As we continue to accelerate towards a value-based system, healthcare marketers need to master new skills that are not traditionally considered “marketing”, in order to thrive. In a world where driving patient volume is no longer the sole measure of success, healthcare marketers need to become operations-savvy, collaborators who know how to build bridges between stakeholders inside as well as outside their organizations and understand behavioral economics so as to motivate/engage people.
Not long ago, the primary job of a hospital marketing department was to improve the image and reputation of the organization with the goal of generating new revenue. It was all about media placements, highlighting the latest rock-star physician hire, targeted ad buys and crafting the right message. And then everything got more complex.
First, came the flood of newly insured. Then there were changes to the reimbursement model that rewarded high patient satisfaction scores and penalized readmissions. That was followed by the introduction of high-deductible insurance plans. These changes helped to usher in the wave of consumerism currently washing over healthcare and pushing marketers into new areas.
Over the past few years, I have seen healthcare marketing departments champion patient safety initiatives, lead the implementation of patient engagement technologies and even participate in clinical process redesign. None of these would be considered traditional marketing functions.
A Value Based World
“It’s a whole new world,” says Priya Bathija, Vice President of The Value Initiative at the American Hospital Association (AHA). “I don’t think you can look at any of the old models and old way of doing things. Strategists and Marketers are going to have to get more deeply involved in clinical data – like average length of stay and work with operations to figure out how it can be shortened without impacting patient experience or outcomes. That’s not a traditional thing Marketers and Strategists have worked in the past.”
The Value Initiative was created by the AHA in 2017 as a single place where member hospitals could go to learn what their peers were doing to improve value – including reducing costs, improving patient experience, raising quality and minimizing staff frustration. The Initiative, managed by Bathija, is full of case studies, reports and published studies that are designed to help hospitals navigate the journey to a value-based system together.
“AHA members wanted a way to address affordability through the lens of value,” continues Bathija. “We should not just be looking at cost. We should also be looking at quality outcomes and patient experience. Our members wanted to know what everyone was doing to promote and advance value.”
A quick scan of the resources available through the Initiative shows that there are many that marketers would find helpful:
- The Connection between Strategy and Marketing Professionals and Value
- Engaging the Patient Perspective in the Value Equation
- Making Charges Transparent
- Understanding Healthcare Prices: A Consumer Guide
Consumerism Driving Change
“In Marketing we are taught that the brand IS the experience,” says Rose M. Glenn, APR, Chief Marketing Officer at Hackensack Meridian Health and incoming president of the Society for Healthcare Strategist & Market Development (SHSMD). “We are hearing from consumers that they want a vastly different experience. So Marketing has to transform with that. Consumers are saying ‘I want better care, when I want it, where I want it, how I want it and I want it to be affordable for me.’ As marketers we have to listen to our customers, take what they are saying and help operations/clinical folks develop programs and services to match customer needs.”
Glenn believes that these changing consumer needs are what is driving healthcare marketers to expand beyond their traditional areas of responsibility. It is why she herself has gotten much more involved with:
- Highlighting organizational metrics to the community as a way to promote transparency
- Leading patient experience initiatives across the system
- Promoting different ways for patients to get care – telehealth, virtual visits, home care, after-hours care, etc
- Managing physician ratings and online reviews
The last item, Pricing, is something Glenn sees as the big challenge for healthcare marketers in 2019. As more patients wrestle with high deductible plans, there will be increasing pressure to provide accurate cost estimates prior to a patient scheduling a visit.
“We as marketers will have to be aware of the impact pricing will have on the choices patients make for their care,” warns Glenn. “It’s something we need to build into our programs in 2019 and beyond.”
Mastering New Skills
According to Glenn and Bathija, healthcare marketers will need to master new skills in the years ahead in order to be effective in their roles.
First and foremost, marketers will need to become skilled collaborators and co-creators. The days of the Marketing Department operating separate from the others are over. Marketing needs to be work closely with clinicians, operations, process improvement teams, administrators and patients to co-create solutions.
“Marketing is in the unique position to understand internal as well as external needs,” explains Bathija. “They can be the bridge between what patients are asking for, what regulators are demanding and what clinicians want to offer.”
Marketers will also need to get comfortable with data. Specifically the interpretation and synthesizing of data. In order to gain buy-in for initiatives and prove ROI, Marketers will need to become familiar with clinical as well as operational data. Average length of stay, DSO and medication adherence patterns are all examples of non-traditional metrics that marketers will need to understand going forward. Why? Because they will be expected to create programs and motivate behaviors to improve them.
Improving metrics will be require Marketers to implement new tools and technologies. This in turn means that Marketers need to be tech-savvy. They will need to know how to choose the best option for their organization, discern which technologies are fads and develop plans to drive adoption by the target audience (which may be internal).
“Marketers & communications professionals really have to go back to the basics and understand what patients truly want,” explains Glenn. “They have to be able to translate those patient requirements into compelling language so that internal people are motivated to act on that information. Marketers forget that they don’t just have to craft nice emails for external consumption, they need to apply that same rigour internally as well, otherwise they risk their initiative falling to the bottom of the ever-growing pile of to-dos.”
Bottom line, successful healthcare Marketers in value-based world will need to be:
- Collaborative co-creators
- Comfortable with data
- Hyper-aware of patient needs
- Focused equally on internal and external stakeholders