Partners & Simons’ EVP, Managing Director, Healthcare Practice, provides insight into the uncertainty in the healthcare industry

With the changing landscape of healthcare and rise of consumerism, hospitals, health systems and health plans are prompted to reassess marketing strategies and shift their focus to direct-to-consumer marketing. Motivating and educating consumers to do the right thing in regard to their health is a constant concern and objective for organizations, especially as people are increasingly required to be more involved because of high-deductible health plans.

The initiatives we undertake are increasingly centered around digital technologies, whether its web portals, mobile apps, online doctor finder tools or telehealth services. A big responsibility hospitals and health plans have is providing counsel and marketing programs that relate back to making consumers better educated and motivated to use these new tools at their disposal, all with the goal of turning their members into more savvy healthcare consumers.

We sat down with Jim Porter, EVP, Managing Director, Healthcare Practice at Partners & Simons, who discusses uncertainty in the healthcare market, the shift in healthcare marketing and the focus on member experience.

How is uncertainty in the industry affecting healthcare marketing?

Porter: The only thing certain in the healthcare market these days is uncertainty. And with that, people tend to gravitate towards brands they trust. From our experience, we find that organizations with large-market shares, as well as a long history in the market and deep roots in the community tend to fare better in regard to trust metrics.

It’s our job to help position our clients as a beacon of stability during these turbulent times. We don’t always know what the future is going to bring in the next few weeks or months, but we can always talk about these type of bedrock traits. Fortunately, we work with a lot of healthcare organizations that share these characteristics.

Additionally, we have found that messages that reinforce benevolence, or the idea that “we’ve got your back”, are often the most valued – particularly for our payer clients. The world may be a little chaotic right now, but consumers need to feel that if and when they face a serious healthcare event, their health insurance company will have their best interests in mind.

How is the member experience changing?

Porter: An increased focus on member experience is key in healthcare. Nowadays, people expect a similar experience to what they get when they are hailing a cab or making a restaurant reservation. And they expect this same level of service in all parts of their healthcare journey.

Historically, the healthcare market has lagged behind other industries in terms of customer experience. Technology is an enabler to many member experience improvements, but old habits die hard. Keep in mind we are in an industry where 50% of doctor’s offices still rely on paper medical records.

If you look at some of the research that Forrester has done in this area, there are real business benefits in terms of increased revenue and market share for those companies that excel at member experience.

The general expectations of consumers continue to grow so their experience with healthcare organizations has to be easy, even enjoyable. Technology, analytics and mobile applications have made the prospects of member experience transformation more promising, but there still remains a huge gap between companies’ member experience aspirations and what they actually deliver.

For health plans, we often think of customer service as being a huge driver of the member experience. While superior customer service is important, investing in health literacy programs that educate members on the basic elements of their health plan may be even more valuable.

Are there certain products or services that have been instrumental in improving the member experience?

A great example of a product that can have a transformative impact on the consumer experience is telehealth. From parents with sick babies, to people that live in rural areas to less-mobile patients with chronic illnesses, it makes a whole lot of sense for people to have access to a clinician at any time of the day. And from the comfort of their home.

Dr. Robert Pearl, the CEO of the Permanente Medical Group, put it well when he said that “telemedicine is a bridge between our busy lives and the care that we need”.

Telehealth is not going to eliminate in-person office visits, but in many instances, it is more convenient to the patient, and less expensive for both the patient and the healthcare system. It can even play an instrumental role in getting patients to comply with their treatment protocols. As high deductible health plans continue to grow, telehealth just makes sense.

From a communications or advertising standpoint, we have found that messages about telehealth resonate with consumers. Healthcare can be confusing, but telehealth is easy to understand and represents a potential clear and simple benefit.

There’s a lot of upside here. But like a lot of new services or technologies, the biggest challenge is trial. We’re now doing more and more communications that focus on getting consumers to try telehealth services.

Founded in 1989, Partners & Simons is a brand communications and integrated marketing services firm with deep domain expertise in healthcare and financial services that creates communications to help people make the most important decisions in their lives. Fluent in digital and traditional communications – from online, mobile, and social media to direct mail, print, outdoor and broadcast advertising – the firm creates integrated marketing programs that connect with consumers and business-to-business buyers in meaningful, measurable ways.

About the Author

Jim Porter is a healthcare marketing veteran having spent 25+ years helping provider and payer organizations develop competitive positioning and selling strategies. At Partners & Simons Jim oversees client relationships for leading payer and provider organizations such as Select Health/Intermountain and Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

Jim is helping his clients solve a number of complex communications challenges in areas such as payer/provider partnerships, hospital contract negotiations, population management and member experience initiatives. Jim also has extensive experience in government programs including Medicaid, Medicare, MediGap, Dual Eligible Special Needs Plans (DSNP) and Managed Long Term Services and Supports (MLTSS).