Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Is there a right time to bring a healthcare brand back?

In news announced by Walgreens, Walgreens Infusion was relaunched as a separate company with Madison Dearborn holding a majority interest, Chicago Tribune Walgreens infusion unit relaunches”, by Ameet Sachdev, May 20, 2015. The new company is being remained OptionCare. Normally something like this is just viewed as another change in the healthcare landscape, but from a marketing brand perspective, I think this one is different.

And here’s why.

Let’s take the “way-back machine” (thank you Mr. Peabody and Sherman) to 2007. Walgreens was on a buying spree and was actively acquiring specialty pharmacies and infusion operations to build market heft. The OptionCare deal was the largest financial transaction that Walgreens had ever made at that time. I know the detail as I was the senior marketing manager, Walgreens Specialty Pharmacy. (And for the record, nothing that will be discussed here is insider information that is not available to the general investing public per SEC regulations.)

The OptionCare brand was retired under the brand architecture of Walgreens (single brand not a house of brands) set for Walgreens after a short period with the intentional brand transition steps- from two separate brands to a co-brand to a single brand.  The unit was known as Walgreens Infusion Services.

The same was done for specialty pharmacy but a bit more difficult for at one time there were five, yes count them  five,  Walgreens owned Specialty Pharmacy  brands in the market- Medmark, Schrafts, OptionCare,  IVPCare and Walgreens Specialty Pharmacy. Eventually those too became Walgreens Specialty Pharmacy.

Anyhow, in the news article in the Chicago Tribune Walgreens infusion unit relaunches”,  there was an interesting quote from the CEO on the new unit, who was the CFO with OptionCare when it was acquired and remained all these years with the Walgreens unit. He thought it made sense to go back to a familiar brand name. From the time of the OptionCare deal in 2007 to recent history, Walgreens also acquired an additional 16 infusion pharmacies.

So the question before us after all these years, is the OptionCare brand still a familiar and relevant brand in the market?  Or, is this a case of lets go back to what we were and see what happen?  I would think that after 8 years and all the changes that have taken in place in healthcare market, the companies and patients that the old OptionCare provided services too, is probably not that familiar.

Regardless of the name, one would still be starting from ground zero to reestablish the brand, brand promise and brand experience. The difference being this time is that OptionCare brand may bring back both good and bad experiences and memories.

The danger in taking a nostalgic approach to a brand name in healthcare is that the internal memory of brand performance most likely out distances the current market perception and reality. Nostalgia works well for CPG brands, but I think the jury is out for healthcare brands, especially one that has been absent from the market for nearly eight years.

Is this the right name and brand strategy to take? It is if the resources are provided to rebuild the brand correctly in the marketplace, and one has the market research to back up the brand transition plan, messaging and direction. It’s the wrong decision if it based on HIPPO branding (Highest Internal Paid Persons Opinion).

After all, the healthcare market in 2007 was primarily provider-dominated in the care and treatment decision making process with little healthcare consumer input or choice. In 2015, the healthcare market is retail medicine in nature with healthcare consumer choice and involvement. The healthcare consumer is paying out of pocket for one-third the cost of care. The new drivers are cost, quality, convenience, experience and engagement of the healthcare consumer.

Is there a right time to being a healthcare brand back to market after a several year absence? Only time will tell depending greatly on the resources committed to relauching the old brand name into the market place.

Choose wisely, as back to the future does not mean how a company approaches the market to rebrand and relaunch too.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Is the smartphone the new doctor for physician independence?

The healthcare consumer will shell out $345 billion dollars this year for health insurance, co-payments and deductibles. On top of that they will spend another $271 billion on health related items like gyms memberships, weight lose programs, exercise equipment etc. That's a whopping $626 billion dollars out-of-pocket that is expected to rise for the foreseeable future.

The healthcare consumer and patient are demanding value, price and quality transparency from healthcare providers. Consumer's want retail medicine, mHealth and telemedicine. All the while healthcare providers focus on market dominance and acquire physician practices to create market heft and then wonder why consumers are cranky?

With all of this happening then, is the smartphone the new doctor? And, can the use of apps, mHealth and telemedicine allow a physician or physician group practice to remain independent? In both cases I think the answer is yes, with some pretty large ramifications for healthcare marketing as well.

