Healthcare consumerism: the rise of the active healthcare explorer

If you’re a health system or hospital marketing executive, you’re already in the midst of it. You might refer to it as healthcare consumerism. We refer to it as the rise of the active healthcare explorer.

This active healthcare explorer is your former health system or hospital patient who used to be on the receiving end of a healthcare interaction, but is now at the center of the healthcare ecosystem. The healthcare consumer who is now driving the bus and has his or her choice of destinations in which to receive their episodic care and is redefining how they want to engage with providers across each stage of care. These explorers are demanding convenience, choice and transparency – from pre-care to care delivery and post (ongoing) care – and have a growing list of options to choose from.

A few examples of how this active exploration is happening include:

  • Seventy percent of US consumers say online rating sites have influenced their decision to select a physician, per Binary Fountain
  • Sixty-two percent say good communication and continuous engagement influence their level of loyalty, per Doctor.com
  • Fifty nine percent of US consumers expect their healthcare customer experience to be similar to retail

The Active Healthcare Explorer

These explorers transcend ages and each generation has its own distinct markers of healthcare exploration.

Millennials. It’s second nature for this generation to interact with industries like banking, hospitality and retail (including the likes of CVS and Walmart who are expanding their healthcare footprint) – who cater to their needs for convenience and personalized experience. Millennials will also account for the largest share of the adult population by 2019, per Pew Research. As they head into their prime spending years, handling the healthcare affairs for their aging parents and their own families, millennials represent the trifecta of immediate opportunity, buyer motivation and long-term market potential for healthcare brands.

Seniors. Are also taking health matters into their own hands. As they strive to feel better, look better and live longer, this audience isn’t waiting around to be on the receiving end of the traditional care experience. For example, seventy percent of consumers nearing Medicare age report going online to perform at least one health activity in the last year, per a 2018 Accenture report. This generation is also open to engaging with providers outside the traditional healthcare setting — as sixty seven percent are interested in transmitting personal health data to their doctors, versus 59% for millennials. There’s also the reality of seniors’ disproportionate volume contribution. While US patients age 65 and over make up only 15% of the population, they account for the largest share (34%) of healthcare spending, per recent estimates from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Brand Success in the Future Of Healthcare Consumerism Relies On The Active Healthcare Explorer

As a healthcare marketing executive, if you’re not engaging active healthcare explorers, you’re not talking to your most involved and most influential prospective healthcare customers. We’ve passed the point where these healthcare shopping consumers are on the fringe. They’re now the mainstream. And they’re looking for a seamless healthcare experience that’s convenient, personalized and transparent.

PRE-CARE

U.S. patients are using digital healthcare tools, whether 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 and electronics, but higher than the percentage of people who comparison shop vacation packages and car purchases.

percentage of consumers comparison shopping for healthcare services

Some additional statistics to consider:

  • Eighty-one percent of healthcare patients will read reviews about a provider occasionally, frequently, or always — even after they’ve been referred, per Doctor.com
  • Eighty-five percent of US adults are “very” or “somewhat” concerned about healthcare costs, greater than the cost of retirement (73%), higher education (73%), housing (66%), or child care (49%)
  • Ninety-one percent want pricing information from providers in advance of care, per a 2018 Accenture survey

Marketing Engagement Implications

Healthcare marketing teams should:

  • meet specific active healthcare explorer requirements for desktop browsers, tablets, and smartphones
  • actively monitor and respond to negative online reviews to demonstrate transparency (which is the single most important characteristic for earning consumer trust) and improve online presence
  • improve search engine optimization to increase organic awareness and attract patients from competitors
  • tailor outreach strategy and channels to the behaviors of your different demographic segments to help drive patient volume
  • post the prices of routine outpatient services online and stipulate that those prices are just estimates

CARE DELIVERY

A report from Business Intelligence cites that “long wait times and friction throughout the billing process are the main causes of patient dissatisfaction — and negative patient experiences are threatening providers’ bottom lines.”

  • Forty three percent of patients say wait times are the most frustrating part of visiting the doctor, per a 2018 report from Binary Fountain
  • One-fifth of patients report they’ve changed doctors due to long wait times, and 30% have walked out of a doctor appointment due to a long wait time, according to a 2018 Vitals survey

  • Eighty percent of patients, citing a 2018 NRC Health survey, report that they’d switch providers for “convenience factors” alone. And for these episodic needs, volume is being diverted to retail clinics (like CVS), telemedicine visits and urgent care centers — who are transparent about pricing, offer same-day appointments,  minimal wait times and convenient locations.
  • More broadly, market researcher Forrester discovered that 77% of consumers have chosen, recommended or paid more for a brand that provides a personalized service or experience.

