Saturday, September 27, 2014

How do you market healthcare in a dynamic market?

Faced with a cacophony of payment models from fee-for-service to value and risked based with a growing healthcare consumer looking for choice, healthcare marketing becomes an even greater challenge than before. One size does not fit all. And growth is good.

With the growing consumerism in healthcare, how can the hospital or health system make good in growing and generating revenue while the chance still presents itself?  After all, the tipping point of where a hospital is no longer a revenue center but a cost center has not taken place yet.  And it won’t for the foreseeable immediate future.  

There are three dynamic keys to concentrate on in the evolving consumeristic driven healthcare market:   Market Presence... Leveraging Opinion/Perception... Consumer/Patient Experience...

No longer nice to have, these three basic concepts are now business requirements.

  • Market Presence- The resources to effectively and continuously communicate brand and differentiate the offering across multiple channels. This includes having the right marketing organizational structure with the right people in the right jobs to manage the fully integrated marketing program.
  • Leveraging Opinion/Perception – Social media is critical in the area. Even with all the cost, price and quality data that is being released and consumers are learning how to use; it’s still recommendation of physicians, family members or friends that drives a big part of the selection process. That will change over time, but as of yet, it’s that old tried and true ubiquitous “word of mouth”  opinion/perception influencer channels that one needs to actively manage.
  • Consumer/Patient Experience- The actual customer experience matches the brand image, perceptions and opinions of customers that you created in the marketplace that had been communicated in an integrated multi-channel sustained effort that includes social media engagement.

 A consumer-directed market is much different environment than a provider-directed market which requires skills and abilities that may or may not exist in an organization.   Key success factors for creating a high performance marketing operation that delivers revenue and market share in an era of reform in the new healthcare environment include:

  •       Vice President of Marketing senior management position that reports to the CEO and is involved in all decision making.
  •       Marketing resources human, operational and capital budgets to support a multi-channel effort externally and internally.
  •       Comprehensive strategic and measurably focused marketing plan that is integrated with the financial and operational plan of the organization.
  •       Price, outcomes and experience transparency
  •       Internal communication and training to educate the organization around marketing efforts, expectations and their role in the execution of the plan.
  •       Creation of a comprehensive marketing dashboard which communicates activities and results on a monthly basis to all levels of the organization.


As the healthcare providers continue to consolidate across all segments, marketing will assume an increasingly important role in the survival and revenue generating activities for the organization.

And that requires a far different innovative sustainable marketing presence that changes perceptions and choice than the old way of doing things.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

What is wrong with this retail clinic picture?


By living in a major metropolitan area, one has the privilege of seeing firsthand how hospitals and health systems are approaching the establishment of a retail medicine strategy and the healthcare consumer. Or maybe it’s really and more appropriately, the absence of an understanding of that particular market strategy.

As written in the past, delivering retail medicine is a whole lot different than providing hospital outpatient services, or even building a medical office building, launching ambulatory care center or employing physicians.

The other day, I came across a small health systems foray into retail medicine.  It was by accident mind you because in coming by the location literally hundreds of times and even entering the grocery store, I never really noticed it before. The only reason I think I noticed because of the store pharmacy curbside signs about flu shot availability. And there has been no active marketing of the location to the neighborhood.

So what did I see? A sign high above the awning on the side of the grocery store with the hospital name XYZ Clinic. Jet back windows facing the parking lot communicating more about dark secrets within than with  lettering about name, hours, contact and services. When one goes inside the store, (and the location of the retail clinic is right next to the main entry to the store in a high traffic area) the healthcare consumer is greeted with a closed door.  No sign of anyone there except for offering a formidable and not so much a welcoming “come on in” presence for the retail healthcare consumer.

I did not write this description of what I saw to embarrass the health system, but to point out what hospital and health system executives don’t know about retail healthcare design, service delivery and marketing the retail clinic can be deadly.

Now that being said this is one case in point.  There are I am sure examples across the country of hospitals and health systems that got it right, or nearly so. But more often than not; well, that is for one to decide based on experience and knowledge.

If you are going to enter the retail medicine market, here are some rules of thumb to follow. These are offered as recommendations based on my retail healthcare experience and are not all inclusive.

