Sunday, February 18, 2018

Eight Critical Marketing Strategies Needed for Hospitals to Remain Independent.

Dateline Anywhere USA. Hospital anywhere closed today after serving the community for 80 years. Beset by changes in reimbursement, competition from retail medicine, telehealth, innovation and an empowered healthcare consumer, hospital leadership and Board of Directors could not adapt to the new healthcare market.  Hundreds of employees lost jobs as hospital leadership blamed declining reimbursement and utilization.…, as reported in the local paper.

Is that the headline of a story written each day in papers around the country fueled by provider leadership? It’s a scary thought, and unfortunately, a story that written all too often. From a marketing perspective, it’s not entirely avoidable but could be. 

In the end, the inability to adapt quickly enough and meet the needs of the healthcare consumer and patient utilizing less costly treatment alternatives and innovative services that meet their needs along the dimensions of price, outcomes, engagement, and experience will write that story.

Blaming declining reimbursements as the sole contributor to the closure of a hospital would be a mistake. An important contributor as the leadership could not adapt or guide the healthcare enterprise through the transition to a quality-based reimbursement system, yes.  But not the sole reason as some may have you believe.

Unless the healthcare enterprise is the sole community provider, there are always alternatives. If leadership is being honest, this is a new reality for many.

What to do.

This blog post isn’t about P4P, capitation, risk-sharing, ACOs, quality payments or any other of the myriad of reimbursement models in operational practice.  What we are discussing is what providers can do from a marketing standpoint to mitigate the risk of that headline becoming a reality.

Marketing is an asset and not just there to make things look pretty.

Survival in today’s environment requires focus beyond readmissions, patient safety improvements, elimination of preventable deaths, cost reductions, quality improvements, etc.  All very important business critical mandates as well as the cost of doing business in today’s healthcare world. While doing all of that you still have to find ways to grow.

Eight steps to growth along the four dimensions of price, outcomes, engagement, and experience

1.       Become the customer-focused organization for real and not in thought or a grand stagey on paper.
It’s about your focus on the healthcare consumer and patient, not the hospitals. It’s an external market focus compared to an internal focus. It’s about becoming the healthcare consumer/patient-focused hospital. And saying that the healthcare enterprise has a customer-centric focus, doesn’t make it so.  Measure the healthcare enterprise against the 20 MAKKOR scale attributes of a customer-focused organization.  Then and only then will one know what the improvement steps needed for the journey.

2.       Evaluate the healthcare enterprise brand and competitive position.
Consumers and patients are ready for transparency and convenient technology-enabled access to care. Healthcare providers that can identify meeting these needs and how they want their healthcare needs meet though technology focused on them will gain new patients and the next-generation of physicians. 

3.       Engage healthcare customers and patients all the time.
An individual is only a patient 1/3rd of the time they encounter you.  That is the diagnosis, treatment and recovery phase.  Pre and post this experience; they are a healthcare consumer, not a patient.  So why then is it the only time one chooses to meaningfully engage them is during the period when they are a patient?   Engaging the healthcare consumer on a continuous basis builds loyalty and importantly keeps them in the network, which has some significant financial ramifications in a risk-based reimbursement model.

4.       Engage the physicians.
No matter the payment models, the hospital or health system still needs a physician or physician extender’s order to get anything done in a healthcare setting. That means engaging physicians in meaningful ways, using the methods, technology, and systems that will make their life easier, improve their productivity and protect or increase their income. An effective and efficient physician has more to do with the impact of cost and quality in the hospital than any other factor.

5.       Improve the physician experience.
How hard is it for a physician or physician extender to practice medicine in your organization?  Have you looked at the hassle factor that physician’s encounter when they try to get things done in the hospital setting?  Understand how the physician experiences your organization at every touch-point they encounter the hospital. Understand their experiences overall from beginning to end, not just in an isolated segment. Fix what’s broken, keep what is working. The more satisfying the experience, the better you will do financially.

6.        Make the healthcare consumer/patient experience memorable.
A healthcare provider's ability to deliver an experience that sets it apart in the eyes of its patients and potential patients from its competitors - traditional and non-traditional - serves to increase their loyalty to the brand. One needs to actively manage the customer experience in totality by understanding the customer's point of view.  That is, all touch points internally and externally that a customer/patient meets which in turn creates the experience. Exceptional experience means gains in market share, brand awareness, and revenue.

7.       Embrace and join the retail healthcare movement.
Traditional ways of delivering healthcare will go by the wayside in many cases.  Price convenience, access, and outcomes are the drivers in retail healthcare.  Find the need, understand the consumer’s behavior drivers, design offering around the consumer, not the hospital in a convenient location and price it appropriately. If you can't compete in this way market position, share and revenue will erode

8.       Social media is the currency for reaching audiences.
Turn to social media and networks to engage, manage the experience and drive adherence. As healthcare continues the evolution of a healthcare consumer dominated retail environment, social networking is a healthcare marketing channel that is underutilized and underperforms today but holds great potential to improve engagement, experience, and adherence.

All of this takes organizational change, leadership, vision and meaningful action. An individual only needs the hospital for three things, emergency care, intensive care, and care for acute complex medical conditions. Meet the healthcare consumer on their terms or see you on the ash heap of forgotten history.

Choose carefully.

Michael is a healthcare business, marketing, communications strategist and thought-leader.  As an internationally followed healthcare strategy blogger, his blog, Healthcare Marketing Matters receives over 20,000 page views a month and read in 52 countries.  He is a Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives, Professional Certified Marketer, American Marketing Association.  Post opinions are my own. As an expert in digital marketing & social media with a Klout score of 64, that places me in the top 10 percent of social media experts nationwide. Michael is a micro-influencer. 

For more topics and thought leading discussions like this, join his group, Healthcare Marketing Leaders For Change, a LinkedIn Professional Group. 

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