Six Ways to Bring Consumerism to Healthcare

August 3, 2016

As patients adopt a consumer mindset in purchasing healthcare services, healthcare organizations need to implement a consumerism strategy.

Healthcare has evolved from the days when the local doctor, corner pharmacy and neighborhood hospital were the obvious choices for care. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is disrupting traditional channels of healthcare coverage, meaning patients are faced with higher deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses, and on the hook for more of their healthcare costs. As such, obtaining healthcare coverage is now resembling a retail experience. The Healthcare Advisory Board in its 2014 report, “The Coming Retail Revolution: Insurance in Transition, Patients at Risk, and the Redefinition of American Healthcare,” predicts that the projected size of the potential healthcare retail market in 2018 will total 87 million, including 25 million public exchange; 5 million “private option Medicaid expansion (based on the number of lives falling into the “Medicaid expansion gap” in non-expansion states); 40 million on the private exchange; and 17 million on the Medicare Exchange (based on the number of Medicare Advantage enrollees).

As patients put on their consumer hats and purchase services directly, whether buying insurance on the exchange or covering first dollar costs with high deductibles, they are expecting the same level of service they would receive in other consumer-based environments. Consumers want information to make buying decisions. Providing information such as price transparency and quality measures is one way to help tackle rising healthcare costs.

Given this paradigm shift, healthcare organizations also need to evolve -or risk losing customers to competing healthcare providers or insurers offering better quality service, prices, or a perceived higher level of care. Though “Healthcare Consumerism” is relatively new to healthcare, there are principles organizations can adopt from other industries who have recognized consumerism as a discipline for decades.

Implementing a Healthcare Consumerism Strategy

To adapt to this new paradigm, healthcare organizations need to put the consumer in the middle, focus on their mindset and on segmentation, personalization, and channels, and build a consumerism strategy. Healthcare organizations can integrate a consumerism strategy by:

Understanding consumer expectations. Healthcare providers know more about their customers than any retailer.  This means customers expect their providers to deliver a personalized experience, which creates intimacy and trust, leading to loyalty. Organizations can accomplish this through targeted communications based on customer information that already exists within the organizations’ database, tailoring messages so as not to violate HIPAA regulations that prohibit protected health information for marketing purposes.

Personalizing your services. Given the increasing number of choices for consumers, personalized experiences are a differentiator that affects choice. Personalized medicine is possible at scale today because of technology and data that wasn’t available in the past. An example of how to personalize service is asking customers their reminder preferences, whether it be by text, email, mail or voice message.

Knowing your customers. Knowing what motivates your customers, what products and services would be of value to them, how they buy, and through which channels. Are customers most concerned with price? Quality? Range of services? Ease of access?

Understanding the competition and how to build brand awareness and loyalty. Loyalty in healthcare is getting increasing attention as healthcare organizations compete for the same patients and/or want to maintain the populations they are accountable for based on new value-based payment arrangements. Healthcare providers need to think and act more like traditional marketers, meaning your organization must build its own brand awareness and create programs that build patient loyalty.

Segmenting customers. Providers are grouping customers by segments including healthy, urgent care, chronic disease, and multiple-chronic disease. Health plans are segmenting by individual, group, small group, and young invincible, and each are targeting marketing and communications, and tailoring services aimed at each specific segment.

Integrating technology and tools into your operations. Technology will accelerate increased access, delivery and personalization of healthcare. Be sure to consider how your customers will engage in two-way communication about their healthcare and choices, and how your organization will leverage technology such as web portals to help customer find information and make decisions. Leverage social media to help customers find the doctor or specialist they need (for example, many patients are finding recommendations for physicians through Facebook), and implement strategies as to how your organization will help influence those recommendations to reach those consumers. Also look at the latest medical delivery platforms such as telehealth and mHealth applications, which are growing in popularity with many consumers.

As healthcare evolves, providers and payers alike need to re-evaluate how they acquire, engage and retain customers. As patients’ expectations for healthcare shift toward a more consumer centric model, traditional healthcare will need to shift as well to provide more streamlined access and delivery of care to their customers.

Susan Kanvik is a Healthcare Senior Director for Point B, a Management Consulting Firm. Susan has a 30 year plus track record in healthcare-specializing in healthcare informatics and health promotion programs. She has helped numerous healthcare organizations with a wide-breadth of clinical information system selections and implementations, process redesign efforts and has filled interim leadership roles.