Digital Transformation and Healthcare Consumerism



The Digital Revolution in the Age of Healthcare Consumerism

Amazon Prime, Uber, Google and a proliferation of mobile apps have changed the ways consumers comparison shop, as well as their expectations for personalized service and instant gratification.

Due to a marketing sea change known as liquid expectations, consumers’ experiences in these industries are overflowing to an entirely different, and previously thought to be unrelated, industry–healthcare.

Instead of relying on physician referrals or proximity to home, Americans now research their medical providers online, compare hospitals and seek peer recommendations. Fueled further by shifting payment models and rising out-of-pocket healthcare costs, prospective patients now make decisions based more on retail-like value propositions including convenience, cost and quality. Enter the age of “healthcare consumerism.”

It should come as no surprise that healthcare consumers are often left disappointed. There’s a disconnect between consumers’ fluid expectations and the way healthcare providers have traditionally thought about and invested in developing and cultivating relationships with existing and prospective customers.

The healthcare system is wildly complex, difficult to access, and even harder to navigate. Consumers complain that doing something as simple as finding a doctor that accepts their insurance or scheduling an appointment can be very frustrating. Then there are the crowded waiting rooms, repetitive forms, long waits, and time spent running from doctor to lab to imaging center. It’s this fragmented experience, that disrespects their time and money, that consumers hate.

The cumulative effect of this shows up in the form of negative online reviews, presenting both new opportunities and challenges for healthcare marketers. Online reviews factor heavily into consumer decision making, with some 88 percent trusting reviews as much as personal recommendations. What can marketers do to help a provider brand build a positive reputation and thereby earn the trust of digitally-savvy consumers?

Start by Optimizing the Organization’s Online Presence
Some 80 percent of healthcare consumers utilize search engines to discover health-related information and weigh their options before making a healthcare decision, yet 90 percent of healthcare search listings are incomplete, outdated or simply inaccurate. Yet as of last year, only 24 percent of the average healthcare marketing budget was earmarked for digital marketing. By comparison, average companies in other industries are expected to allocate 41 percent of their marketing budget to online efforts, with the largest share going to search engine marketing.

Instead of spending money with agencies on scattershot branding efforts, like billboards, radio and television spots, or even paid digital “awareness” campaigns that offer no clear path to conversion or ROI, marketers should reallocate a significant portion of their budget to bolstering their online presence, which must include investments in directory listings management, online reputation management, and a strong owned media presence, or website. By doing so, marketers will ensure all their locations and providers show up accurately and favorably across the growing search ecosystem, leading to more website traffic, ultimately translating to more engagement and conversions.

Translating Digital Marketing into ROI
Demanding better results in an increasingly competitive market, healthcare executives want to see measurements and positive ROI from these investments. In this paradigm, performance data becomes the weapon marketing teams need to overcome continued cultural resistance, such as organizational reluctance to let go of “feel good” branding initiatives and long-standing physician-focused marketing efforts.

How can marketers ensure these new investments translate to ROI? Success is predicated on the organization improving its online visibility and delivering a first-class web experience that makes it easy for consumers to conduct research, compare doctors, schedule an appointment, add the appointment to their calendar, and obtain reminders and driving directions from their mobile device. Investing in these capabilities will produce a measurable and substantive ROI by delivering more appointments, procedures, and revenue.

Inspiration for designing the ideal mobile experience should be drawn not from local competitors, but from other thriving industries. Consider Starbucks’ mobile app, which debuted more than eight years ago and incorporated mobile payments. This initiative not only played directly to the behaviors of its on-the-go consumer base but proved to be extremely successful, generating 26 million transactions in the first two years alone.

Revamping Healthcare Marketing Departments
With healthcare consumers in control of the wallet share, leaders are overhauling their marketing departments. Strategies include:

  • Hiring marketers with a strong consumer background outside of the healthcare realm
  • Allocating more of their current budget to digital initiatives like SEM, web presence management, paid media, and social media 
  • Investing in additional marketing technology, like a healthcare CRM

With CRM, organizations gain insights that enable them to send the right messages, to the right people, at the right time, so they can augment their consumer engagement strategy with personalized outbound email and direct mail. By improving targeting, informing channel selection, optimizing media spend, and bolstering the conversion of inbound leads, these solutions are known to produce ROIs ranging between $8-$16:1.

As an early adopter and leader in the healthcare consumer experience, CHRISTUS Health has proven how leveraging CRM to market to individuals’ unique serves as a competitive weapon. In 2011, CHRISTUS Health’s efforts resulted in a 385 percent return on marketing investment and a $2.5 million boost to revenues.

More recently, a pediatric teaching hospital in Norfolk, Va., began using a digital marketing approach to increase awareness and discover right-fit candidates for one of its pioneering procedures. Within two years, the hospital successfully surpassed its original goal for booking procedures through the campaign by 275 percent – achieving a 4:1 ROI on its marketing investment.

Now is the time for healthcare executives to make the requisite budget changes and incremental investments needed to respond to consumers’ fluid expectations and rising demands. The choice is easy: Empower marketing teams to create digital experiences on par with retail, banking, and travel – or lose the patient acquisition game to competitors.

About the Author
As the senior vice president of marketing at Influence Health, Kyra creates the marketing strategy and oversees the programs that create demand for Influence Health’s consumer engagement products and services. For nearly two decades, she has partnered with provider organization clients at both Influence Health and Cerner Corporation to leverage martech and HIT investments to improve profitability through better engagement of healthcare consumers.

This article was originally featured on Becker's Hospital Review.