Sunday, March 31, 2013

How do you communicate quality in a consumer-driven healthcare system?

Interesting question isn't it? It presupposes that healthcare consumers know what they need in the way of healthcare services. Which many in the hospital and medical professional world will howl and say its way to complicated for the healthcare consumer to know what they need to be able make a reasonable treatment decision based on quality.

Yes and no.

On one side yes, in that medical care is complex and diagnosis is not as easy as reading a book or talking to someone. But the healthcare consumer, once they realize that their wellness is not to what they normally experience, will more often than not seek medical advice as to the cause of the illness. Then in seeking that medical advice they begin the process of gaining the necessary information to make reasonable decisions, or at the very least to participate in the process.

On the other side no, in that once the healthcare consumer has acquired a basic understand of what is medically wrong, they have now the ability to use quality data to make choices on where to seek treatment along several dimensions, their direct cost, aka out-of-pocket expenses such as deducible and co-pays, and indirect costs such as time, convenience, travel requirements, access, time away from work etc., on where to receive the care they need at the right time, for the right cost, in the right setting.

In a consumer-driven healthcare system that is evolving before our eyes, real quality data, not pretty award logos is what is required for outcomes and quality transparency upon which a healthcare consumer seeking care can make reasonable decisions. 

Because of the lack of transparency around quality and outcomes, the healthcare consumer assumes that quality is equal among competing providers. And we all know healthcares little unspoken truth is that it's not. Which brings us full circle to the issue of being quality transparent in patient engagement marketing to the healthcare consumer and why it hasn't happened.

In an era of reform as we transition to a consumer-driven healthcare system, quality transparency in patient engagement marketing is no longer a nice thought, but a new business requirement. And its critically important how you communicate quality information to the healthcare consumer.

It is meaningless to tell a healthcare consumer that that the chance of acquiring a post-surgical hospital infection is .85 at the 95 percent confidence level. That is from their view statistical mumbo jumbo. What the healthcare consumer wants from you is to know that 1 in 1,000 patients for example, acquire a hospital post surgical infection. Or that the medication error rate is 10 in 250 patients.

And you are not ready to do that because frankly, those are defects in the quality of care. If the healthcare consumer knew the real meaning of the .85 at the 95 percent confidence level in their terms, they might not come to your hospital, clinic or even have some physicians as their doctor.

So at this stage of the evolution of the healthcare consumer and a consumer-driven healthcare system, you need to start to figure out how you are going to become the quality transparent hospital or medical provider. And how you communicate and market that information is of equal importance as well.

There are no easy answers here and no magic marketing pixy dust to sprinkle around to solve the problem. The only way is by engaging the patient and the healthcare consumer in a meaningful way to understand how you can best meet their needs, determine the types of quality information and find the right ways to communicate that information to them.

Michael J. Krivich, MHA, FACHE, PCM, is an internationally followed healthcare marketing blogger with over 5,000 monthly pages views read in over 52 countries worldwide on Healthcare Marketing Matters. He is founder of the michael J group, a Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives and a Professional Certified Marketer, American Marketing Association. Like us on facebook at the michael J group, and connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Pheed.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Can hospitals go it alone in an era of reform with average marketing?

There is an article in the March, 2013 issue of Hospitals and Health Networks, "Is going it ALONE still an option for your hospital? YES!". It covers briefly the mission critical decisions and viewpoints, but sadly, it left untouched any discussion of marketing's role in all of this. So not being able to leave well enough alone, I started thinking about what role and competencies of marketing that would be needed to be in play to remain an independent, stand-alone hospital in an era of reform.

First challenge, the current state of hospital marketing overall is not good enough and needs leadership, vision and new competencies. The second and even harder challenge is that hospital leadership is clueless about healthcare consumerism, how you market to the healthcare consumer and the marketing investment required, but they think they do. The third major challenge is admitting to the "I don't know healthcare consumer marketing" challenge in number two.

If you're lacking the following, then it's going to be even more of a challenge.

Marketing Leadership

Marketing is strategy first, tactics second. The voice of marketing should reflect the voice of your customers and not be a second thought. Your future programs and services will be determined by the needs of the market, not your gut feeling. You cannot become a healthcare consumer-driven or market-driven organization if the skills and experiences of marketing is not at the leadership table.

