Monday, April 27, 2015

Are you an engaged patient or healthcare consumer?

More of a rhetorical question, the other day I was wondering with all the engagement  and experience effort underway, if I  am engaged at any level by my insurance plan or healthcare provider? Putting my marketing hat aside, and looking at the question from a patient’s viewpoint, I have to say the answer is no.

I am not engaged either as a healthcare consumer or former patient by a large IDN at any meaningful level.  I have actually had better engagement from my PBM. At least they call every 90 days to let me know it’s time to refill. It is a major challenge and obstacle that hospitals face as healthcare becomes retail and healthcare consumer driven in nature on how to engage.

Engagement is human-to-human

Let me repeat, engagement is a human-to-human undertaking. It is not a piece of disease state literature.  It is not a generic newsletter sent monthly with topics that I have no interest in. It’s a meaningful interaction that is a two-way conversation about my health status, needs and options.   A dialogue that is ongoing, not one time.

Patient engagement or really any type of engagement for that matter is a mutually beneficial conversation that is structured to meet the healthcare needs of the individual.  It can take many forms to fit the engagement style of the patient or healthcare consumer.  The implication here is that it is highly individualized.   

In marketing we call that mass customization.  That is, information that can be shared with a large population or group of people that appears in nature to the individual to be highly personalized.  But all of the engagement drives essentially the same outcome, to increase knowledge, to make better choices, to empower decision-making, to create brand loyalty and drive revenue. And that engagement effort is delivered across multiple mediums and channels that the targeted individuals desire to receive the information.

Past engagement styles and efforts do not meet today’s healthcare consumer’s needs in a retail consumer driven medical market.

This is not insurmountable, but it does take vision, commitment, resources and change. The healthcare consumer and patient lives and reacts to a world that is omni-channel in nature.  They move freely between phone, email, mobile and desktop etc., expecting the engagement and experience to be seamless and available at any time of their choosing.

For some that may be a newsletter delivered by email with a text to their cell phone informing that new information is available. Others may desire the information to be delivered as a simple text link to the information on a personalized web page. Others may prefer mobile app accessibility. Some may respond better to gamification and rewards. Still other may prefer hard copies.

And in some situations, it may be a personal phone call because the healthcare consumer or patient wants a true one-to-one engagement and experience. It could even be all of the above.  But in any event, the engagement experience is tailored to meet their needs.

So in a back to basics kind of way, it is completely customer focused and starts with how the patient, healthcare consumer or population wants to be engaged and how. Enter a lot of primary market research for the hospital to find those nuggets of information that are actionable for moving forward and engaging the healthcare consumer or patient.

Though David Ogilvy said this in relationship to the advertising industry “Advertisers who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals”, does apply today to hospitals and health systems on so many levels, and in so many ways as the market evolves into a retail medical environment.

The time between understanding and action in healthcare consumer or patient engagement is now measured in minutes, not days, months or when one gets around to it. Notoriously slow in adapting is to new technologies and trends; hospitals need to stop doing what they have always done in engagement.

Think of one's personal experience as a healthcare consumer or patient.  Are you engaged? If not then the patients in the hospital aren't either.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A neutral rating of satisfaction at best for hospitals from consumers?

To improve satisfaction the hospital needs to focus on these four areas- the employees and culture,  experience, engagement and value.  Anything less and one is wasting time, money and human resources.

By now nearly everyone has read or heard the accounts of the CMS launch of the 5 star rating on hospitals based on the HCAHPS scores for consumers.  So as to not to recap, what follows are a couple of links for the reader. One is from Healthcare Finance News  251 hospitals earn 5 stars, 101 earn 1 star, in new CMS Hospital Compare rankings (full list)Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services assigns ratings to more than 3,500 hospitals. The other is the link to the CNS website that a consumer would use, Hospital Compare.

What does it all mean from a marketing perspective?

Well, it’s not good and here is why.

The rating scale is five stars with one star being the lowest and  five stars being the best.  A three score is a neutral rating, meaning it’s neither good nor bad, just there. And for a hospital or health system brand that is the kiss of death.  No brand loyalty here and if the opportunity presents itself for the healthcare consumer to switch providers, they will.

