Growing profitable service line volume in an evolving healthcare economy is difficult. New payment models, changes in payer coverage, the shift of inpatient volume to outpatient settings, and other healthcare trends — including the emergence of well-funded competitors like CVS Health's popular retail clinics — are impacting provider organizations and individual service lines at different rates in markets across the country.
One trend that universally impacts health systems is consumerism. The new ways healthcare consumers shop for a provider, their expectations for a great healthcare experience, and price sensitivity are all very real factors in the growth equation — disrupting nearly all aspects of hospital and health system strategy. Convenience has become the new currency, and for health systems to capture a competitive position in the minds of consumers, it must be a primary consideration in their journey. Put simply, provider brands must learn how to deliver a great retail experience faster than retailers can learn to deliver healthcare.
Consequently, consumerism is rapidly transforming hospital executive roles and responsibilities. While strategic planning leaders have traditionally focused on physician referrals and network development, much more of their time is now being spent focused on activities designed to attract and retain consumers. The design of new products and services with better consumer appeal is a must to secure future revenues, as is collaboration with marketing counterparts who are experts in the psychology of consumers.
Unfortunately, many hospital leadership teams lack the insights required to attract and retain "retail-minded" consumers. Advanced consumer analytics are key for finding ways to stay on top of unfolding market trends, differentiating service lines among competitors, and creating consumer loyalty. Using data to facilitate high-level strategic discussions, everyone will be on the same page and your team can make real-time decisions regarding your organization's product and service mix based on a universal understanding of the insights.
Who are your consumers?
It would be easy to fuel growth if large groups of consumers facing the same health-related challenge made decisions the same way, but in reality people are unique. If you're taking a one-size-fits-most approach to designing new products and marketing your service line, you're likely alienating a large number of consumers and wasting money in the process.
Any growth plan should begin with an analysis of market data that provides critical insights into your organization's current and prospective patients. Dividing each consumer group into segments based on their needs and preferences, demographics, socioeconomic factors, price sensitivity, and attitudes related to health and wellness can help identify potential growth opportunities.
Micro-targeting will allow you to finely tune your products and services, as well as your marketing content and offers. For example, let's say orthopedic surgery is one of your high-margin service lines and you're serving a physically active local community. It might be time to launch a campaign specifically targeting consumers who live active lifestyles and are at higher risks of joint damage to help them connect with a provider they can partner with in maintaining their active lifestyles. This can be done by incorporating a focus on geographic areas around local gyms and sports retailers.
Where are our opportunities?
Healthcare is rapidly moving away from yesterday's focus on big, centralized care and toward one that's strategy-driven and tech-enabled. It only takes a quick look at the shift in retail away from large shopping malls to online shopping with home delivery to understand where your consumers are headed. Your consumers want convenience, they want customization, and they want things close — basically, your healthcare consumers want local.
Sometimes this requires investments in new practices or care sites, but leaders must also think outside the traditional boundaries of face-to-face healthcare and explore new opportunities for virtualized care. Where are there unmet needs that align with the organization's strengths and capabilities? Where are there emerging opportunities to grow the system's offerings?
Value-based care has created many challenges in moving away from a volume-driven approach to care, but there are still areas where a focus on the right kind of volume can reap a net benefit for your organization. Your high-margin service lines are going to be key drivers of profitability as we transition into an era of outcomes-based care. For example, our partners at Sg2 encourage orthopedic service line managers to consider services like outpatient arthroscopic surgery, sports medicine services, and treatment of fragility fractures as buffers against shifting reimbursement and an eroding payer mix.
Taking full advantage of optimized volumes will require an understanding of cost and reimbursement trends in your organization, which is why working across your organization, leaning on your finance leadership's experience, is so important to your success.
Understanding your tactics
The best thing about a hyper-local focus is that it perfectly aligns with how your patients are already living their lives. While 80 percent of internet users on social media are searching for health information, that statistic is just a peek into a robust ecosystem of consumers who are constantly sharing information about not only their conditions but also you as a provider. Plugging into that ecosystem starts with a few basic elements.
Managing your online healthcare reputation
Online reviews have a serious impact on how patients select hospitals. With 80 percent of consumers trusting online reviews as much as they do personal recommendations, your consumers put a lot of value into the digital research they do before selecting a provider. Your hyper-local healthcare marketing strategy should involve consistent engagement with your target audience, responding to reviews, and encouraging positive reviews from your happiest patients. Online reputation management should be a top priority in your digital healthcare marketing strategy.
Owning your directory listings
You probably feel like you have a decent handle on your directory listings, but for most hospitals, there's room for improvement. Claiming your listings is a great start, but acting on a hyper-local strategy means you need to optimize your listings to connect directly with the expectations of your local consumers. This means accurate (and up-to-date) descriptions, phone numbers, addresses, etc.; publishing reviews; and even using photos when possible. If you haven't established your own best practices, this list will help you get started.
Mastering local SEO
We've talked about how deeply involved consumers are in searching for healthcare, and that's the strongest argument for investing in your SEO visibility. You don't just want more visibility; you want the right visibility for your online content, which means your local hospital SEO needs to be precise. Make sure you're taking advantage of "near me" moments as well as essential keywords that match the way your local consumers are performing their healthcare searches.
Also, keep in mind that Google and other search engines are constantly adjusting the way they work to meet user needs, so make sure you're keeping up with their changes.
This approach to growing service lines might sound more involved than what you're used to, and that's because it is. The payoff though is rich connections with higher-value patients and ultimately, a more cost-effective strategy overall. If you want to start showing up for your local consumers in ways that translate into better margins and increased cash flows, it's time to take the first step.