Marketing Engagement Implications

Healthcare marketing teams should:

  • help cross-functional teams to see and think from a consumer perspective, with the goal of reducing wait times (e.g. via online scheduling platforms) and lessening the pain of the administrative experience (e.g. via mobile health apps) to boost satisfaction and retain patient volume
  • adapt the digital payment solutions consumers are accustomed to in other aspects of their lives, e.g. banking, hospitality, retail, travel, etc.
  • build-out strategic partnerships to respond to changing patient preferences, e.g. extending reach, offering more convenience, reducing the cost of care

ONGOING CARE

Per these statistics below, ongoing engagement (beyond the traditional healthcare transaction) is essential in delivering a strong customer experience.

  • Seventy percent of consumers rank good patient communication and engagement, such as follow-up or annual check-up reminders, as key to a five-star customer experience, according to a Doctor.com survey
  • Sixty-two percent of consumers say good communication and continuous engagement influence their level of loyalty, per Doctor.com
  • Along these same lines, the vast majority of consumers use technology to take greater control over their own health. Eighty-seven percent of consumers reported using at least one digital health tool in 2017 — a 7% jump from 2015 — according to a Rock Health survey of 4,000 healthcare consumers. Further, 75% of US consumers say technology is important in managing their health, according to a March 2018 Accenture report.

Marketing Engagement Implications

Healthcare marketing teams should:

  • lead their organizations to invest in ongoing messaging and communication tools to engage and retain patients
  • use digital health tools to offer them post-appointment activities online
  • leverage health-tracking devices and create apps to improve treatment adherence, improve outcomes, reduce costs and boost patient satisfaction

The Importance Of The Overall Journey

In 2016, management consulting firm McKinsey (led by principals Nicolas Maechler, Kevin Neher and Robert Park) conducted cross-industry research and found that performance on journeys is more strongly correlated with customer satisfaction than performance on touchpoints.

The firm’s clear conclusion was that “delivering a distinctive journey experience makes it more likely that customers repeat a purchase, spend more, recommend to their friends, and stay with your company. A distinctive journey experience is also more strongly correlated with business outcomes, like high revenue, repeat purchase and low customer churn.

What It All Means For Your Healthcare Brand

For healthcare marketing teams, aligning your brand behaviors to the active healthcare explorer allows you to engage the consumers who are pivotal to your organization’s future success. Viewing the entirety of the healthcare experience through their eyes —from pre-care, to care delivery and ongoing care — is the only way you can you really begin to understand how to meaningfully improve your performance and their lives. Here are five implications:

  1. Skate where the puck is going. To effectively communicate with and add value to the lives of active healthcare explorers, you need to find ways to authentically reflect their values and solve or ease their problems. The more you filter your world view through their lens, the more you understand about your audiences and the more you understand where your brand needs to go.
  2. Keep context in mind. As cited in The Contagious Commandments (a great read by the way), context is the confluence of internal and external factors that led to a consumer interacting with you in a given moment. The person’s internal context includes their personality, intent, habits and past experiences. Their external context includes: place, time, current events, and more. Today, people automatically expect the experience they receive from every brand – regardless of category – to be consistent, compelling and convenient. This is the context in which your healthcare brand is operating. While not entirely fair, it’s reality.
  3. Actions build loyalty. One-way communication efforts don’t have the power to move lives forward. They’re also easy to ignore. So build your brand, and deliver the utility, around the life people want. Once an active healthcare explorer is passionate about your brand, you increase your chances of having a brand ambassador (who pays your brand forward to others) for life.
  4. It all needs to work together. You can’t just show up and expect a customer to do the same. Similar to a professional athlete, it’s all the things that go into your performance, e.g. the preparation (pre-care), the performance (during care) and the follow-on actions (the post [ongoing] care), that show you care and keep people coming back.
  5. People still matter. In today’s environment, there’s a huge lack of trust across industries. Healthcare, with its opaque walls, is no exception. Given this, employees can be (in fact should be) the key linchpin for building your healthcare brand’s credibility and trust. Engage, equip and align them to humanize and unify your healthcare organization’s voice — a strategic imperative given consumers who are seeking out brand authenticity and will invest themselves in the right brand relationships.

See also:
Healthcare Consumerism: Implications for the New Normal

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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 engage today’s active healthcare explorer.

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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.