With millions of dollars poured into new facilities and amenities like private rooms, on demand dinning, HD TVs, wireless networks, etc., hospitals and health systems thought that they could increase satisfaction levels by focusing on the hotel services.

What was forgotten is the healthcare consumer is paying attention, and they looked right past all of that and into the experience. And the experience doesn't match the claims in the marketing campaigns.  I especially like the "it’s all about you messages" then the hospital is rated a three.

It’s time for hospitals and associations to stop whining.

There are issues in some regards to the ratings, sample sizes and high satisfaction levels do not necessarily translate into higher quality care. We all get that. But even so, the general tone of the response in the stories in the major news outlets makes the associations, hospitals and health systems look like whiners, with hospitals talking about all that is wrong with the rating.  That’s right I said whining.  And living in the Chicago-land area there are a bevy of independent hospital and system hospitals that are average at best.

But the fact remains, the ratings are here and are here to stay, so get over it.

Hospitals are already being seen as the bad guy now, and this only reinforces that I really don’t care messages that those types of comments create in the mind of the healthcare consumer.

What to do?

I will keep this simple for the hospitals and health systems, satisfaction is no great mystery.  There are four things to focus:

1. Employees and culture
A hospital or health system will never have highly satisfied patients or healthcare consumers if the employees are not happy and love what they do. If the culture doesn’t support a healthcare consumer or patient focus then that message comes through loud and clear via the employees. And stating that you are customer focused or patent focused does not make it so. See “What does a customer focused hospital or healthcare enterprise look like?”,  at to learn how.

2. Healthcare consumer & patient engagement
It’s a complicated world out there for the patient and healthcare consumer, so engagement is critical to success.  That is engagement at a very personal level and focus.  Remember that an individual is only a patient one-third of the time that encounters the hospital or health system.  The other two-thirds of the time they are a healthcare consumer. Engagement should be viewed as the opportunity to create, engage, foster and nourish an enduring relationship with those individuals and families.  See “Is healthcare consumer and patient engagement all of the time the new reality?”,  at for tips and strategies to accomplish engagement.

3. Experience
There are over 145 different touch-points along eight dimensions of interaction, that a healthcare consumer and patient are exposed too that defines the experience. That is an awful lot of information used consciously and subconsciously by a healthcare consumer or patient.  The strategy and process that a healthcare provider must use, needs to be multiple in scopes, parallel to other efforts and integrated across multiple channels and touch-points in its approach.  For more information in this topic read “The healthcare consumer lives in a multi-channel environment; the response is? “, at

4. Value
In today's world, it's about value, benefit, price and convenience to the healthcare consumer. It's about the answering the healthcare consumer’s question of what is my ROI for using you?  Does the level of experience and engagement equal the price paid.  If not the experience and engagement will most likely be subpar as well.  Here comes the three rating again.  This one really has an impact on marketing and sets the stage for the engagement and experience.  In “How is healthcare consumerism changing provider marketing?”,  at  addresses why value is very important in today healthcare world.

This is not easy by any means.   These four areas touch every aspect of the hospital and health system.  And the sooner one learns to integrate and focus on the needs of the health care consumer and patient, not the hospital or health system, the sooner the ratings will improve.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Population Health Analytics Showdown: Winner Take All?

In honor of #HIMSS15 starting the week of April 12 and the “look at me” craziness of the week from all of the vendors, some more successful than others, led to the question above.

I submit for your consideration, (my apologies to Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, for the use of his opening monologue statement in setting up the episodes), that there is a whole lot of marketing confusion  in the provider market by vendors in the population health, data and analytics space.

Now that being said, I am not taking shots at anyone or stating one solution is better than the other. (Though I would love to because some are just re-sellers of another companies solution. A few are powered by a third party vendor who does all the solution and development work. Others are unable to turn a profit. Then there are those vendors who are in a constant state of turmoil with reorganizations and reductions in force annually. With still more being sold every 4 or 5 years and launching a new brand.) But be that as it may, each vendor has strengths and weaknesses. What I am looking at is a global marketing view of the space and what vendors are saying.

Are they really differentiating?

And having looked at the crowded market place, I think all are struggling to find a competitive differentiate-able marketing message that truly separates one from the other and gets the attention of senior leadership.  It’s a lot like hospitals and health systems messaging. See one hospital and you pretty much have seen them all from the messaging they use.

