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 healthcare cost 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 save money by being 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 necessarily highly correlated with quality. One of the key reasons for this is that prices for the same service vary 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 cost of caring for low-income 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. Focusing on providing consumer-driven healthcare is key to a positive consumer experience. When healthcare consumers recognize positive experience and outcomes (quality), these factors can become more important than healthcare costs.
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 provide value requires delivering consistent experiences and ensuring customer satisfaction.
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 imperative in your marketing strategy—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 issue facing healthcare organizations.
- 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, with the goal of improving the customer experience. Devise a communications plan that a collaborative group agrees is best and further challenge it for any holes that may be potentially problematic. 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 health care costs 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 strategy 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.
Near-constant change in healthcare brings challenges and opportunities. To be successful, marketing professionals must adapt and lead proactive management of change. Here are four advances happening in healthcare marketing to consider in your strategic marketing planning:
1. Personalization and Engagement
Modern marketing delivery systems are sophisticated, offering consumers access to more channels of communication than ever. Contemporary healthcare marketing methods identify user interests and deliver timely, personalized and relevant content on a one-to-one basis. It’s about delivering the right message to the right target at the right time, starting a conversation and developing a relationship.
Social media is leading the way in personal conversation, creating an open dialogue between patients and healthcare providers, and generating trust and advocacy among loyal consumers.
The emergence of CRM and marketing automation platforms are fueling ongoing interactive personal engagement after the online “handshake” has taken place. When managed well, these platforms encourage two-way communication, offer a personal brand experience and stimulate brand preference.
2. Digital Marketing
In general, the healthcare industry has been slow to adopt digital marketing strategies. Healthcare marketers need to push for more focus in this area.
According to Think with Google’s “The Digital Journey to Wellness: Hospital Selection“:
- 84% of patients use both online and offline sources for hospital research.
- 77% of patients use search engines prior to booking an appointment.
- 44% of patients who research hospitals on a mobile device schedule an appointment.
- Search drives nearly 3x as many visitors to hospital sites compared to non-search visitors.
- Patients primarily search on symptoms and condition terms prior to the moment of conversion.
For starters, your website must perform as a robust marketing platform. An Adobe Marketing Discovery survey found that 88 percent of interested consumers will follow up that interest by going to the company website and 62 percent will move on from if the website doesn’t meet their needs.
The impact of mobile devices on marketing strategy is staggering. According to an Ofcom survey, laptops and smartphones are ahead of desktop computers when it comes to internet use. Google responds to search requests using a mobile-first algorithm. Not only do you need to make your website responsive and that your content is readable on mobile devises, you must approach all campaign planning with a mentality that includes mobile access as a core element in the customer journey.
Retargeting tactics allow for the display of digital ads to individuals after they have indicated an interest in your website or content. Digital user profiles empower personalized messaging that is more effective in generating interest and response.
Programmatic digital media buying can produce greater ROI effectiveness by drawing on real-time data and messaging to reach very specifically defined on-line users. Programmatic buying will soon account for the majority of digital advertising spending.
3. Quality Content is King
The Internet is healthcare marketing’s front door. Patients are looking for information they can use in their everyday lives and share with their networks. However, with increased online competition for the attention of consumers, today’s content must be fresh, interesting, reliable and share-worthy to cut through the clutter.
Effective content sets up a call to action (CTA), such as downloading a heart health checklist or taking a quiz on proper eating habits, that creates further engagement and loyalty.
Video content continues to grow in popularity and the statistics are staggering. For example, 46 percent of users take some sort of action after viewing an ad, 88 percent of viewers share videos with others and enjoyable video ads increase purchase intent by 97 percent. Numbers like these go on and on. Contemporary healthcare marketing can share stories by way of video content, including live streaming video on websites, blogs and by way of social media platforms. The advantages include timeliness, immediacy and educational impact.
Consumers have begun to take a more active role in their healthcare experience and seek options until they are satisfied. The increased financial stake they face and the availability of online information incentivizes them to use research to guide their treatment, provider and hospital decisions. Furthermore, the informed consumer is inclined to post ratings, comments and recommendations online.