To wit:
1.       This is not a hospital, MOB or an ambulatory outpatient center.  Don’t build it like you would build it if it  was a hospital, MOB or a hospital-based outpatient center.
2.       Retail medicine is about convenience, accessibility, service and price.  That means it is convenient, easily accessible, welcoming in appearance and friendly.  Exam rooms for sure but the registration and waiting area needs to be open, visible and welcoming.
3.       The healthcare consumer’s first impression and experience is everything.  It’s about them not about the hospital or the staff. If one’s clinic appears closed foreboding and “healthcare like” that’s a killer first impression.
4.       For goodness sakes, let the healthcare consumer or casual shopper know what you do there. What are the tests and exams offered?  What aliments do you treat? A sandwich board can work wonders.
5.       Before building a retail clinic, go around and see how the Walgreens, CVS Health, Rite Aid etc., store clinics are designed.  There is a reason they are designed that way and it’s not by accident. Learn from you competition.
6.       Do the market research. Understand the demographics of the neighborhood. Understand the healthcare consumer’s needs and build the retail clinic with those needs in mind. Don’t guess!  
7.       Figure out the service area for the clinic.  If there is a well established retail clinic less than two miles away from the chosen site, guess what? It’s probably not going to work or be profitable. This is retail and competition is unforgiving, as is the consumer.  That pharmacy based retail clinic down the street has been there longer than you, has established a market presence, is user friendly and customer focused.  It’s arrogant to think that by simply putting the hospital name on the clinic will make a difference.  The healthcare consumer doesn’t care.
8.       Be prepared to market the daylights out of the clinic.  Again as a reminder this is retail. The marketing rules are different.  Presence in the market builds preference. No continuous marketing presence, no preference for what you have to offer.

These are just some of my rules of thumb for establishing a retail medicine presence. Not perfect and not all encompassing, but a simple start offered for consideration.

Healthcare is evolving into a semi retail model of care and service delivery.  A model that is about the healthcare consumer built around their needs that is accessible, convenient, priced right and provides a consumer experience that is second to none.

Make it look like what one does like everything else in the hospital and it’s a loser.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

How can the hospital dominate the five healthcare markets?

As the reformation of healthcare continues unabated, a hospital or health system has only five primary markets.  Of course, there are the submarkets within these markets but it’s still only five: Commercial; Exchanges; Medicare; Medicaid; and Uninsured.

The new dynamic added to this change is the evolution of the broader healthcare market into a consumer-centric, semi-retail market existing in a multitude of reimbursement schemes, each nuanced for a different market segment. Leading to the question, have you identified from a marketing perspective immediate actions to improve market position and revenue generation? 

This isn't about massive advertising campaigns, gimmicks, wellness programs, etc. It’s more about getting the basics right, understanding who pays for what and how that is combined with the needs of your healthcare consumers. This isn’t only about driving demand in some cases, but managing demand by moving the healthcare consumer to the right setting, which may not be the hospital or a hospital based outpatient service. In some circumstances it may even mean de-marketing certain services.

Very quickly then, here are seven ways to improve your market position, generate revenue and dominate categories of service.

1.  Brand and competitive position.
Consumers and patients are ready for convenient technology-enabled access to care. Healthcare providers that are capable of identifying their needs and how they want their healthcare needs meet though technology focused on them will gain new patients and the next-generation of physicians.  It's not a crime to use text messaging to send people information or confirmations about appointments, health reminders, or use QR codes to link to specific education or health offers.

2. Engage existing customers and patients.
An individual is only a patient 1/3rd of the time they come in contact with you.  That is during the diagnosis, treatment and recovery phase.  Pre and post this experience, they are a healthcare consumer not a patient.  So why then is it the only time one chooses to meaningfully engage them is during the period when they are a patient?  This lack of focus or tactical engagement execution doesn’t make a lot of sense as consumer and patient engagement is about all of the time activity, not just some of the time.  Engaging the healthcare consumer on a continuous basis builds loyalty and importantly keeps them in network, which has some pretty significant financial ramifications in a risk-based reimbursement model.

