The patient as the consumer. You’ve heard this one before. Additionally, you’ve probably read about how you, as a healthcare marketer, need to view patients through that lens from now on. But how do you actually turn that insight into action? Before answering that question, we should be asking ourselves how accurate the “consumer” label is.
Tremendous improvements are changing the healthcare landscape to make it more consumer-driven. Since 1990, average life expectancy in this country has increased from 71.8 to 76.4 years for men, and 77.8 to 81.2 years for women. Meanwhile, the uninsured rate in that same period has dropped from 13.9% to 9.1%. The number of physician visits is increasing at a rate faster than the increase in the population of the U.S.
As a result, patients are spending more than ever, which is one of the primary reasons we, as healthcare marketers, now call them “consumers.” This trend will likely continue: health spending in 1990 accounted for 12.2% of our GDP; today, it accounts for 17.5% of our GDP, and this is expected to grow to 34% by 2040.
Is the label “consumer” accurate?
The physician/patient relationship has also changed dramatically, as has the manner in which patients seek information. Calling them “consumers” makes marketers feel they have a handle on delivering this information. However, patients now seek to share in the decision-making around treatment options, and are no longer just taking orders in the exam room. We cannot underestimate the importance of the physician in these decisions. Removing “patient” from our language can do that, because it takes the physician out of the equation.
Additionally, the “consumer” label oversimplifies the complexity of decision-making for patients, and the extent to which they seek input. Patients want to know more than they find in the retail emails they receive. Today, 72% of patients seek information about their healthcare online, 60% turn to friends and family, and 24% get support from others with the same condition. Yes, patients want to make informed decisions, but demand more than a web search or advertising message.
In the past, I’ve promoted the use of the term “Well-Connected Doctor.” As a counterpoint, I’d like to propose that we also adopt the term “Engaged Patient.” Health decisions require more input than almost any other decision we make, and we should treat the individuals who we hope to reach with respect.
How to reach the Engaged Patient.
Back to the original questions: How do we as healthcare marketers, best approach the needs of the Engaged Patient?
1. Offer Authentic Value to the Patient. The Engaged Patient reads about conditions, seeks communities for support, and has conversations at the dinner table about their health. More than any other group, the Engaged Patient doesn’t want to be sold to. To deliver on the unprecedented desire to present the Engaged Patient with reliable information, we need to accept that there is no easy route to build this trust, and find creative ways to include them in all the relevant inputs.
2. Leverage Technology. It is our job to understand the complexity with which they seek information, and present it in a meaningful way to patients and physicians. From point-of-care platforms that place us in the exam room during the consultation to online support groups to shared experiences, it is critical to align on messaging across channels, and generate relevant content on a consistent basis.
3. Address the Rising Health Care Costs by Investing in Outcomes. As marketers, reaching the Engaged Patient is different from reaching other consumers, because patients are subject to a system that does not make it easy to understand pricing, or why costs continue to rise. For healthcare marketers, by identifying health outcomes as a KPI, this means a greater life-time value for each of the patients we can impact.