The New Health Care Economy: Where the consumer and digital revolutions collide

It took years for healthcare providers to accept the term “consumer” when referring to patients. In today’s healthcare economy – one that’s focused more on wellness, prevention and keeping people out of the hospital – understanding patients as consumers is critical to success. (For those of you in long-term care, this includes your residents. And for those of you in health insurance, this includes your members.) Healthcare consumerism is here to stay.

consumer healthMost healthcare communicators have already made the shift in what we say and how we say it. We’ve stopped talking at consumers and only pushing out our own messages, whether they care or not. We have done this by adopting journalistic principles, providing news they can use and information they want. We have also done this by engaging in a dialogue with consumers via social channels, and learning to go where the conversations are happening rather than expecting everyone to gather around like we’re the EF Hutton of healthcare.

It’s a good start. But it won’t be enough. When it comes to making a great patient experience, we talk a lot about anticipating the wants and needs of patients. And we should. But to “win” in the new health care economy, we must anticipate the wants and needs of consumers – before, during and after any brick-and-mortar experiences they may have with us.

As health communicators, we have two big opportunities. The first one is digital. We must be a resource to consumers when and where they need it – online 24/7. And the second is brand. We must go beyond making good first impressions to making lasting impressions that differentiate us in the minds of consumers.

    1. Engage digitally – no, really!
      A well-organized, consumer-friendly website is table stakes, yet many hospitals remain woefully inadequate on this. According to an article in Becker’s Hospital Review, many of the nation’s leading hospital brands get a failing grade when it comes to their digital footprint. But beyond that, the opportunities for digital engagement abound. Many hospitals are already experimenting with branded apps, patient portal overlays, virtual tours and hospital navigation tools. Even if your foray into digital engagement is to share some of the most relevant health apps on the market, like GoodRx.com, get started! If you’re not exploring and investing in digital connections with consumers, you’re behind. What’s more, you’re missing out on one of the most scalable and measurable ways to reach your key audience and demonstrate return on investment.
    2. Think experientially – like a patient and like a consumer.
      Every hospital is talking about patient experience, and some are even making progress. But if you want to make a lasting impression with consumers, think experientially. In healthcare, there are multiple opportunities to create signature experiences that will differentiate your brand from others. Imagine if your hospital or health system was the first one to “crack the code” on more consumer-friendly billing? Or what if you were considered the leader in seamless patient care transitions, where patients did not perceive any handoffs or feel like their story started over with every encounter in the course of their care? To identify the right signature experiences for your organization, start by thinking about managing your own health experience or that of a loved one – what do you wish were different? You could also conduct focus groups with health system employees – be sure to include direct caregivers as well as office-based employees, including registrars, nurses, patient navigators and educators, discharge planners, housekeepers, schedulers, therapists, volunteers and physicians.

With the rapid changes in technology and continued shifting of risk and cost to consumers, consumerism in healthcare will continue to be a critical factor for the foreseeable future. Connecting with consumers in meaningful ways will not only build loyalty, it will also strengthen your brand. What are you doing to engage digitally and create lasting impressions?

Photo Credit: http://arrayhealth.com/resources/blog/cadillac-tax-what-to-know-and-how-to-prepare-part-ii/

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