To say that healthcare (and therefore healthcare marketing) is in an enormous state of flux is a cliché, for sure. That doesn’t make it untrue.
The current administration devoted much of its entire first year to getting a health reform bill passed. The Republican wave victory in the recent mid-terms will possibly lead to its overturn or more likely death by a thousand cuts over the coming years.
Let’s define health reform as the need to evolve today’s marinade of misery into something resembling an efficient, reasonably well-run industry that includes both the opportunity for profit as well as a high degree of consumer choice, downward pressure on prices and corporate competition. Irrespective of the political landscape, I contend this reform will slowly but surely emerge.
Government-driven change will surely continue to be a critical part of the mix – certainly until, and unless, the Medicare and Medicaid programs are substantially reduced under some future administration (good luck with that!). But we believe that real reform is and will increasingly be driven by other factors as well.
These ’forces of disruption” can be broadly grouped in three areas: demand-driven (consumer expectation, demographic shifts), supply-driven (technology, capital constraints, new competitors) and government (legislation, regulation and financial).
The web is proving just as powerful a player in healthcare as it is in almost every other industry sector. Why? Because it resolutely shifts knowledge from the center to the periphery, empowering individuals as it goes. Once upon a time (say 2005), people had little ability to benchmark or measure health-plan value or hospital quality. Today, this is foundational to their/our decision-making process.
In this scary new world, insurers and providers must think very differently about the end users of their products and services. These end users now have knowledge. Increasingly, they’re exercising an informed level of choice as a result. Perhaps for the first time, hospitals and insurers must objectively consider whether their products and services truly meet the needs of the people they’re supposed to serve. They must also consider how they describe and explain these products and services. Our experience is that – with a few honorable exceptions – this is not the case.
Delivering consistent patient and customer satisfaction, based on a basket of value, transparency, quality and outcome measures, will increasingly determine the success or otherwise of plans and providers alike. Embrace it or die.
Technology and science march on, oblivious to media angst and political machinations. An optimistic view of healthcare might be that 20 to 30 years from now, science will have outstripped the status quo to such an extent that we pass through some kind of health singularity and the entire existing healthcare edifice becomes obsolete overnight. Maybe. But for now, the disruptive opportunities and threats are many and need to be dealt with.
We believe that change will come faster and faster. A rolling revolution of new treatments, better forms of patient/doctor communication, more efficient surgical techniques and completely new competitors disrupting profitable service lines will appear each and every year. Marketers must make sure they’re thinking ahead, watching developments and being open-minded about what’s possible and where opportunities and threats lie.
This type of mindset will come hard to institutions that have operated in broadly the same competitive environment for decades. But those days are over. Objectivity and a willingness to exploit first-mover advantage will be increasingly important to success.
While the specifics of dealing with Washington are often a nightmare, the good news for marketers is that what government is demanding is – at least in intent – also what’s in the best interests of plans and providers: transparency, value, wellness leadership, improved information and technology delivery and so on.
The truth is that healthcare is lagging the rest of the economy in terms of how it thinks about and serves its various constituents. Government is exerting pressure on the right areas necessary for change. For example, from a consumer point of view, EMR is a no-brainer. Being able to access, control and comprehend one’s own health reality and make informed decisions based on access and choice is little different from any other retail decision-making process.
Since the dawn of time, a mystique has surrounded healthcare. The idea of the doctor as omnipotent and all-powerful served everyone’s needs for centuries when scientific knowledge was limited and nobody really knew what they were doing most of the time. That’s different today. Marketers need to understand that the role of the healthcare provider is to empower consumers and inspire them to take control of their own wellbeing. It’s still a competitive differentiator and clearly places the enterprise in alignment with what the government is trying to do.
For healthcare companies, as with sector after sector before them, success will depend on placing the consumer (the patient-customer, as we call them) firmly at the center of the enterprise. Plans and providers must shift their mindset from that of a producer to a servicer of genuine need – financial, physical and emotional. And their marketing and advertising plans must evolve accordingly.
Health reform is here to stay. Whether the current players in the industry are around for much longer is up to their leaders and marketers to determine.