Sunday, January 20, 2013

Is healthcare provider of choice possible for a hospital or health system?

It's a valid and serious question given Walgreens publically stated goal of being the "healthcare provider of choice for everyday health". Walgreens took a big step in that direction with the approval of three ACOs. Interestingly enough in my 30 years of healthcare marketing, being the provider of choice has long been a staple of hospital and health system goals and objectives, business plans and presentations to the Board and medical staffs.

Has anyone ever really accomplished that?

That is more of a rhetorical question than anything else. But I am willing to bet that the answer is no. And I seriously doubt that it can be achieved from a hospital or health system marketing perspective. At least not to the extent that Walgreens and other non-traditional entrants into the healthcare marketplace that are well funded, understand consumer behavior and marketing, service development, pricing, customer experience and brand recognition can achieve.

If you're serious about being the "healthcare provider of choice" in your market  here are some of the steps you have to take.

1. Stop doing marketing communications and calling it marketing. It's not about making things look pretty, snappy or running events. It is about understanding the needs of your healthcare consumer in a logical and systemic way and designing those programs and services along dimensions of provable outcomes, location, experience and price, realizing that in the new healthcare business environment, that the hospital is not the beginning, or end of all medical care options. It's about leadership and marketing being present on the senior management team and in the boardroom.

2. Now your brand really counts and it's about your brand. Your brand promise. Your brand reputation. Your brand value proposition. Your brand architecture. You have to understand every dimension of your brand from how it is viewed in the market place to its financial value. From its pricing power to its representation of the patient experience. Good, bad or in between you need to know. Only then can you make meaningful and relevant changes.

3. Are you ready to make changes in the way you do things? Being the "healthcare provider of choice" is also about making changes at all levels of the organization to meet the needs of your healthcare consumer. Status quo or tinkering around the edges because you may anger someone won't cut it. You are either all in or not at all. It's about your healthcare consumers in whatever form they come in, not about you.

4. Be responsive to changes in the market. You can no longer afford to be reactive, but must become a market leader. Flexibility going forward in how you price, deliver and locate healthcare services is a must.

5. Continuously improve the patient experience. Not just the clinical service line but the entire patient experience at all touch-points. In this environment and far into the future, the healthcare consumer is only a patient in one-third of the encounter with you. You had better be making sure that the experience is firing correctly on all cylinders all of the time at all experience touch-points.

6. Answer this question honestly, can you really become the "healthcare provider of choice"? It takes time and most importantly it takes money. It's not free and it's not a platitude. If you can't fund the marketing effort in terms of staff expertise, market research and budget- human and capital that it will take internally and externally, then is there really anything at all to talk about here?

So the choice going forward may be really simple in the end. Are you going to be the "healthcare provider of choice" in your market and take the actions necessary? Or are you going to find a way to attach yourself to the recognized market "healthcare provider of choice" leader and live off of that relationship?

Your phone is ringing, and it just may be Walgreens.

Michael Krivich is an internationally followed healthcare marketing blogger with over 5,000 monthly pages views in over 52 countries worldwide on Healthcare Marketing Matters. He is founder of the michael J group, a healthcare marketing consultancy dedicated to creating value through strategic marketing for hospitals and health system regardless of payment mechanism, either fee-for-service or value-based to increase market-share, revenue , brand and demonstrate actual return on marketing investment. Michael is a Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives and a Professional Certified Marketer, American Marketing Association. Like us on facebook at the michael J group.=

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