First let’s think about the independent practitioner, primary care group or multi-specialty group. Here is a story to illustrate my point. 

Some of you may remember a time when there were corner grocery stores.  Little mom and pop operations located in quite neighborhoods before the advent of the big box grocery chains.

Then it appears as if overnight, the big box national and regional grocery chains take over for our food dollar. We all heard the doom, gloom and prophecy of the demise of those little mom and pop stores. Sure they are gone from the corner in the quite neighborhood; but guess what, they are still around today and have been for a very long time.  Though the form is different, those little mom and pop operations are now the 7-Elevens, White Hen Pantry’s and AM PM Minimarts for example.
Mom and pop operations competing very well against the big box grocery chains on convenience, accessibility, experience, engagement and  sometimes even price.

I am not saying that physicians are grocery stores but the lesson is apparent.  But before everyone calls the independent physician or unaffiliated group practice a thing of the past, one needs to review recent history in other markets for potential lessons of survival.  Technology, innovation and meeting the needs of the healthcare consumer, experience and engagement will keep the independent physician a reality.

This brings me to the second point. There are no paid product endorsements here.

I became aware of these two apps, one via a mention in a Wall Street Journal article and the other from one of my Twitter followers, Dr. Howard Green, a dermatologist with an innovative bent and startup company.  But these two apps caught my eye and illustrate the smartphone as the new doctor idea out of the thousands that are available. And that idea is more literal than anything else.

First is Heal.  It’s only in the Los Angeles and San Francisco market, but I could really see it working nationwide. Basically, using the app on the smartphone you are matched with a local physician who comes to your house in under one hour and the cost is $99. No additional charges or extras.  The ultimate in convenience, accessibility, experience and engagement with a price point well within a consumers reach.

The second is Skinstamatic, a gamified, mobile collective sourced medical image search app. This is an oversimplification, but take a couple of pictures of the skin, upload, and broad certified dermatologists and  dermatology professionals using photo identification, not tele-dermatology,   review and make recommendations as to the top potential diagnoses.  You can then use the app to access a local dermatologist and make an appointment for treatment.  This app was built on Dr. Green’s Skinphoto Text Match Inc company platform for dermatologists.

The smartphone as the doctor meeting the healthcare needs of the consumer.  All of this driving convenient, accessible, mobile care and giving the healthcare consumer or patient a measure of value, price certainty, quality, control and information.

The use of technology and innovative care practices by physicians, which no doubt requires a change in the business model and some openness, can be the physician’s friend in countering the advances of hospitals and health systems. In the long run, independent physicians are better for healthcare consumers and patient in care, experience and engagement.  Besides, no matter the payment system it will still take a doctor’s order to get anything done.

Long live the independent physician.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Why does physician advertising seem stuck in the 90s?

Seems to be that time of the year when hospital sponsored advertisements promoting physicians- primary care and specialties fill the newspaper pages and airwaves.  I see many a smiling physician in the ads looking so cheerful and accepting new patients, with lots of copy that is more features and benefits marketing then providing a solution to the healthcare consumer’s choice question.  Other ad layouts include physicians thoughtfully gazing upward pondering the great question of medical science. While other advertisements make an attempt at branding the physician to the hospital proclaiming the greatness of both.

That is so 1990s advertising.

There are of course many reasons for this and no need to go into great detail.  The important point is that the current wave of physician practice building advertising probably isn’t meeting the needs of the newly minted healthcare consumer.

It’s not just about the physician anymore in an advertisement with vague copy that really doesn’t say anything except for a laundry list of items. Let me be clear, I do not doubt the medical qualifications, skills and experience of the physicians.

The market and competition for the healthcare consumer and patient is changing.

Now accepting new patients is unacceptable.

Healthcare consumer’s and patient’s are making physician choices based cost, location and convenience due to increasing co-pays and rising deductibles.  If you're just going to throw some ads out there with a picture of a nice smiling doc with copy written in the third person about how wonderful and compassionate he or she is, its falling on blind eyes.

What is needed is a new look at what you are doing and changing to meet the needs of the healthcare consumer.  With great market change arrives opportunity for growth.  That is if one is willing to embrace that change and create value. 

Some new essential steps for physician practice building the marketing effort are in order in a retail market.