Managing the Patient Experience

If anyone is prepared to understand and manage the patient experience across the organization it's marketing. Hospitals in particular are making the mistake of putting clinical or operations in charge of patient experience. Patient experience means just that- understanding what that patient experiences is at all touch points. And then changing or managing that experience to its fullest potential for the benefit of the patient and the organization. Patient experience is an integrating process across the entire organization internally and externally. One organization to the patient, one patient to the organization. It is not simply another quality program or flavor of the day.

Understanding and Executing Demand Management

The hospital is no longer the center of the healthcare universe. In an era of reform the last place anyone will go for treatment is the hospital. Marketing needs to understand what the demand for healthcare services will be, where they will be needed and manage that demand making sure that the hospital or health system has the right resources, in the right place, at the right time to meet demand. Gone are the days where marketing departments will be driving demand to fill hospital beds. They will drive demand to the appropriate place and location of service and it may not be a hospital or hospital based ambulatory service.

Communicating With the Networked Patient

The networked patient is someone who has an intense curiosity about their health condition, expects to have an active role in making healthcare decisions and this is most important, they want control of their health information.

They actively use the internet, social media , blogs, web site, apps and seek out others. They read and study about their health condition. They ask questions and will seek out alternatives. They look at providers from a quality standpoint and make judgments based on outcomes information. They want an answer to their own needs. The patient is asking what is their ROI by using you?

Healthcare Consumer Value Marketing

With healthcare changing so rapidly, is it time to move healthcare marketing beyond " it's all about us" to "it's all about you" through focused brand architecture containing a clear and compelling brand promise that proves every day the value of your healthcare brand to the healthcare consumer? Unless you are a new provider in the market, you have been beating the healthcare consumer for years now all about your features and benefits. They get it.

In today's brave new world, it's about brand value to the healthcare consumer, perceived and real along several dimensions that most healthcare organizations haven't paid too much attention too, but the healthcare consumer is. Your brand will be viewed and will be challenged by multiple audiences along these dimensions: price; outcomes; experience; access; convenience; and choice.

Meeting the Healthcare Consumer Cost Choices

Member co-pays and deductibles are rising. Employers moving to defined contributions. Millions of individuals potentially coming online with health insurance in 2014. Healthcare consumers are facing the economic reality that they now have some "skin-in-the-game". In a article recently published in the Wall Street Journal, "Another Big Step in Reshaping Healthcare" in pilots for Health Insurance Exchanges, individuals will choose a narrowly defined and limited choice healthcare network if their premium savings is at least 10 percent less than the premium for the larger more expansive networks. When people are paying they exhibit more consumerist behaviors.

There are more, but this post is too long already.

As you determine your ability to remain a stand alone, it won't only be determined by clinical, financial and operational issues. It will also be affected by how you market and your responsiveness to the healthcare consumer. Succeed in reaching the newly developing healthcare consumer and you have got a real chance.

Michael J. Krivich, MHA, FACHE, PCM, is an internationally followed healthcare marketing blogger with over 5,000 monthly pages views read in over 52 countries worldwide on Healthcare Marketing Matters. He is founder of the michael J group, a Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives and a Professional Certified Marketer, American Marketing Association. Like us on facebook at the michael J group, and connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Pheed.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

You bought the medical practice, now how do you market those physicians?

Recent figures indicated that owned medical practices by hospitals and health systems are losing $170K a year. It's causing a lot of angst in the leadership suite and with the Board of Directors in hospitals and health systems. And everyone knows these losses are unsustainable. There are of course many reasons for this, some are structural, some are organizational, some are cultural, some are management decisions made and all playing a part in why the practice is losing so much money.

But one reason should never be because you don't market that medical practice effectively. And sadly, there is a lot of ineffective medical practice marketing going on by hospitals and health systems. Medical practices are one of the few remain opportunities to drive volume and revenue. Its sure not the hospital, that's the last place you will be wanting to drive volume, especially to the inpatient side. The drive to create ACOs in a value-based payment environment demands a different type of physician relationship, but that doesn't mean ineffective marketing.

With this new opportunity to reinvent, revitalize and recapture what previously before had been an adventure on the part of hospitals with mixed results, it's time to discuss how one goes about marketing the employed physician.

Break from the past.

It's easy to look at this and say we'll just do what we did in the past in promoting employed physicians and be done with it. That is a dangerous mistake. Healthcare consumers/patients 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, you can expect dismal marketing failure. I mean really, a doctor in an advertisement I recently viewed from a major academic medical center looking skyward at some unknown object or were they contemplating some major medical advance? That is a pretty arrogant portrayal of the physician. Like they know something you don't? I didn't get, and neither does the healthcare consumer.

