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.
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.
How do people choose a hospital? There are a number of considerations, but understanding generational differences and how they affect selection behavior is a critical step toward new patient acquisition and patient loyalty.
Members of the Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, GenXers and Millennials consider a variety of factors when choosing their healthcare provider. Are you developing the right message for each?
The Greatest Generation (born up to 1942): “Direction”
The Healthcare Strategy Institute study shows that The Greatest Generation selects hospitals first by physician direction, then by prior experience, reputation and proximity to home. This aging group of people relies on primary care physicians when choosing a hospital. They want to be directed. They also have rigid definitions of service, believing “the customer is always right.” While they are a declining population, the Greatest Generation has the most hospital stays.
Baby Boomers (born between 1942-1960): “Engagement”
Like their parents, Baby Boomers tend to select hospitals first by physician direction, then by prior experience, reputation and proximity. They also share information with physicians and nurses, and research recommendations before deciding. They want to be engaged. Their focus on quality of care measures is critical, as evidenced by their use of third-party comparisons and ratings as a means of decision making.
GenXers (born between 1961-1981): “Education”
This is the first generation that starts to stray from the way their parents did things, choosing a hospital by reputation, then prior experience. Physician direction drops on their list of priorities, just ahead of proximity to the home. They want to be engaged, but, more importantly, they want to be informed about their care. They want to be educated. GenXers are more likely to choose a hospital based on their most recent experience.
Millennials (born after 1981): “Connection”
This is where shifting values are most evident. Like Baby Boomers, Millennials tend to select their hospital by reputation, then prior experience, physician direction and proximity to the home. But they also value technology and seek information from multiple sources. They want to feel connected. Millennials value health information technology and, like GenXers, are more likely to switch hospitals if they lose confidence in the care provided based on their most recent experience.
So how does a hospital market to such divergent demographics?
Although loyalty is developed over many years and experiences, an opportunity exists to foster it within every age range. While The Greatest Generation values reputation and Baby Boomers are more likely to consider resources, all generations consider prior experience to be an important factor when choosing a hospital, so providing a positive experience at each visit is essential.
Understanding these differences will allow hospitals to deliver the right message, foster loyalty and remain top of mind.
The healthcare industry is conservative by nature and so is the way it is marketed. But the healthcare business is rapidly changing and conventional healthcare marketing needs to changeas well.
According to the Forrester Digital Marketing Forecasts, the average American business will allocate 30 percent of its marketing budget to online/digital channels in 2016. However, according to Validic’s “Global Progress on Digital Health” Survey, 59 percent of healthcare respondents report they are either behind schedule with their digital health strategy or have no digital health strategy at all currently in place. With this in mind, it may be time for healthcare organizations to audit their marketing mix, review budget allocations and reevaluate their commitment to digital marketing.
For example, healthcare has traditionally invested in print advertising at higher rates than other industries. Research by the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs indicates that 47 percent of healthcare marketers incorporate advertising in print magazines as part of their marketing strategy and 43 percent use printed newsletters. That’s 34 to 54 percent higher than marketers in other industries such as travel, banking, education and insurance. The research also reveals that healthcare marketers use blogs 22 percent less than all marketers and spend 26 percent less of their total marketing budget on content marketing activities.
This needs to change. Why? Because health-related searches are among the top three online activities in the world, with 72% of internet users saying they looked online for health information within the past year.
Clearly online marketing remains a growth opportunity for many in the healthcare industry. So why do we lag so far behind in the adoption of online marketing tactics?
Here are five factors to consider:
- A heavily regulated environment leads healthcare organizations to be cautious by nature and slow to change.
- There is a general reluctance to embrace marketing in the healthcare industry. It’s a business where the ultimate goal is patient health and marketing is by no means the star. To be on the forefront of new marketing strategies and tactics can be difficult for organizations that are far from being marketing-driven.
- Healthcare organizations have a large variety of stakeholders, all of whom have preferences for how the organization is marketed. This creates an environment that makes it challenging to adopt new approaches.
- The older demographic for many service lines, e.g. heart and vascular, consumes traditional media at a higher rate than other target audiences.
- Measurability is a digital marketing driver and, as a rule, healthcare organizations don’t do this well. It is ironic that a culture that so highly prioritizes measurement and evidence when applied to health-related outcomes has been so slow to make the measurement of marketing success a similar priority.
Perhaps if we better understand the reasons why healthcare lags in the implementation of digital marketing, we can more effectively craft strategies to correct this shortcoming, like investing in a robust and responsive web platform. A successful digital market campaign needs to commit to content marketing and coordinating those efforts with proper Search Engine Optimization, and it needs to make full use of marketing automation to communicate effectively with selected segments of your target audience.
Hopefully, leadership will take note and act soon because the longer the wait, the more acute the need becomes. Healthcare providers that don’t adapt to change will not be able to keep up with their competitors.
The same goes for healthcare marketers.
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.