Sunday, March 11, 2018

Healthcare Consumer Buyers vs. Hospital Sellers, Seven Actions for Hospital Marketers in a Buyers’ Market

Healthcare consumerism is no longer an “it will happen someday,” but a market reality. And signs are apparent that market power has shifted from the hospitals as the dominant seller controlling the relationship, to the healthcare consumer as the dominant buyer.  Little has been written regarding this quite shift in the market, but it does add a layer of complexity to the task at hand for hospital marketers.

It’s no longer about the seller but the buyer.

In this kind of environment, the buyer is king and queen. It now comes down to brand, price, quality, experience, and engagement.  Why, because all hospitals and health systems are the same. And you all brought this lack of market differentiation upon yourself with your cutesy, touchy-feely marketing and not providing meaningful proof points on why you. I am still amazed on the number of ways “we care about you” is said today, even considering the publicly available data that states otherwise.

The question needing to be answered is, what value does hospital or health system bring to physicians, consumers, and patients? That is the question at hand. And in a buyers’ market, it’s the only question you can answer successfully. A buyers’ market in many ways is about accountability to the consumers of your offerings regardless of the segment they may live.

To respond appropriately to a buyers’ market, hospital marketers need to change their approach and techniques dramatically.

Moving forward with seven ways to respond to a buyer’s market

1.  Brand and competitive position.
Consumers and patients are ready for transparency and convenient technology-enabled access to care. Healthcare providers that are capable of identifying meeting these needs and how they want their healthcare needs met through technology focused on them will gain new patients and the next-generation of physicians. 

2. Engage existing customers and patients.
An individual is only a patient 1/3rd of the time they come in contact with you.  That is during 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 pretty significant financial ramifications in a risk-based reimbursement model.

3. Engage the physicians.
No matter the payment model 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.

4. 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 is broken, keep what is working. The more satisfying the experience, the better you will do financially.

5. Focus on the consumer/patient experience.
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 comes in contact with which in turn creates the experience. Exceptional experience means gains in market share, brand awareness, and revenue.

6. Embrace retail healthcare.
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 and name it correctly. If you can't compete in the market in this way, the last one out can turn off the lights.

7. It’s an omnichannel world.
With the healthcare consumer living in an omnichannel world, turn to social media and influencer networks to engage, manage the experience, drive loyalty and referrals.  As healthcare continues the evolution to a healthcare consumer dominated the semi-retail environment, social networking is a healthcare marketing channel that is underutilized and underperforms today and holds great potential. But, that takes healthcare marketing leadership, executive vision, and meaningful action.

Seven steps for hospitals to achieve market and revenue growth in the new buyers’ market. Not an impossible task, but one that does require focus and a willingness to break from the past.

Michael is a healthcare business, marketing, communications strategist and thought-leader.  As an internationally followed healthcare strategy blogger, his blog, Healthcare Marketing Matters is read in  52 countries and listed on the 100 Top Healthcare Marketing Blogs, and Websites ranked at No. 3 on the list by Michael is a Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives, Professional Certified Marketer, American Marketing Association. As an expert in digital marketing & social media with a Klout score of 64, Michael is in the top 10 percent of social media experts nationwide.  Michael is an established influencer and inquires for strategic consulting engagements can be sent to Opinions expressed are my own.

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