Healthy Observations: The Journey To Diagnosing An Illness
It's funny how you can go about living your daily life then one day you wake up and things are different. You feel different. Whether it's an ache in your back, your heart starts beating like it's on overdrive or maybe you spend a good part of your day in the bathroom, dealing with your health is one of those things people would rather not do. So they put it off for as long as they possibly can, until one day things get bad and that usually motivates them to deal with their health and to begin their journey to finding out what's actually wrong with them.
There are many ways to define this journey. It can be a state of mind, or a physical journey or the combination of both. What's interesting is that it's very individual to the person at the time even though there is a universal experience for most.
The journey typically begins like this you begin with feeling out of sorts so you go online and "Google" your symptoms you search on WebMD and ask your friends on babycenter.com you might even check your desktop medical encyclopedia at home and then self-diagnose. But when you aren't feeling any better after a couple of weeks, you realize that maybe you aren't the expert so you call and make an appointment with your doctor. The time from knowing something is wrong to making an appointment varies, but inevitably it's too long. You see your primary care physician and they aren't capable of making the diagnosis so they refer you to a specialist who requests that you have a number of tests, which requires multiple appointments. At this point you still don't have an accurate diagnosis. You finally get back to the specialist after you've had multiple tests and he tells you that you have __________, but that you have time and it is treatable. Then you decide that maybe it makes sense to get a second opinion, but you are concerned because it takes more time and the journey begins all over again. So you decide with your spouse that it's best to move quickly and forgo the other opinion and you schedule the treatment. This could take a few months and you haven't even begun being treated yet.
Dealing with new information about your body and what your future looks like is an overwhelming proposition. The first step you need to take is to understand and accept what you have been diagnosed with. It's about getting the right kind of care, both physically and emotionally. And not everyone is lucky enough to have a caregiver or loved one to help navigate and advocate on behalf of them and their care. So it's important to arm oneself with information and search for the best care but also to understand that there's now a new norm for you and your life. And remember, everyone deals with their journey uniquely because it's their journey. It's important to deal with it as objectively as possible because there are many decisions to make along the way that have long-term implications.
Let's think about strategies along the journey
When does a product become a brand? Is a brand just a collection of images, product attributes, and messages...or is it an embodiment of the value the product brings to the customer's journey? Clearly, healthcare marketing has unique and complex challenges in developing a platform that goes beyond a set of product claims. For starters, the term "healthcare marketing" is a bit of an oxymoron. If marketing is about redefining needs, healthcare marketing is about redefining solutions. In the business of healthcare marketing, the greatest challenge is to align the greater good with driving product sales. Whether patient or physician, we're attempting to map an optimal solution to a desperate need-one that might save someone's life and at an acceptable cost. So where do we begin? With education? Highlighting product attributes? Lifestyle affinity-based targeting? Yes-to all of the above and more. We begin with the customer, their journey, and their needs. If a brand is to be bigger than the product and inspire a sense of trust and loyalty, then a brand must engage with a customer long before it sells the product. The brand's ability to engage with the customer along the journey through a unified marketing platform that educates and supports decision making, connects to specific needs, and highlights the solution is the very essence of customer centricity. And there is perhaps no better industry to embrace this edict than healthcare marketing, where solving the customer need and building a product platform must hold equal sway.
Intelligence along the journey to diagnosis
How can marketers track the way patients conduct their journey to diagnosis? First, develop an experience map of the possible pathways, including web searches, articles read, advocacy groups consulted, tools downloaded, and interactions with professionals. There will be thousands of combinations, but these can be shown in aggregate. That is the baseline.
Usually, marketers want to modify or improve these experiences, and accelerate the path to correct diagnosis with the right physician. So, we insert some additional links, search results, and content sources along the baseline pathway to steer segments of patients and caregivers in the right direction.
The differences can be seen by well-placed measurements via web analytics tools at the appropriate websites, or call center transaction analyses. It is important to do operational planning ahead of time, coding and tagging the referral sources. Once all elements are in place, it is about piecing together the probabilities on a large graphical network, and measuring the percentages at each step. By tracking how those percentages change over time, you can know how the consumer experience paths are changing from before to after.
In addition to the sequence and path analysis, ask some questions via surveys of consumers at each step, and for each expected segment: How did you learn about this condition? How did you reach this advocacy group? What healthcare professionals have you seen? The answers will give you further insights into the pathway.
Finally, marketers shouldn't just get lost in a sea of numbers. Develop a written measurement plan, discuss it internally, and ensure consensus between agencies and clients. With your plan, you can explicitly determine which data sources and trends will verify or challenge your hypotheses and that your in-market tactics at points of engagement are indeed improving condition awareness and accelerating the patient's journey along the path to diagnosis.