Everybody is buying the same data.  Everybody claims to have the most comprehensive data sets. Everybody is claiming to be a market leader.  Everybody claims to impact the workflow of the hospital or health systems everybody harmonizes the data from across the healthcare ecosystem, etc.  We’re your partner.  We measure what matters to make meaningful change.  Well, one gets the point.

Each vendor has its data scientists, algorithms, weighted variables, statistical analyses, care alerts etc.  So who do you believe beyond case studies and "client" testimonials where they exist or vendor claims, sales presentations etc?

How about this idea?

I have found as a marketing executive, that it’s a challenge sometimes to get an organization past the enchantment of and “this is the best thing since sliced bread”, we have a better mouse trap organizational thinking that clouds marketing decisions.  And given the recent predictions that the hospital market will contract by 30 percent over the next five years through liquidation and acquisition, the stakes for all of the vendors old and new are high.

The Contest

How about the population health vendors all go head-to-head in a contest? That’s right. A winner takes all contest and see who has the best population health analytics platform and systems, and how they measure up against their claims.

I could see it now, all  the population health vendors going head-to-head  with the same data sets for population health analytics problem.  All the vendors who are making the claims of being the best and the brightest in this field all go head-to- head and prove it.  And since the data would be patient specific de-identified so that no HIPPA violations occurred, and the outcome of treatment is already known, their analytic results could be weighed against actual experience.

Isn't that a novel approach?

I bet hospitals and health systems would love this contest. I also bet the population health vendors would hate it.  I know that is not that simple as described and it would take a lot of work.  But it’s an interesting thought. Kind of like Klas on steroids.

And if I were the VP of Marketing in a population health environment, I’d challenge competitors in the market very publically about going head-to-head. Yep, put the internal opinions and beliefs of the senior leadership’s, client testimonials and statements regarding the capabilities of the population health solution on display.  Put your money, systems and claims on the line to separate from and dominate the competition. You want to create fear in a competitor going against you in this space in a shrinking market, than this is how you do it.

It’s called a Blue Ocean strategy.

Game on?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Is it time for hospitals to go back to the future with earned media & public relations?

Given the extraordinary competing needs in healthcare organizations to meet the new reality of the healthcare market place  shifting from volume to value, it appears that marketing still gets the short straw resource in allocation decisions. 

In a market evolving into semi-retail, consumer-centric model, and growing public relations issues of hospitals being seen increasingly as the bad guy, because of unjustifiably high prices and lack of transparency, short changing marketing can in the long run hurt the healthcare enterprise.

But when there are constrained marketing resources to shift healthcare consumer’s attitudes, preferences and choices, what are the options? One way is through a combination of earned media and active public relations.

Make no mistake about it, combining public relations and earned media is hard. It is much more than a press release or an event. You have to develop relationships with reporters. You have to plant and cultivate story ideas. You have to respond to reporters request for more information. It takes time. It takes patience in a period of time where we are all asked on a daily basis "What did marketing do for the healthcare enterprise today?"

That’s the value in earned media and public relations. It becomes your ability to establish a powerful continuous presence by focusing the talent in your marketing operation in a channel that is complimentary to the overall effort, is very measurable and has a high ROI.

Earned media and public relations have value.

Earned media and public relations can become viral in social media because it has so many different outlets.  When a news outlet or publication carries your brand messages, it makes what you are doing seem more believable.  Once the story runs about a topic and you're the first, it's much harder for your competitors to get out there with the same message.  Earned media and PR is a powerful way to differentiate which also has a considerable number of uses in social media.

There is a bigger payoff too.

Every organization will experience a communications crisis. Taking the time to develop positive relationships with reporters, blog writers, broadcast media and others has a big payoff in a media driven crisis. The development and cultivation of a relationship with media doesn't mean that the story won't run. But what it can mean is the difference between a story that is balanced and fairly reported, versus a story that is one-sided against you.  As we all know, negative news about travels farther and faster than positive news, which does more harm than good over the long haul.

So, maybe it's time to rethink in an era of declining healthcare marketing resources and traditional marketing activities, to changing your markets with earned media and public relations again. Especially as hospitals are being increasingly seen the bad guy in healthcare along with insurers and pharma.

What’s old is new.