It’s interesting the term “provider” is still commonly used in the modern healthcare environment. Being a provider suggests that the healthcare industry plays a one-way role of supplying care and knowledge to patients. And that would imply the patient is relegated to a role as the receiver of that care. Period.
But in today’s empowered reality, everyone plays an increasingly active and influential role in all aspects of life—from shopping to socializing to, yes, making healthcare decisions. Instant access to boundless information, expert opinion and peer perspectives have enabled that. No longer reliant upon experts-in-offices as their only source for trusted medical guidance, people ask questions, build their own knowledge, seek multiple opinions and weigh their options. Lots of options. Just consider the latest unconventional healthcare offerings in retail settings and virtual spaces. Healthcare consumers are behind the wheel and at the controls. They still need you; they just want to engage you differently.
Astute health systems get it. They recognize how success today hinges on the nuances of human behavior that drive preference and action. Prescribing is no longer the ticket; meaningful interaction is. Establishing relationships and becoming part of daily conversations, especially online, are now essential. Healthcare systems that have embraced this new reality haven’t compromised their value as a provider of clinical care, not in the least. They have expanded their role to serve the community in ways never considered in the traditional model. They’ve become partners to their patients.
Here are three things you can do right now to make that critical transition from provider to partner:
1. Make it about them.
As competition heats up and margins cool off, it’s tempting to beat the marketing drum faster and louder. But here’s an important truth: success today is less about telling people about you and more about showing how well you understand them. At the Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development 2015 Conference, Penn Medicine shared how they have shifted their marketing mindset away from thrusting self-serving messages to, instead, empowering their target audience with tools to help them learn more about health conditions and explore options at their own pace and on their own terms. They consider the entire patient journey and interact as appropriate at each stage, offering support and nurturing early on and adding detail and stronger calls-to-action farther along. Penn Medicine established true give-and-take interaction and is increasingly engaged as a trusted resource.
2. Establish an emotional connection.
People act irrationally. No surprise there since the emotional center of the brain is tasked with decision-making. The rational part of our noodle does a better job of justifying our emotion-based choices. Even so, most healthcare communications flood consumers with rational information and education when an emotional appeal would be the better medicine. Here are four relevant emotion-driven decision influencers identified in a research initiative by Saint Agnes Hospital in Baltimore.
1. People tend to shut down when things seem daunting. Presenting complex solutions in bite-size chunks or stages encourages engagement.
2. People push off or dismiss things that are not current, pressing concerns. Reframing an appeal to emphasize immediate impact can accelerate consideration.
3. Individuals tend to do what others like them are doing. Relating stories of similar patients who have positive experiences can be incredibly powerful.
4. Pending loss is a stronger motivator than potential gain. Reverse the story. For instance, when a mother realizes that illness would compromise her ability to serve the family that relies on her, she is inclined to make her own care a priority.
3. Get intimate.
Cape Cod Health Care, a smaller New England health system, had been facing declines, despite owning 70% of their market. To find new opportunities, they conducted a segmentation study of their market to explore consumer behaviors, attitudes, interests and perceptions about healthcare. From that, they identified distinct consumer segments that best aligned with the hospital. The health system modified its marketing approach to better engage these people meaningfully. In doing so, they discovered an unexpected commonality among those in its best-matched target segment: a love of automobiles. That led to engagement with local citizens in an unorthodox way that has sparked many new and lasting relationships. The bottom line? Creating intimate and valuable relationships with the people who need you begins with an in-depth understanding of who they are.
The world of healthcare is in the midst of perhaps the most significant patient transition in history and the days of thinking and acting strictly as a healthcare provider have expired. The silver lining opportunity is in the myriad ways healthcare organizations can now become highly valued, lifelong healthcare partners to those in their communities. Come to think of it, there may be no more powerful way for health systems to provide for themselves and secure their futures.