Do some primary market research to understand the characteristics of the audience and what they are looking for in a physician. Understand the healthcare consumer. That is the starting point, not what senior management or a doctor thinks.   Now that being said, their opinions are important but the discussion marketing needs to have must be based on market data.

In an opinion based discussion everyone is right. To change your approach to the market, the discussion needs to be around the data not opinion. Physicians and hospital leadership are trained in the use of data. They make decision based on data. Why should a marketing discussion be any different? It’s more than marketing communications and making things look pretty.

The campaign must answer the healthcare consumer’s question of what is special about this physician and why should I select her or him?  Stop talking at people, talk to them. Engage them with a compelling value proposition on why they should select that doctor, or even why they should even considering switching physicians.  Answer the question of why.

Every marketing effort on building the physician practice in today’s  retail medical environment, needs to be highly integrated with traditional, social media, mobile,  online and public relations.  It includes patient testimonials, engages and establishes expectations for the experience.  It is focused on the healthcare consumer and meets their needs for primary or specialty care.

In the end, it’s all about knowing what healthcare consumer and patient needs are, and delivering a compelling answer that has them making a choice in selecting the right physician that will meet their needs. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Are you an engaged patient or healthcare consumer?

More of a rhetorical question, the other day I was wondering with all the engagement  and experience effort underway, if I  am engaged at any level by my insurance plan or healthcare provider? Putting my marketing hat aside, and looking at the question from a patient’s viewpoint, I have to say the answer is no.

I am not engaged either as a healthcare consumer or former patient by a large IDN at any meaningful level.  I have actually had better engagement from my PBM. At least they call every 90 days to let me know it’s time to refill. It is a major challenge and obstacle that hospitals face as healthcare becomes retail and healthcare consumer driven in nature on how to engage.

Engagement is human-to-human

Let me repeat, engagement is a human-to-human undertaking. It is not a piece of disease state literature.  It is not a generic newsletter sent monthly with topics that I have no interest in. It’s a meaningful interaction that is a two-way conversation about my health status, needs and options.   A dialogue that is ongoing, not one time.

Patient engagement or really any type of engagement for that matter is a mutually beneficial conversation that is structured to meet the healthcare needs of the individual.  It can take many forms to fit the engagement style of the patient or healthcare consumer.  The implication here is that it is highly individualized.   

In marketing we call that mass customization.  That is, information that can be shared with a large population or group of people that appears in nature to the individual to be highly personalized.  But all of the engagement drives essentially the same outcome, to increase knowledge, to make better choices, to empower decision-making, to create brand loyalty and drive revenue. And that engagement effort is delivered across multiple mediums and channels that the targeted individuals desire to receive the information.

Past engagement styles and efforts do not meet today’s healthcare consumer’s needs in a retail consumer driven medical market.

This is not insurmountable, but it does take vision, commitment, resources and change. The healthcare consumer and patient lives and reacts to a world that is omni-channel in nature.  They move freely between phone, email, mobile and desktop etc., expecting the engagement and experience to be seamless and available at any time of their choosing.

For some that may be a newsletter delivered by email with a text to their cell phone informing that new information is available. Others may desire the information to be delivered as a simple text link to the information on a personalized web page. Others may prefer mobile app accessibility. Some may respond better to gamification and rewards. Still other may prefer hard copies.

And in some situations, it may be a personal phone call because the healthcare consumer or patient wants a true one-to-one engagement and experience. It could even be all of the above.  But in any event, the engagement experience is tailored to meet their needs.

So in a back to basics kind of way, it is completely customer focused and starts with how the patient, healthcare consumer or population wants to be engaged and how. Enter a lot of primary market research for the hospital to find those nuggets of information that are actionable for moving forward and engaging the healthcare consumer or patient.

Though David Ogilvy said this in relationship to the advertising industry “Advertisers who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals”, does apply today to hospitals and health systems on so many levels, and in so many ways as the market evolves into a retail medical environment.

The time between understanding and action in healthcare consumer or patient engagement is now measured in minutes, not days, months or when one gets around to it. Notoriously slow in adapting is to new technologies and trends; hospitals need to stop doing what they have always done in engagement.

Think of one's personal experience as a healthcare consumer or patient.  Are you engaged? If not then the patients in the hospital aren't either.