Sunday, August 24, 2014

What business is the hospital in for marketing to the healthcare consumer?

In the past few weeks, a lot of writing and discussion around the market competitive aspects of  innovation, price, quality and access pressures that hospitals are under, from non-traditional healthcare market entrants has taken place. It’s easy to say look out, wake up, pay attention, etc., and discuss the pros, cons and implications. 

What does it all mean?

We do know for instance, that at some point the hospital will tip from being a revenue center to a cost center. We know that as the sophistication of the healthcare consumer grows, they will be more demanding about the value they receive for their healthcare dollar. We know that the hospital or health system is already, or will be engaging in population health management. We know as unsettling as it is, there will be new non-traditional entrants into the healthcare economy that will place intense competitive pressures- price, access, convenience, quality and speed on the hospital. It could even be considered that the big box hospital is a dinosaur, doomed to extinction only to be replaced by smaller, highly focused, cost effective and efficient places of care with better outcomes.

I postulate for your consideration then, the following question to answer and manage the velocity of change seen and unseen from a marketing perspective.

What business is the hospital in?

That is not an easy question to answer. Like the railroads of the past that went though massive change before realizing that they were in the transportation business not the railroad business, many hospitals and health systems face the those same challenges. Can one answer whether or not their organization is in the hospital business or the healthcare business? And I am not writing esoterically here and it’s not so simple a question.

Please don’t answer the question with the dismissive of course we are in the healthcare business. At which point I say prove it.  And the bet is that it’s just lip service, for at the end of the day one is in the hospital business, because everything is about the hospital and what that hospital does, not the healthcare consumer.

For when one is in the healthcare business, the healthcare consumer is your focus. Their needs understood like never before. Creativity applied to the development and delivery of the healthcare services. Being in the healthcare business in a time of great never going back change, means being innovative and externally focused on what brings real value. It means not doing something because someone thought it’s a good idea, or will make the Board and physician happy.  

It also means that being in the healthcare business takes the shackles off of the inherent limitations of being in the hospital business. Hospitals are not innovative healthcare consumer friendly places and never will be. Healthcare business companies are focused on the needs of the mark, healthcare consumers and value, wherever that may lie, not just what can be delivered within four walls.

The choice is clear.  Are you in the hospital business or the healthcare business?   And if it’s the healthcare business then time for the radical organizational makeover to prove it.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Can the hospital get on the innovation band wagon?

Last week’s blog post “Is retail healthcare all about the price? And can the hospital compete? http://bit.ly/1r4e6Rh engaged a number of individuals in various forums on LinkedIn and elsewhere. All most interesting discussions and some common threads became apparent. Thoughtful posts with varying views about the place and role of non-traditional providers if any, regulation, quality and professional level of experience and training of medical professionals.   Of course there were some snarky comments with the expressed sense of entitlement by the hospital or physician scoffing at the developments.

But in all of the discussions, little thought was given to the continuation of the trend of innovation in the delivery of healthcare services and what it could eventually mean for the hospital, besides lost revenue.  One cannot combat the trend of innovation, especially from non-traditional retail providers who have deep knowledge and systems in place, to uncover and meet the needs of a consumer at a reasonable price.

Did we bring this upon ourselves and how do we reclaim the advantage?

We haven’t asked the right questions.  Maybe we even thought to ourselves stemming from a sense of entitlement, that innovation in service delivery and price was unnecessary? Could be because we really were not in tune with the needs of the healthcare consumers or the ones paying the bills? But I attribute it as most likely because healthcare marketing has been more about marketing communications than about market research, product, price and place.  Which in my opinion could have provided the early warnings and trends about a changing market dynamics and developments that could be capitalized upon before others.

Now a great backlash of disruptive innovation that keeps the hospital at the bottom of the food chain is accelerating. And guess what, the venture capitalist, private equity guys and the people innovating the in the delivery and price of care to meet the needs of the newly minted healthcare consumer, really don’t care what the hospital thinks.  As one private equity person I know put it, “it’s like shooting fish in a barrel”. Scary really.

What to do?

1.       Take stock and ask the hard question: What is being done in the hospital that can be done more efficiently and less expensively outside? How much revenue is at risk if that service disappears?
2.       Take a good hard look at the marketing philosophy, structure, capabilities, accomplishments and personnel. Fix what is broken. It’s hard and not easy by any means, but it has to be done.
3.       If not already in place, develop a business intelligence system that looks outside of the hospital at the market that identifies, tracks and disseminates information around developments etc.
4.       Get a private equity person or venture capitalist on the Board of Directors.  An organization needs new and fresh insight on the healthcare market that just won’t come from community members or the good old boys club.
5.       Invest in innovation in your organization and create the organizational structure that allows innovation to take place. A Chief Innovation Officer is needed. Hire from outside the organization.
6.       Stop circling the wagons! That stifles innovation and creates a siege mentality in the organization. Embrace change not status quo.
7.       Invest in marketing not marketing communications.
8.       Learn the lessons of disruptive innovation from others industries.  They can provide valuable learning’s, trends and directions.
9.       Lead don’t follow and expect the unexpected.
10.   If one can’t do any of this, then maybe it’s time to find something else to do.

