Healthcare Consumerism: Implications For The New Normal

If you’re a healthcare marketing executive, continuing to read on about the trend of “healthcare consumerism” or the “new age of consumerism” has to be getting old because it’s beyond an evolution towards something new or different. In the case of healthcare consumerism, it’s the new normal.

The implication of this new age of healthcare consumerism for those who steer the fate of their health system brands, hospital brands or physician practice brands is that dipping a toe into the water and tweaking how you think about and conduct business, isn’t going to suffice. Healthcare consumers are now thinking about and conducting their “elective” healthcare business similar to how they shop other consumer goods categories.

The shift in how patients behave, what they demand from healthcare services and how they demand to engage with healthcare providers across each stage of care (from pre-care, to care delivery, to post [ongoing] care) calls for thinking in bolder, non-traditional ways. Similar to other industries, the consumer is now at the center of the healthcare ecosystem, and their demands for transparency, convenience and personalization know no boundaries. Welcome to the new normal.

Five Examples of The Impact of Healthcare Consumerism

  1. The first example is what Business Insider Intelligence refers to as “yelpification” of healthcare. Patients now flock to online review sites (similar to retail and hospitality) to express their opinions and inform the decisions of others on where to seek care. This leaves healthcare brands with no alternative than to right the ship or risk losing even more patient volume. According to Binary Fountain, 70% of US healthcare consumers say online ratings sites have influenced their decision to select a physician. And 81% of patients will read reviews about a provider occasionally, frequently, or always — even after they’ve been referred.
  2. U.S. patients are using the internet or mobile apps to comparison shop for healthcare services similar to how they shop for consumer goods. More than one-third of healthcare consumers did this in the past year, compared to just 14% in 2012. This is just 8% below those comparison shopping for computers/cameras/electronics, but higher than the percentage of people who comparison shop vacation packages and car purchases.percentage of consumers comparison shopping for healthcare services
  3. Given that healthcare costs are top of mind for US consumers (more so than for retirement, higher education, housing or child care according to a 2018 Ipsos survey), patients want providers to be transparent about prices prior to appointments. The vast majority (91%) of US consumers want pricing information from providers in advance of care, according to a 2018 Accenture healthcare survey.
  4. Following the trends in retail, patients are skipping traditional hospital departments in favor of services that offer speed and convenience. According to a 2018 study published in JAMA, between 2008 and 2015, visits to the emergency department for low-acuity conditions increased 36%, while retail clinic utilization jumped 214%.
  5. Per Doctor.com, consumers are willing to leave providers who don’t offer ongoing engagement after an appointment. 62% of consumers say good communication and continuous engagement influence their level of loyalty.

Healthcare Consumerism Solutions for Brand Teams

There are only so many moves a healthcare marketing team can make in isolation to impact patient preferences (for transparency,  convenience and personalization) and behaviors. But here are five solutions healthcare brand teams can implement right away to maintain relevance and impact patient volume.

  1. Help other teams inside the organization to view the world from a wider-lens consumer perspective. Everyone inside your healthcare organization — whether health system, hospital or medical practice — is exposed to a multitude of empowering outreach communications from other industries like automotive, fashion, hospitality and retail, to name a few. They’re also reading about tech-focused healthcare startups, like One Medical and 98point6, and feeling the effects of retail outlets like Target, Walmart and CVS, offering patients on-demand access to healthcare providers via mobile apps and convenient locations to receive healthcare services. This is the context in which you’re competing for mind space. To ensure your survival, traditional providers must look to outside industry practices to understand how transparency, access, and ongoing engagement is being delivered to patients whose expectations are not compartmentalized by industry.As the consumer ally inside your organization, you need to help fellow teams to see possibilities in new ways.  Examining the currents of change from the customer’s perspective and seeing where new value can be created. Empowering team members to believe they have an opportunity to create new value and creating the urgency to do so. Then thinking about the change required to make that possible and rallying your talent to act as one team to prototype and turn innovation into reality.
  2. Consider creating “branded signature moments.” What are the moments true to your brand, cherished by your audiences and distinguished from competitors (from pre-care, to care delivery, to post [ongoing] care) — that can act as an ambassador of your brand. Take Virgin Atlantic for example. They have sprinkled their consumer journey with a series of remarkable ‘service signatures.’ From lounge spas, mood lighting and massages on board, Virgin has ‘baked’ the brand into every aspect of its service design so well and so immersively that no one has been able to copy them.
  3. Leverage your distinctiveness. According to How Brands Grow author Byron Sharp, we need to quickly establish a brand within consumers’ minds – and being distinctive helps make a brand salient. Global market research and consulting firm Ipsos states…Brands exist in people’s minds as an associate network acting as a mental shortcut. Distinctiveness is the shortest route to your brand. Differentiation (which may be temporary) is good. Distinctiveness (which is ownable forever) is great. And it’s also in your control. So be sure to leverage to the fullest extent possible what’s uniquely yours. And if it’s not, make it so.
  4. Brand Alignment Across Touchpoints. Brand consistency is a growing challenge today. Not only given the number of “media” touchpoints, but given your likely expanding pre-acute and post-acute continuum of care (e.g. urgent care, infusion centers, ambulatory surgery centers, behavioral, rehab) and your growing number of health system or hospital partners. However, achieving and maintaining alignment—presenting a consistent look, message, emotion, and experience across all consumer touchpoints and across all your facilities and service lines—not only creates attraction and belief, but maximizes the value of your marketing budget.
  5. Ongoing Engagement. Look to direct-to-consumer brands like Lululemon, Harry’s, Soul Cycle, Peloton, and others. Their engagement doesn’t end with the transaction, be it a sale or a class. Rather, their relationship is just that — a relationship. Providers should use digital tools to increase their engagement with patients outside of the clinic setting to create a continuous care journey. For example, according to a 2018 Accenture survey of 2,000+ adults, he majority of patients would use virtual resources to attend an online class about a specific health condition (71%, schedule a follow-up appointment (65%), and discuss a health concern with a doctor (62%).
    patient engagement

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Since 1999, Trajectory has shaped and guided the trajectory of healthcare brands and businesses — combining deep experience with new ways of looking at client challenges and opportunities. Reach out for a conversation if you need strategic guidance and new creative thinking to better compete in today’s healthcare marketplace.

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Eric Brody

Eric Brody is President of Trajectory, launched in 1999, the specialist health & wellness branding and marketing agency using every moment to move customers, brands and businesses upward. Prior to Trajectory, Eric served as EVP and Management Board member at Interbrand (the world’s most influential brand consultancy). Before Interbrand, he held senior marketing positions at Beiersdorf Inc. and L’Oreal and advertising account management positions at Marschalk and Benton & Bowles.He has also taught as an adjunct professor at Seton Hall’s Graduate School of Communications and has lectured at Wharton Business School and Emory Goizueta School of Business.