Monday, June 10, 2013

Can hospitals adapt to the new market drivers of price, outcomes and experience?


Over the past week there has been a great discussion going on in LinkedIn in the Modern Healthcare discussion group based on a recent blog post in HMM. So for the benefit of everyone here are the questions I was asked, and my response.

Why do I think price is important to the healthcare consumer?

It really centers on whether or not you believe that healthcare, especially hospitals, are moving into a market that is becoming consumer-centric and dominated. Now dominated in our sense is that the healthcare consumer is becoming more actively involved in the treatment decision making process, and the price/cost side through a variety of mechanisms, whether that is higher co-pays, participating in exchanges, working for an employer that has moved to defend contribution and telling them to figure it out, etc. In the end it results in a greater awareness of the choices they make because it hits them in the pocket.

Some people will pay a higher price because they believe that higher price means higher quality. Other will not, and some will fall in-between depending on that needs to be done within their own value system and financial state.

Can experience and outcomes trump price as market drivers?

I would generally agree that experience and outcomes have the potential to trump price, but only in an environment where the experience and outcomes are understood by the healthcare consumer. Hospitals overall, not all mind you, but overall, haven’t defined and executed on a consistent experience, and haven’t communicated meaningful information on outcomes. So until some takes the lead in their market and takes those steps, it will be difficult for experience and outcomes to trump price. Silence in this case is deadly. Once a hospital takes that position in the market, and we all know that sooner or later a hospital will in a competitive market, and then the others will be at an extreme disadvantage to some healthcare consumer segments in the market.

Quality is not an issue here. For years we have been telling everyone that we have high quality as providers. The problem with that message is that it is undifferentiated in the market, hence the public’s perception that all hospitals are of equal quality. So in the absence of true outcomes of quality data, price and out-of-pocket expense becomes the market equalizer.

We cannot define quality as an award logo from a third-party organization which is another common practice. With no context to set the content in, it is meaningless to the healthcare consumer, especially when a hospital or health system uses it, and then loses it, and continues to say and use it from a previous time period. I mean really, did anyone ever think maybe the healthcare consumer would ask why don’t you have that quality award this year? Quality award logos on ads and materials causes more harm than good if there is no context or content around the award.

Are hospitals hiring marketing talent other healthcare industries?

On the issue of marketing talent in hospitals, I find anecdotally from those in pharma, med device and other health channels that have moved to the hospital marketing side, find it extremely difficult and frustrating to work in marketing in hospitals. More often than not these individuals have a great deal of experience, talent and a level of understanding of marketing, and executing on the marketing vision that few hospitals possess at any level of the organization. Many hospitals in their search still look for marketing talent focused on purely hospital marketing experience. Except in rare cases, that results in a continuation of bad marketing practice and reinforces the “make things look pretty notion” of marketing in some hospitals.

Unless hospitals start to figure out what they don’t know about marketing in a consumer-centric environment, and there is a lot they don’t know or have the experience having never worked in that type of environment, they are in for some real shocks beyond what they are already experiencing. In the end they need these marketers from other healthcare segments that can lead and guide marketing change. Only hospitals can recognize and can make that change before it’s too late.

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. These views are my own. 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.

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