained ankle. At least, that’s what you think.
So, as little Johnny is laying on the ground, you pull out your phone to do a quick Google search to find out the signs of a sprain and a break. The first Google listing you see says “Urgent Care – Book an Appointment Online!”
The urgent care is nearby, so you click. You quickly get an appointment for that night. It takes less than an hour – including x-rays – to find out Johnny has a sprained ankle.
This type of instant buy is why urgent care clinics are competing for space within Google’s search results and why you should also be there. After all, if you’re not in that space, then your competitor is.
Here are 5 other reasons why pay-per-click is a good idea for the urgent care centers:
- Positive ROI is Extremely Likely
What is an urgent care patient worth? According to ConsumerReports.org, the cost of an urgent care visit on average is $120. At the completion of a recent PPC campaign, an EVR client saw a cost-per-lead of $31. If a patient spends $120 at your urgent care center, and you spent only $31 to get them, you’ll make $89 (before expenses). In addition, hospitals and health networks are seeing the benefit of offering urgent care as a way to improve patient engagement and increase new patients. According to the Urgent Care Association of America, 37 percent of urgent patients do not have an outside primary care physician.
- People WILL Notice You!
Urgent Care PPC ads are usually to-the-point compared to ads in other industries. The most effective urgent care ads usually answer common questions, such as:
“What time are they open?”
“Do they take walk-ins?”
“What are the wait times?”
When questions like these are answered right away, a user is more likely to click through to your website to learn more or to book an appointment.
- People Can Contact You Directly From The Ad
Google has made it extremely easy for businesses to provide contact access points for users to reach out. Using “Call Only” ads or putting a “Click to call” button on your current text ads will allow users to reach you easily with their mobile phone to book an appointment. If users would rather be “walk-in” appointments, Google allows advertisers to show their address within the ad. When the address is clicked by the user, they are given the option to add the address to a GPS navigation app in their phone.
- High Percentage of Clicks Turn In To Customers
People who are searching for urgent care have one thing in common – they are in a hurry and want care as soon as possible. For this reason, conversion rates (the percentage of users who perform a specified action from an ad, such as place a phone call or book an online appointment) are usually much higher than in other industries. One EVR client saw a conversion rate of 10% during their campaign – much higher than the PPC averages of 2-4%.
- You can reach people who aren’t thinking about urgent care
This is a great opportunity for brand awareness and attracting new customers. During certain times of the year, people will be searching for common seasonal illnesses or injuries. For example, people might be searching for flu symptoms in the winter or allergy symptoms during the spring. Placing an ad on these searches will gain exposure to those who may not be aware of you.
There are plenty of ways to advertise your urgent care office, but the best way to see results is with a pay-per-click campaign. You find users who are actively searching for care at that moment and you give them plenty of reason and ways to reach out and visit you.
The healthcare industry is ultra-competitive, highly visible, strictly regulated and constantly changing, creating unique challenges, pressures and potential stress for healthcare marketers.
An awareness and understanding of these factors will help put us in a better position to deal with the stress they may bring. So what issues raise the stress level for healthcare marketers these days?
- The consolidation and expansion of healthcare institutions.
The marked shift toward consolidation and expansion in healthcare has created an environment of tremendous change involving merging organizations, brands, people, cultures and marketing functions. Healthcare organizations are re-examining their brand communications and re-developing messaging that accurately represents these new combined entities.
- Multiple stakeholders.
CMOs have to answer to a C-suite, board of directors, physicians, administrators and other community leaders, few of whom possess marketing experience. They must effectively inform and coalesce this group, developing marketing solutions that work best for the overall good and somehow make everyone feel good about it all.
- Changing payment models and regulation.
As hospitals move away from fee-for-service, marketers are tasked with understanding new payment models, knowing how they affect a variety of target audiences and deploying the most effective way of messaging this complex subject matter.
- Healthcare is behind in its digital marketing efforts.
The urgent need to integrate the digital age into healthcare environments introduces the need to be proactive across a variety of digital channels, including web platforms, site optimization, mobile deployment, CRM, patient portals, social media conversations, email campaigns, etc. This is a difficult situation made even more challenging given the issues that are unique to the healthcare industry.
- Competing service lines.
Balancing marketing resources to be allocated to a variety of service lines has always been complex and is no less today. Acquisitions and alliances have introduced a need for fresh campaigns over multiple channels that most often have to be approved by multiple institutions. And with a more competitive environment than ever, everyone understandably wants more for their departments.
- Sensitivity of subject matter.
While HIPPA has been around since 1996, the Affordable Care Act, digital platforms and online data security concerns have all shifted the nature of patient-provider interactions to even more scrutinized levels, presenting a host of new challenges for healthcare marketers.
- Patient Demand for Knowledge
Patients are taking charge of their healthcare in ways we could not have imagined even a few years ago. There was a time when the majority of information was physician-based. Healthcare consumers now get information from multiple sources. Therefore, patients are able to drive their own healthcare decisions and interact with the medical community in an entirely new way.
What keeps you up at night? Take the first step toward a more settled landscape by identifying the factors at play. Only when you understand these issues and their underpinnings can you begin to develop solutions for dealing with them in a positive way.
