Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How do You Change Healthcare Consumers From Ignorant/Uneducated to Informed?

The discussions on 30 plus LinkedIn groups across the wide healthcare industry spectrum has been revealing to the question "Is the Healthcare Consumer Ignorant?"

To summarize, there are many contributing factors, from healthcare diagnosis and treatment complexity, the inability of providers too communicate in an understandable way their process, to economic factors that cause the consumer to be disconnected. And some are just like arrogant parents who know all and see all.

And I thank everyone who contributed to the discussion no matter what side you are find yourself.

But it is time to move the discussion forward and start the dialogue on how to change the healthcare consumer from ignorant/uneducated to informed.

The task at hand is not insurmountable. It will require innovation, creativity, change, an attitude adjustment and perseverance.

Anything is possible.

This means a long-term commitment that most likely is generational in nature across all healthcare industry segments, to have an informed healthcare consumer. Think back to the 80s when DRGs were introduced. As an industry, healthcare went from we will do things to you, care for you and you have no real responsibility for your care and treatment, to now you have a personal responsibility to maintain good weight, stop smoking, wear a motorcycle helmet etc. We offered wellness programs, screenings, lectures and educational materials. Lots of stuff that more or less has had a positive impact on some diseases.

In spite of these efforts, we remained an industry that still does things to people and generally looked the other way when patients asked questions or wanted to be involved.

The economists, think-tanks, employers, physicians, health plans, hospitals, associations, Federal and State governments and special interest groups have spoken, created new models, programs and services in an attempt to bend the cost curve with limited success. This is not an attack, for we are better off today with these attempts at reform.

From the view in my world, one thing we have not done to a great extent is involve the end user in these discussions. How can we succeed, if the end-user is not informed and involved in all of these processes and plan creations?

The healthcare cost problem will not be solved until we have an educated, informed consumer, that is an active participant in the decision-making process regarding their care and understands the price.

Where do we go from here?

Here are some ideas, not all inclusive but just offered up for consideration.

1. Marketing needs to be far more involved than it has been so far. This isn't just about making things pretty. It's about delivering content that is informative, understandable, actionable and life-changing, delivered however the person wants it. It is multi-channel and uses all available methods like social media, web site, direct mail, webinars, apps etc. Whatever it takes. Not just the do an ad, have program. It needs to be interactive and fits into an individual's daily life seamlessly.

Senior management needs their marketing departments at the leadership table to understand the life and pulse of their communities.

HIPAA does not mean that you can't communicate and use all the tools available.

2. There needs to be price transparency. Time to move away from communicating what the charges are for healthcare to the price of the healthcare service. Consumers will understand price, they will never understand charges. Strive for clarity.

3. Increase outcome and data related transparency for the consumer. Quality awards are nice and all, but what does it really mean and how can the consumer use that type of information? Consumers can not make choices without real actionable information.

4. Stop talking at people; talk to them. Healthcare will not change and the cost curve will not be bent until we have an informed and educated consumer.

5. Create incentives for the physicians and consumers to be involved and choose lower cost options for treatment or diagnosis. For example, American Imaging Management, a WellPoint Subsidiary, has developed a creative incentive program that awards physicians and patients for choosing lower cost alternatives for some imaging. People respond to financial incentives positive and negative. Time to be creative.

6. Adjust your attitude. The healthcare consumer is not ignorant. They may be uneducated, but they are not ignorant. Given the right information, they can make reasonable decisions and be actively involved if you let them. That means changing attitude, organizational culture and approach.

7. Innovate. Healthcare lacks original innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit for the most part. Instead of saying why something won't work because it challenges established beliefs or process or ways of doing things, ask how it will work or how lessons from other industries can be adapted. Leave the comfort zone.

8. Lead the change in your organization.

These are just some ideas and opinions. I am sure that I have missed a lot, gorged some sacred cows and maybe angered a few people. We all know that this is a complicated challenge. We have tried just about everything else. And unless we begin to create an informed, involved and educated healthcare consumer, then we won't be able to bend the cost curve.

You can continue the conversation with me on:

Michael Krivich is an entrepreneurial healthcare marketing executive and internationally followed healthcare marketing blogger read daily in over 38 countries around the world. A Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives as well as a Professional Certified Marketer, American Marketing Association, he can be reached at or 815-293-1471. Areas of expertise include: brand management; strategic marketing; sales and marketing integration; medical device and specialty pharmacy marketing; physician marketing; product launch; start-up launch and revenue growth; tactical market planning; customer experience management; rebuilding and revitalizing marketing operations; media relations; and service line revitalizations. Mike is Huthwaite SPIN selling trained and a Miller Heiman Strategic Selling alumni.

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