A McKinsey study found that patients have the same expectations from healthcare companies as they do from non-healthcare companies. Patients expect both types of companies to:
- Provide great customer service
- Deliver on expectations
- Make life easier
- Offer great value
There are signs that indicate healthcare marketers are beginning to embrace this growing consumerism trend. Some hospitals are going as far as shaping their facilities to look more like hospitality centers.
The bottom line: There are reasons why healthcare marketing has moved slowly into the digital age, but continuing to move slowly will prove costly.
We recently attended the 2017 NESHCo conference (New England Society for Healthcare Communications) and heard some great thoughts and ideas about communicating with consumers in our rapidly changing healthcare marketplace. This year’s theme was “Navigating Today’s Healthcare Environment,” and here are some takes on relevant issues that caught our attention.
1. Pricing – Consumers are placing more importance on payments and cost messaging, but they don’t understand how healthcare pricing works and don’t feel like they have any control. Patients are exposed to “generic narratives of pricing” due to variances among providers and insurers. Consumers are also getting inconsistent information about the relationship between value and quality.
(Paul Griffiths, MedTouch and Robert Wasserman, Hallmark Health)
2. Customer Journey Mapping – Journey mapping informs marketers about the touch points that most influence consumer choice and what the ideal customer activation and acquisition experience looks like. It all starts with understanding customer personas and how to tell stories that help engage with them at their “moments of truth.” Journey mapping that delivers strong ROI requires a collaboration between marketing and operations that ultimately creates repeat customers and brand advocates. Today, more often than not, a customer’s healthcare journey begins online. The important factors of the consumer process to understand are:
(Carla Bryant, Corrigan Consulting)
3. Understanding Consumer Emotion – Science shows that the part of the brain that controls emotion reacts at a much faster pace to pictures, colors and emotions and that these impressions produce better memory recall. Women make the majority of health care decisions for others (59 percent), but they often lack confidence in the decisions they are making due to hectic schedules, lack of reliable information and a general sense of distrust in the industry. So we must become more relationship-based in our efforts … the “Know-Like-Trust Factor”. Ways to do this include:
- Personalizing physician bios
- Telling stories
- Making consumers feel empowered
- Making social media authentic, empathetic and interesting
(Kirsten Lecky, Writer Girl)
4. Campaigns – To set key performance indicators (KPIs), start with clarifying the purpose of the marketing campaign. What is the strategic initiative? Is it in response to a competitive threat? To increase capacity? Clarify KPIs in terms of new patients, patient retention, physician recruitment, etc. Executing a quality campaign takes time, so give it the commitment it needs. Content is still most valued by healthcare consumers.
(Paul Griffiths, MedTouch and Robert Wasserman, Hallmark Health)
5. Content – Start by gathering relevant information based on the target audience, then establish tone and POV. Appoint “blog champions” within the organization. Commit consistent time and resources. Increase the content life cycle by telling captivating stories that retain value and can be retold. Engaging content survives many uses. Focus on what your patients and providers are talking about. A Hallmark Health blog about a patient who overcame an opioid addiction led to a 258% increase in readership from the previous month.
(Paul Griffiths, MedTouch and Robert Wasserman, Hallmark Health)
6. Big Data – People are still stumped by digital media. There is the “creepiness” factor and misconceptions about the difficulty of HIPPA compliance. CRM is used for population health, patient education, predictive modeling and target segmentation. Its adoption is driven by the size of the enterprise. When utilized, it enables engagement, e.g., medical records, billing records, class registrations, website/campaign data, personas, demographics, etc. Some health systems are using digital metrics to segment their direct mail lists based on those who are most likely to read their newsletter.
(Theresa Komitas, KishHealth System and Eric Silberman, True North Custom)
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 conservative by nature and so is the way it is marketed. But the healthcare business is rapidly changing and conventional healthcare marketing needs to change as 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.