Consumerism and the importance of brand in the patient journey

October 21, 2021 | WebMD Professional

The current healthcare industry operates increasingly like a retail market, shaped by growing consumerism. Health systems that have historically told patients where to go and whom to see for care—with patients following their orders—are realizing that today’s patient has much more power in defining the care experience.

The onus is on the health system to show it recognizes this shift in power. And as there are more care choices available than ever before, now’s the time to demonstrate your brand’s strength and its tangible differentiation from your competitors.

How? TV and billboards just don’t cut it anymore in today’s digital age when it comes to gaining and retaining patients. That’s putting pressure on health systems to adopt more consumer-focused, digital-driven engagement strategies that position their brand as one that delivers healthcare “best practices” like what consumers prefer and expect from Amazon, Netflix, and other retailers. Those health systems that create an appropriate brand strategy position themselves to capture a larger share of the market.

While traditional marketing strategies approach patient acquisition similarly to modern consumerism—in which the goal is to build a preference for the health system brand while consumers (or patients) are in-market for healthcare—new healthcare consumerism caters heavily to the patient experience. As new, innovative, nontraditional players enter the health and wellness space, care is delivered outside the four walls of the hospital—forcing health systems to evolve their approach to reach modern patients or risk losing the market share.

Digital engagement channels along the patient care journey

Understanding consumer preferences—and choosing which of today’s digital tools and platforms can best meet them—is more important than ever. And it goes way beyond understanding. It requires that you establish your marketing technology to enable you to use everything you know about the patient’s unique attitudes and behaviors to personalize their experience. You can then drive the type and level of digital engagement needed to activate these patients along their health journey.

Digital health trends have led patients to be more engaged in their care. Empowered by wearables like fitness trackers and smartwatches, patients can be more proactive and informed in managing their health. Wearable technology is part of an emerging transformation toward strengthening telehealth and virtual visits, as these wireless communication devices can monitor a patient’s biological data and deliver to care providers in real time.

Comprehensive patient education that’s structured to be shared on your digital channels can improve patient’s perception of your brand by starting conversations in new ways, motivating them to better adhere to their treatment plans, and ultimately feel more activated in their health.

Increased consumer focus on preventive health

Given the new levels of access and popularity of health-related digital resources, consumer attitudes toward healthcare have shifted from “sick”-oriented medicine to preventive medicine. Today’s patients are more focused on staying well—as demonstrated by the global market for preventive healthcare technologies and services that’s predicted to reach $287 billion by 2027.1 It’s expanding at a CAGR of 9.7% over the forecast period, driven by government initiatives and support, coupled with growing public awareness.1

With an eye on consumerism, health and wellness products (whether apps, supplements, or services) are flooding the market; the key is to frame these “products” as an experience contributing to a specific kind of lifestyle. healthcare systems that are attempting to attract new patients should, as a strategy, tap into this trend and position themselves in the health and wellness space as facilitators of a patient experience that’s embracing preventive care and healthy living. That means building care plans and delivery around these products, ensuring internal systems are configured to maximize data received from digital health tools.

That includes reaching patients with chronic disease who may have depended on telemedicine and digital tools as a lifeline during COVID-19. These patients need consistent engagement and continuous support. Providing such resources must be remote, seamless, friction-free, and well-connected. To improve healthcare delivery through innovation, health systems must: (1) ensure and optimize patient use, engagement, and motivation to adhere to treatment regimens and (2) address provider and system-level barriers to care and mitigate effects of social determinants of health.2 The use of digital health, patient-generated health data devices, and telemedicine can support a more preventive-focused view of health and revolutionizes how the industry evaluates, treats, and manages patients following the pandemic.2

Patient-centric, digital-first strategies

Investing in self-service tools and mobile app development is a critical part of any digital strategy and key to attracting new patients. But apps and patient portals alone aren’t always enough—especially when they’re underutilized. Consider that 90% of medical organizations have adopted patient portals, yet 63% of U.S. adults still aren’t using them.3

healthcare systems can leverage more convenient digital solutions to help drive patients to portals and other self-service tools and maximize their usage. Artificial intelligence (AI) can enable chatbots and predictive technologies to provide personalized healthcare and promote adherence to care plans. This means integrating digital platforms into electronic health record (EHR) systems and workflows.

Not only does a digital-first strategy provide patients access to apps and resources to support them along their health journey, but it helps facilitate communication and coordinate care with providers. Patient-centric messaging that’s straightforward, bite-sized, and uses their language vs. medical or marketing jargon goes a long way to make patients feel cared for and heard. It positions the healthcare company as approachable and trustworthy, elevating its brand in the market space.