3. Engage the physicians.
No matter the payment model the hospital or health system still needs a physician or physician extender’s order to get anything done in a healthcare setting. That means engaging physicians in meaningful ways, using the methods, technology and systems that will make their life easier, improve their productivity and protect or increase their income. An effective and efficient physician has more to do with the impact of cost and quality in the hospital than any other factor.

4. Focus on the physician experience.
How hard is it for a physician or physician extender to practice medicine in your organization?  Have you looked at the hassle factor that physician’s encounter when they try to get things done in the hospital setting?  Understand how the physician experiences your organization at every touch-point they encounter the hospital. Understand their experiences overall from beginning to end, not just in an isolated segment. Fix what is broken, keep what is working. The more satisfying the experience, the better you will do financially.

5. Focus on the consumer/patient experience.
A healthcare provider's ability to deliver an experience that sets it apart in the eyes of its patients and potential patients from its competitors - traditional and non-traditional - serves to increase their loyalty to the brand. One needs to actively manage the customer experience in totality by understanding the customer's point of view.  That is, all touch points internally and externally that a customer/patient comes in contact with which in turn creates the experience. Exceptional experience means gains in market share, brand awareness, and revenue.

6. Embrace retail healthcare.
Traditional ways of delivering healthcare will go by the wayside in many cases.  Price convenience, access and outcomes are the drivers in retail healthcare.  Find the need, understand the consumer’s behavior drivers, design offering around the consumer not the hospital in a convenient location and price it appropriately. If you can't compete in this way market position, share and revenue will erode.

7. Turn to social media and networks to engage, manage the experience and drive adherence. As healthcare continues the evolution to a healthcare consumer dominated semi-retail environment, social networking is a healthcare marketing channel that is underutilized and underperforms today, but holds great potential to improve engagement, experience and adherence. And that takes healthcare marketing leadership, executive vision and meaningful action.

Seven step to achieve market and revenue growth in an evolving healthcare market place. Not an impossible task, but one that does require focus and a willingness to break from the past.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What will you say when the media comes knocking about hospital prices?

In two article in the past week, and one of them written by a physician in the Wall Street Journal on September 4th , Healthcare and the $20,000 bill, WSJ op-ed September 4, 2014 , Eric Michael David, MD hospital prices came to the forefront. And it wasn’t alerting.  That was followed by Molly Gamble in Becker’s Hospital Review with The easiest way to make a Hospital CEO squirm, Molly Gamble,  Becker’s Hospital Review  jumping off from the WSJ article with additional information.

The headline question is one that hospitals and health systems can no longer ignore with pejorative and condescending answers, or even silence to the questions of hospital prices. When physicians turn on those organizations it moves from a healthcare consumer complaint to PR crisis.

Hide the head in sand and pretend it’s all just going away, but guess what- it’s not.  And it is maybe like one step away from a hospital or health system public relations crisis.

If you haven’t read the WSJ article, I recommend that you read it.  It’s a classic example of how not to handle the pricing issue. Doesn’t matter if it’s a physician, the media or a healthcare consumer that is calling for they are all equally important.

Here is what an organization needs to do to be ready for the negative PR:

1.       Admit one can’t win this argument. Develop, refine and have in place a media plan from the point of limiting the damage to your hospital brand and reputation as much as possible.
2.       In preplanning understand the hospital or health system pricing compared to area competitors.  Don’t compare to hospitals or health systems across the country.
3.       Be prepared to explain up coding. Matter of fact this is probably a good time to start reviewing your coding and billing practices to make sure that all applicable regulations are being followed before you add some charges like the trauma team.
4.       Don’t send out the billing manager or director of Finance out to answer media questions.
5.       Prepare Q&As and practice.
6.       Don’t answer it’s all the insurers fault. We don’t really charge those prices. The consumer will never understand because it’s so complicated.
7.       Never ever reference the charge master.
8.       When a clear billing mistake has been made, admit, rectify and apologize.
9.       Have the CEO briefed, media trained and ready to face the press.
10.   Answers to questions that come off as pejorative, condescending or arrogant are unacceptable.
11.   Treat this as a full blown PR communications crisis. Failure to do so will lead to mistakes and making it worse not better.

Pray it doesn’t happen that the pricing issue is raised by someone who knows what they are talking about. The hospital or health system can’t win this one, but limit the damage to reputation and brand you can.