Encouraging Consumers to Make Active Healthcare Choices

Healthcare consumerism

This article first appeared on MediaPost.

As consumers take on an ever-greater burden for their own healthcare costs in the form of rising deductibles, copays and premiums, they have more buying power to choose where, when and how to purchase insurance and healthcare services. In order to enable consumers to make more informed, active healthcare choices, marketers need to get to know them better by segmenting according to needs and wants, not demographics. 

For instance, some segments take an active role in seeking healthcare information and preventive treatments, while others wait until a problem reaches a critical stage before engaging — and these choices don’t always fall along demographic lines.

Consumers frequently struggle to find and interpret the information they need to make informed healthcare decisions; researching cost and quality can be exercises in frustration.

Marketers can help systems clarify information for consumers and then guide them to accessing it. Many hospitals and health systems offer digital tools and/or content to help consumers navigate their choices, but fail to notify patients that these exist. Marketers can help ensure patients are aware of them via in-office signage, notifications within the EHR system, and phone calls, emails and direct mailings.

After patients have the information they need, it’s time to engage them more deeply. This comes down to understanding consumer motivation: Do they want to save money? Receive the best care? Receive care in the most convenient format? Each of the segments will have different answers.

For instance, primary care physician (PCP) use is declining, especially among younger populations that tend to use more convenient forms of care, such as retail clinics. Once marketers have informed consumers about the benefits of retaining a PCP, they can engage consumers with content. Marketer-produced and PCP-approved blog posts about general-interest health topics like diet, exercise, quitting smoking, and common maladies like flu, rashes, asthma and joint pain can help PCPs answer questions their patients would otherwise research online.

Another example: Engaging the consumer segments that tend to use the emergency room for non-emergency problems, and informing them of better options (clinic care, urgent care, maintaining a relationship with a PCP), can help consumers make better choices and can drive down costs.

A final opportunity for healthcare marketers is to build trust between patients and the system they work with. Because of how strictly healthcare is siloed, many consumers don’t have a consistent preferred healthcare provider (such as a pharmacy, a PCP, a specialist, a hospital or a health insurance company). To build loyalty and repeat visits, marketers can portray hospitals and health systems as a consistent, reliable partner in a consumer’s holistic health goals.

As the American health system continues to evolve, marketers have new opportunities to connect providers with patients, and to help patients make informed decisions. Encouraging consumers to take an active role in choosing their healthcare options will help providers drive preference and loyalty.

Kathy Selker
I’m Kathy Selker. My work as CEO of Northlich, a Cincinnati-based healthcare marketing agency, has taught me a great deal about how hospitals and health systems can best connect with women to make the most positive impact in their lives.
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