There are more but one gets the gist of the conversation. The healthcare innovation train has already left the station.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Is retail healthcare all about the price? And can the hospital compete?

With all the significant pressures providers find themselves under especially financially, the last thing hospitals and health systems  need to worry about is market disruptive innovation in the delivery of basic healthcare services that focuses on price, convenience and access.

Well, that is exactly what has happened with Walmart introducing disruptive innovation in the pricing and delivery of some basic healthcare services. The following articles detail the move, Healthcare Finance News August 7, 2014,Walmart wades into provide territory”, and Healthcare Payer News, Retail 2.0: A new retail price”. A couple of months ago I posted a blog on June 1 in Healthcare Marketing Matters, “Ready for the tyranny of healthcare price competition”.  

For a while now I have been writing about a semi- retail healthcare market that was evolving. Well it’s here and here in a very big way.

And frankly, I don’t know how providers can compete with Walmart on price, convenience, service and access. And if one thinks they can make the quality argument as differentiation to justify higher prices than what Walmart is promising and delivering to the healthcare consumer, it won’t work.  It won't work unless the hospital or health system wants to be price and outcomes transparent for the healthcare consumers benefit. But that is a big gamble as well.

Part of this is the power of the brand at work. And Walmart has a higher brand profile, brand promise and value proposition that a hospital or health system does. Plus Walmart delivers on the brand promise day in and day out.

It’s easy to say that in the end these are simple tests and services that you can live without, but that is a dangerous attitude and dismissive at best. It’s the first foray into retail healthcare and as Walmart gains knowledge and skill, don’t be so surprised when they go after diagnostic imaging or any other number of ambulatory services that they could provide, and cut the price floor right out from underneath the hospital.

After all, quality for the healthcare consumer is a non-argument. Hospitals and health systems for years have all made high quality claims with no proof points. So, when Walmart tells the healthcare consumer about a better price and the same if not better quality, it’s a believable story. And in a retail environment, when all things are equal in the mind of a consumer, price wins.

This does not mean by any means that hospitals are going to close their doors and be put out of business by Walmart.  But what it does mean is that price is becoming king and unless the price, experience, brand and brand promise work together, one has a long hard road ahead.

Healthcare is changing more rapidly than anyone ever expected.  Hospital and health system leadership don’t have the luxury of not understanding a retail medical model, or not responding to dynamic disruptive innovation.

Part of that response is getting the marketing house in order and moving from a marketing communications effort to a true marketing operation where price, access, convenience and what the healthcare consumer wants is king, not what you want to give them.

Repeat after me, the healthcare consumer and price is king.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Can Google Glass improve the patient experience?

Hospitals and health systems, after some early adapters innovated in the use of Google Glass by physicians in the ER and with in-office patient examinations and treatment, by  having real time consults with specialists, are slowly moving to the use of this innovative technology. Which begs the question for me; can Google Glass be used to improve the patient experience?  

If you think about a physician wearing Google Glass and transmitting data and images, then why not make the leap and consider giving the healthcare consumer/patient or even family member/visitor for that matter, the same technology to use during an inpatient or outpatient encounter?

The health consumer/patient experience is not linear. It is the sum total of every individual experience across the healthcare encounter that occurs. There are a lot of steps in the patient experience and mostly the analysis is all retrospective – market research, patient interviews, focus groups, patient satisfaction data etc. And the patient experience improvement process is usually focused on one or two aspects of the patient experience, not the entire encounter.

Now consider for maybe the first time, the availability of using an innovative technology developed for the general public, used by the patient to provide real-time data on the patient experience from the eyes of the healthcare consumer/patient.  Powerful.

Instead of looking at one single aspect, you can gain valuable insight into the entire experience while retaining the ability to zero in from the data on one aspect to the patient experience. Contemplate for a moment Google Glass use as a potentially good way to find out how nurse’s, physician’s and other caregiver’s are engaging and talking to the patient.  Could even discover which caregivers are or are not washing their hands pre and post encounter?  What would it means to have the availability of real time data from the patent from their view and what happened when the patient fell?

Seems to me that there are some great uses for Google Glass for improving healthcare, be it the experience or treatment.

Now that being said, the naysayers will probably use HIPPA or some advice from attorneys about risk and exposure that a hospital or health system can’t give Google Glass to patients. I could see some valid concerns, but nothing that cannot be overcome.

After all it’s about improving the experience and care isn’t it?  Or is it still in one’s mind all about the hospital or health system, and not the healthcare consumer/patient?

Google Glass may be just the prescription the doctor ordered.

The fastpitch softball season has come to a close as well as my daughter’s 10 year playing career. Hope springs eternal that she will change her mind and play in college.  The 16U A USSA Fastpitch Softball World Series in Overland Park, Kansas as a lot of fun. Alex pitched well and went 3-2 in games she pitched and the team went 4-3 overall.  The official results have them ranked in the top 20 in the 17th spot out of 40 teams.  Pretty good really!  Now on to college visits, high school graduation and a new chapter in her life.  Now where did I put that honey do list?