How to Tell if Healthcare Consumerism Will Help or Hurt You

It’s no secret that people are increasingly impatient with traditional norms of healthcare. Internet-empowered consumers are taking charge, disrupting the health provider space just as thoroughly as they have upended the retail, hotel and taxi industries, to name just a few. The healthcare industry, however, is complex and changes require a wide-spectrum of considerations. If tradition, or simple uncertainty, is keeping your organization from adapting to this new reality, it’s past time to get clear on what you’re really up against – and what you can do about it.

The dilemma healthcare faces

A recent report from management consultant McKinsey sums up the challenge neatly: “Patients are treating their healthcare like a traditional consumer shopping experience. Providers must understand this and respond accordingly by accommodating consumer desires for prompt, seamless experience and digital touch points.”

Another survey – the 2017 State of Consumerism in Healthcare, from Kaufman Hall – indicates that the vast majority of health systems state that becoming “consumer-centric” is a priority. Unfortunately, only 10% are acting on that proclaimed priority by “applying and building consumer-centric capabilities.” The industry overall needs a shift in both mindset and skillsets.

The opportunity for healthcare

The traditional healthcare mindset can be summed up as “we provide, you receive.” It focuses, reasonably enough, on quality of care, excellence of the institution, and primacy of medical professionals. But the increasingly aggressive healthcare consumer isn’t focused on you, the provider; they want what they want, when and how they want it.

This disconnect is well illustrated in the above-mentioned Kaufman Hall survey. The number one consumer concern is accessibility of care, while the top provider priority is clinical outcome. The second most important concern for consumers is their personal health care experience; for providers, it’s availability of complex care and treatments.

Five questions every health care system must answer

The flip side of the current situation in the consumer-healthcare industry relationship is that each also presents an opportunity – if you step up, learn from consumers, transform your culture and get out ahead of your competitors.

How you answer the following five questions should indicate whether the trend toward consumer-dominated healthcare is a problem or an opportunity for you.

1. Do you know what your purpose is, and how it aligns with your consumers?
In a consumer-driven world, health care organizations need to think of themselves not as organizations, but as brands. And there’s a lot of buzz in the branding world about operating from a foundation of purpose. Why are you in operation? What is your promise to your stakeholders? And why does it matter to your consumers? Answer these core questions, and you’ll have a consumer-centric foundation to build upon.

2. Do you really know – and listen to – your consumers?
The most advanced technology in healthcare marketing doesn’t come with a digital dashboard; it rests on either side of your head, in your ears. Organizations that listen well, through multiple channels, to well-segmented slices of their audience, are organizations that can stay relevant to and engaged with their consumers. McKinsey counsels that health care systems need a “nuanced understanding of consumers’ needs, preferences and values,” adding, however, that “there is no average consumer” and effective market segmentation is a must.

3. Are you effectively informing all stakeholders?
Once you understand yourself and your consumers, you can better communicate – but how and when you communicate has changed, too. Formerly, patients got the bulk of their information, and formed their impressions of a provider, upon arrival at a medical office. But now, because the internet has turned every prospective patient into a medical researcher, the vetting and buying process starts well before a doctor’s appointment is scheduled. And consumers check HCAHPS scores, much as travelers check Trip Advisor recommendations. That means medical organizations have to be adept, even advanced marketers, using both traditional and digital channels to educate, inform and promote.

4. Are your patients actively engaged?
Getting healthcare consumers to buy is just the start; getting them to stay loyal is the next, and on-going, challenge. On-going loyalty requires on-going engagement, and not just related to episodic care. Face-to-face interactions must be supplemented and enhanced by digital outreach and service. Consumers can choose from 165,000 healthcare apps – so if you’re not on their smartphones, with an app of real utility, you may not be on their shortlist of providers, either.

5. Are you a just competent provider or a positive experience?
Providing good outcomes is no longer enough – consumers expect a good experience. As the American Medical Association says, “Patients are no longer willing to navigate voice prompts when trying to make an appointment; they will simply hang up and call another provider. They will also walk straight out of a waiting room if kept idle for too long. This applies to every aspect of the user experience as it’s become easier for patients to seek opportunities.” In short, consumers crave choice; you have to make sure that you’re the first choice on their lists.

It’s time to become consumed with patients as consumers, and turn their demands into your healthcare success.

McKinsey: Enabling Healthcare Consumerism
Kaufman Hall: 2017 State of Consumerism in Healthcare
AMA: 9 Consumerism Trends That Will Dominate Health Care Marketing in 2018