What is needed is a new look at what you are doing and changing to meet the needs of your healthcare consumer, not you. With great change comes great opportunity. That is if one is willing to embrace that change and find new ways of moving forward and creating value.

Be effective physician marketers.

Confer the physicians credibility to your brand. Talk about the values, quality and outcomes of the physician. And talk about the patient experience with this physician.

You need to communicate very strongly your brand and brand promise you are associating with the employed physician. Brand the doc to you. They represent your brand at an individual level. Capitalize on that opportunity and leverage it though there existing credibility.

Communicate the values of the doctor. Answer the healthcare consumers question of what is special about this physician and why should I select her or him? Stop talking at people, talk to them. Talk to them with compelling value driven reasoning why they should select that doctor, or even why they should even considering switching physicians. No more doctors looking contemplatively skyward or ad copy that talks about them in the third person.

Pay attention to the patient experiences. How long is the patient waiting? Is your web site easy to use. Can they schedule appointments online? How are they greeted? View the patient experience from beginning to end at ever touch-point along the continuum. Remember, a consumer is only a patient one-third of the time they interact with your physicians. Before care and after care, they are consumers, evaluating their experience with you at very touch-point that they come in contact. And just because you have high patient satisfaction results, that doesn't equate to a grand overall experience.

Stop wasting your money putting ads in papers that expect people to take action simply because the doctor is on your medical staff or in one of your buildings. That treats the healthcare consumer like they are idiots. They're not. They are demanding value for the cost and acknowledgement that they have a say in what's going on. If you won't meet their needs they will go somewhere else.

If you're not communicating value and what's in it for them for selecting your physicians, then you can put it in the bank that the healthcare consumer will pass on by and go where they perceive the value to be greatest for them in line with the price they are paying.

In the end, it's all about knowing what healthcare consumer/ patient needs are and delivering that in a convenient location at a price point that is affordable. If you think this is crazy, then why are the retail clinics taking you to lunch?

And the losses keep mounting.

Michael J. Krivich, MHA, FACHE, PCM, 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 Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives and a Professional Certified Marketer, American Marketing Association. Like us on facebook at the michael J group, and connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Pheed.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Is your patient experience matching the expectations of the healthcare consumer?

The evolving healthcare consumer is seeking information on great experiences and outcomes. That's right, great outcomes and experiences, not ordinary outcomes or experiences. You are expected to care. You are expected to provide high-quality care. Telling the healthcare consumer that you provide compassionate care and high-quality medical care, is falling on deaf ears. Especially when the experience doesn't even come close to the claim. So when the healthcare consumer matches their expectations with your experience, chances are you are falling short somewhere.

And in the reality of a healthcare market place that is evolving to one driven by cost, outcome and choice, healthcare consumers will bypass those hospitals, healthcare providers and insurance plans that have less than great outcomes or experiences.

I am not saying that is fair, or right. It is a reality of a changing marketplace.

When healthcare executives are surveyed, the majority say that patient/customer experience improvement is a critical business success factor along with patient safety and cost reduction. But at the same time, the majority of healthcare CEOs admit that they really don't know where to start on successfully improving the patient experience.

And it is just not hospitals. Insurance companies, specialty pharmacies, PBMs, home health and others, that are experiencing the same challenges in managing patient, consumer or member experience and expectations.

But before you manage and improve the experience you have to understands the totality of the experience from the eyes of your consumer, as well as understand what their expectations are.

Experience Management is about changing the way you deliver care to the healthcare consumer by your employees, based on an understanding of what their expectations are, not yours. Experience Management is culturally and organizationally uncomfortable. And that is because it's not about you anymore. You have to have a formal definition of patient experience and that only comes from talking to patients, or consumers, or plan members.

The speed of change in healthcare has accelerated beyond the point of no return. Healthcare providers no longer have the time to engage in endless internal dialogue and paralysis by analysis planning loops before moving forward. Individuals expect you to care. Individuals expect you to have high-quality outcomes.

The only way you can differentiate is through creating and maintaining that exceptional patient experience and meeting their expectations. And that only comes through active management of the experience process.

In the end if you want your experience to meet the expectations of your healthcare consumer, do the market research. And get ready for some uncomfortable truths. But in the knowledge about the healthcare consumer gained, you will uncover truths that will set you free to change and change for the better is good.