Brand marketing strategies for healthcare systems

Establish brand trust

Brand positioning in healthcare is more important than ever. Today’s average healthcare consumer is always looking for information online. 80% of U.S. adults say they’ve used the internet to make a healthcare decision and 63% will choose one provider over another because of a strong online presence.4 But patients are also savvy in their health searches. They don’t automatically trust search results. They consult reviews and ratings and are further influenced by the brand you showcase on your website, social media, and other digital channels. Make sure your digital strategies reflect healthcare consumerism trends and establish your brand as trustworthy and well-reviewed.

Create relatable approaches to SEO

New approaches to SEO are much more conversational. Driven in part by the immense popularity of smart speakers and digital voice assistants, search terms are being replaced by search phrases. Your online messaging should consider what phrases or questions patients use to find you and incorporate these into your online content.

Centering SEO efforts around this kind of thinking creates an opportunity for you to be more relatable and human. It’s an approach to building a healthcare brand that corresponds directly to the information patients are seeking and encourages them to choose your organization over another.

To maximize your reach, make sure your brand is consistent and recognizable on all major digital platforms and online channels. This ensures that consumers will find your organization in all the places they visit online. And when they do, make it easy for them to schedule a provider appointment with your health system using tools like Care Finder Direct.

Map consumer engagement touchpoints along the patient journey

Enhanced data capture capabilities can help your organization paint a fuller picture of patient engagement, creating an evolving view of the different patient personas you encounter across different channels. Mapping data—and tapping into various partnerships with third parties as new sources of consumer data—can strengthen your view of the customers in your market.

Partnering with consumer tech and digital health-focused innovators can provide deep insights into what motivates and engages consumers, helping you better understand your customers by uncovering both pain points and opportunities to improve the patient experience.

Leverage technology to personalize the patient experience

Data and user analytics are key to building a better patient experience. Your organization should leverage predictive technologies and AI to recommend the best next action at each stage of the patient’s journey. This also improves the clinician experience by simplifying clinical workflows while providing more personalized care and better outcomes.

Taking a cue from modern consumerism, customer segmentation is a strategy to target individual consumers using deeply personalized messaging. Applied to the healthcare sector, segmentation may be used to personalize and target distribution channels based on unique patient experiences.5 This helps health systems identify where to focus efforts for new patient growth and which markets have the most growth potential.

Benefits of a consumer-centric approach to health systems and health plans

For health systems, this helps establish brand loyalty and recognition. A shift to value-based care—with payments often tied to the measure of patient experience—means that appealing to consumers is a strategy that can also improve care delivery. This translates to brand loyalty and gains in market share.

For health plans, staying competitive means delivering a seamless, personalized, and secure experience that exceeds member expectations. Those plans transforming their business from managing enrollment and pooling risk to caring for members’ health and well-being for a lifetime—with superior, holistic experiences featuring personalized care delivered through digital transformation6—typically gain and retain more members.

The growth of ACA Exchanges/Medicare Advantage has further led health plans to shift to more consumer-focused approaches in which efforts to reduce costs and improve patient health have introduced incentives for better self-management skills (particularly for chronic conditions), better-coordinated care across the entire care continuum, and greater personalization of care.7

 

References

1 Global preventive healthcare market $287 billion by 2027. iHealthcare Analyst [news release]. March 16, 2021. https://www.ihealthcareanalyst.com/government-initiatives-public-awareness-propel-preventive-health-care-technologies-services-market/#:~:text=The%20global%20market%20for%20preventive,coupled%20with%20growing%20public%20awareness. Accessed August 25, 2021.

2 Seixas A, Olaye I, Wall S, Dunn P. Optimizing healthcare through digital health and wellness solutions to meet the needs of patients with chronic disease during the COVID-19 era. Frontiers in Public Health. July 12, 2021. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2021.667654/full. Accessed August 26, 2021.
3 Bryant M. Patient portals still largely unused, Health Affairs finds. Healthcare Dive. December 5, 2018. https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/patient-portals-still-largely-unused-health-affairs-finds/543616. Accessed August 26, 2021.

Roesler P. New research shows why doctors need a strong online presence. Inc. https://www.inc.com/peter-roesler/new-research-shows-why-doctors-need-a-strong-online-presence.html. May 21, 2018. Accessed August 26, 2021.

5 Read L, Korenda L, Korba C. Attrack, engage, and build loyalty: How actionable segmentation can provide valuable insights about your healthcare customers. Deloitte Insights Web site. March 18, 2021. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/health-care/patient-consumerism-health-care-engagement.html. Accessed June 9, 2021.

6 Preston B, Joseph J, Kaye M, Elsner N. Future-proofing the business. Deloitte Insights. May 20, 2021. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/health-care/transforming-the-health-plan-experience-with-technology.html. Accessed August 26, 2021.

7 Changing patterns of health insurance and healthcare delivery. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. March 1, 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK500098. Accessed June 11, 2021.