Healthcare marketers face the unique challenge of working in a highly-regulated, conservative industry that has been slow to invest appropriately in digital marketing. That mindset is changing because health-related searches are among the top three online activities in the world and healthcare marketers who don’t keep up will be quickly left behind. Consider these messaging on web pages to help guide prospective patients to the appropriate action. A recent case study by St. Thomas Health showed that over 50% of their new patient revenue came from strategically placed web graphics on their hospital website.
The Skinny: It’s easy to get caught up in the glamour of various digital marketing channels when kicking off a new campaign, but the fact is the hospital website is the fundamental digital platform. It is important to understand the path of the healthcare consumer as it relates to the current website (both mobile and desktop traffic). In most cases, it is already seeing an extremely high volume of brand driven patient prospects who are seeking healthcare services. Optimize that path before setting out to drive more traffic to and from other platforms.
How good is your content?
The Strategy: Evergreen content will help organic Google listings, and sponsoring it will get it in front of highly targeted audiences based on age, gender, location, historical search behavior and interest. According to Forrester Research, 81 percent of people find their desired destination through a search engine. This demonstrates an appetite for helpful content from reliable sources.
The Skinny: According to Pew internet Research, 72 percent of U.S. internet users have looked online for health information in the past year (2015). Content is indeed still king and, if done correctly, will help fuel your marketing machine for years to come. Below are some tips for content production:
Quality is king: With so much content available today, it is more important than ever to ensure that your content is relevant to your target audience. Target your content around what sets your company apart from the local competition.
Context is king: Ensure your “voice” is appropriate for the platform. Not every piece of content needs to be a blog post or article. Every social network has its own rules, so be sure to know those rules so you are taking part in the conversation and not shouting over everyone else in the room.
Micro moments: Google’s research of how consumers use mobile as part of their buying decision is important in understanding today’s “on the go” audience. This concept of “Be there, be useful and be quick” is a great roadmap to winning the mobile web.
How will you measure success?
The Strategy: Align marketing channels with the patient sales funnel to help track the customer journey and successes along the way. In some cases, educated math can be done in order to establish value when certain financial data is not available for marketing measurement purposes.
The Skinny: When asked about marketing ROI, Paul Matsen, CMO at the Cleveland Clinic said “CMOs have long struggled with the best ways to identify a single `silver bullet’ measure, such as return on investment, to judge marketing performance. ROI is a powerful indicator, but it’s difficult to measure every social media program, advertising campaign or media story.”
To his point, it takes varying levels of brand building and direct response to efficiently market a healthcare product or service over the lifecycle of the patient-hospital relationship. Brand awareness channels are still an important part of the marketing mix and cannot necessarily be justified by lead generation or direct response data.
Any marketing mix must be agile enough to adapt to new opportunities over time. Use campaign data as a roadmap and test new ideas in small batches. The healthcare industry has been slow to adapt to digital marketing as pointed out in a recent article by EVR President Jeff Eisenberg, but a well communicated plan should help healthcare CMO’s grow their brands effectively.
In the new era of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), medical homes and pay for performance, the primary care physician (PCP) is fast becoming the gatekeeper for admissions, referrals and treatment. According to a survey conducted by the physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins, for the first time, primary care physicians are driving more hospital revenue on a per-doctor basis than specialists. The study revealed that in 2013, median revenue per primary care physician is nearly $1.6 million, while specialists account for $1.4 million per physician.
Merritt Hawkins makes reference to major shifts in healthcare that have emerged since 2010. The ACA is of course a major factor, assigning more responsibility to PCPs to cut costs and keep patients healthier. As a result of these increasing pressures and challenging new revenue models, more physicians are seeking hospital employment instead of owning their own practices. According to an Accenture analysis, 36% of practicing physicians now hold an ownership stake in their practice, down from 57% in 2000. As a result, hospitals are capturing more direct primary care revenue as opposed to just referral revenue.
These trends reflect the growing role of primary care and consequently, the need to focus on improving the way in which these practices are marketed. Add to this the fact that millions of newly insured individuals will be entering the market via healthcare exchanges on January 1st and they will be looking for PCPs. Building a differentiated market presence for primary care and an orchestrated approach to acquiring covered lives is now more important than ever.
Understanding how consumers make their decision regarding who to use for primary care is the first important step toward building an effective healthcare marketing campaign. People learn of potential providers through a variety of means: personal referrals, advertising, online directories and information hotlines. So the healthcare marketing strategy must start by building communication tactics that will connect with likely targets at these touch points, create brand awareness and put your providers into consideration.
With your healthcare marketing strategy engaged and your providers on the “shopping list” of a growing number of healthcare consumers, decision making moves to other stages of consideration, not unlike any other typical buying process. These include the evaluation of the alignment of the provider with personal needs and wants, the comparison of features and benefits and the analysis of value. During this process, healthcare consumers make assessments based on the same new market drivers in play for all types of medical care in our evolving consumer-centric market: 1) outcomes (quality), 2) patient engagement (experience) and 3) price (value). Then for primary care, we add a fourth important factor: 4) location (convenience).
With competition as fierce as ever and the stakes so high, being passive and conservative is not an option for hospital marketers. The good news is that there are opportunities to gain market share for those who understand their markets and how they respond to messaging and initiatives.