This week is the American College of Healthcare Executives Congress on Leadership in Chicago. I will be there Wednesday, March 13 and Thursday, March 14. Let me know if you want to meet or just say hi.

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 Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives and a Professional Certified Marketer, American Marketing Association. Like me on facebook at the michael J group, and connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Pheed.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

How do you market to the cost sensitive healthcare consumer?

There is a subtle but important market shift developing healthcare. And it's really a result of the growing healthcare consumerism movement I wrote about last week. That is the "patient" who is evolving into the healthcare consumer is making healthcare choices based on cost.

Look, I get that we don't sell widgets. And as much as we decry and bemoan anybody that dares to bring up the subject of price, consumerism and patient dominated decision-making and choice in healthcare spawns from the devil himself, the fact remains that the "patient" is becoming a healthcare consumer and making choices based on cost. You can't ignore it, or hide your head in the sand anymore because it's not going away.

Here's some of the evidence:
(I receive no payment, nor have any contractual of relationships with the following aforementioned companies.)

Aetna's easy-to-use, out-of-pocket payment estimator. Simple really, know the cost of a test, visit or procedure; know what it will cost you out-of-pocket. But it doesn't stop there, it allows the healthcare consumer to compare the cost across multiple in-network providers. You can compare costs across 10 different hospitals and doctors. Choose the one that is the lowest cost and has the lowest out-of-pocket expense.

WellPoint through its AIM subsidiary has shown where it was possible to incentivize physicians and plan members to shop for radiology services and choose the lowest cost provider. It's reducing healthcare costs; while maintaining quality.

United HealthCare, though its Innovation Center, is empowering its clients and 70 million members across a broad array of data driven products and services, for the healthcare consumer to better understand their healthcare utilization, and make cost effective choices.

In the Wall Street Journal article on Friday, March 1, 2013, "Another Big Step in Reshaping Healthcare", research is showing the consumer buying insurance will accept a narrower network of hospital and physicians, if the cost differential is at least 10 percent lower than the cost of the broader and larger healthcare network with more choices. Models are showing that price and cost will be a big driver in consumers choices of plans.

Forget the quality argument.

Just because you charge more doesn't mean you have higher quality. Saying you have high quality with high cost when you are unable to differentiate yourself in the market because you won't use outcomes data, is a claim that falls on deaf ears. Quality is now a given. It's a prerequisite of the business.

So now cost rears its head in the healthcare consumer's decision-making process. And when all other things are equal in the mind of the consumers, cost is king. Quality is assumed. Caring is assumed. It's what you do.

Most healthcare organizations aka hospitals, have never really had to deal with the cost equation on a competitive basis. For insurance, medical device, pharma and other suppliers to healthcare, price and cost competition has been a requirement in their markets since the beginning of time. Now, doctors, hospitals, and others will need to change their marketing operations and begin to deal on cost. Your brand and quality take on new meaning when cost is influencing choice and is a critical component in the healthcare consumer decision-making process. High cost, undifferentiated quality won't sell.

What to do?

Value marketing and measurable quality outcomes marketing together not separately, can influence the cost-conscience healthcare consumers choices.

Value marketing really, is making the case to your healthcare consumer how you are solving a problem, offering a solution, giving results and even making them happy. Value marketing is a creative exchange between people and organizations in the marketplace. It is a dynamic transaction that constantly changes based on the needs of the individual vies a vie what the healthcare organization has to offer. You are answering the consumers value equation by answer their question, what is my ROI for using you. Answer that successfully and cost becomes a lesser issue.

In quality outcomes marketing, you become the transparent healthcare organization. You differentiate from other high-cost providers along this important dimension of choice. It doesn't hurt either if you can show how higher quality actually reduces the cost of healthcare. This of course assumes that your outcomes justify the cost of your services. And oh by the way, it's not just throwing out a third party logo on an advertisements and saying we have high quality.

Healthcare consumer cost will be coming to the forefront in 2014 and will greatly influence a healthcare consumers choices of where to purchase care. Your answer is value and outcomes marketing. But for you, value and outcomes marketing starts today not in 2014. By then the horse is already out of the barn and it's too late for getting them back in.

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 Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives and a Professional Certified Marketer, American Marketing Association.  Like me on  facebook at the michael J group, and connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Pheed.