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January 17, 2018

The Future of Healthcare Marketing: Fostering Communities of Wellness

Community yoga in the park

Healthcare marketing is changing…and in an exciting way. No longer is it just about touting how you have the best orthopedic practice in the region and patients should come there to get their knees fixed. Regardless of what will happen to the Affordable Care Act, the ever-increasing pressure to control and reduce healthcare costs will continue to intensify. Part of the current thinking on how to do that is by pushing the healthcare compensation system away from the existing fee-for-service model to a value-based outcomes model, with compensation likely structured around a capitation system of some sort. This means healthcare providers will be compensated based on how well they keep their patients healthy and not based on the number of procedures they perform. By keeping people healthier and out of the hospital (hospital care being one of the most expensive drivers of cost), the theory is that overall costs will go down.

To oversimplify, basically, a provider organization (e.g. medical center or, under the ACA, Accountable Care Organization) would be allocated a fixed amount of money to treat a fixed number of patients. If the provider organization is able to treat these patients for a lesser amount (i.e. keep them healthy), then it gets to keep and invest the excess funds. If the provider organization isn’t able to treat these patients for a lesser amount, then the excess is covered for by the provider organization. Our home state of Vermont has already started down this path on a limited scale.

Given this construct, marketing messaging becomes more about becoming and staying healthy and less about addressing a particular health issue. No longer is the goal to tout how you have the best orthopedic practice in the region and patients should come there to get their knees fixed. Yes, you will still need to give your service providers some marketing attention to make sure people know who they are and the important services they provide but, as a healthcare marketer, your focus will be much more on education and prevention, which ultimately involves trying to implement behavior change.

As we all know though, behavior change is not easy and takes time to affect. In the healthcare realm, affecting behavior change will require even more of an integrated and holistic marketing approach, involving different strategies, concepts, methods, tactics and tools, and the messaging can’t just come from the healthcare industry or federal or state health departments. To really affect comprehensive and lasting change, a groundswell of community acceptance, support and involvement is needed. That will require active collaboration among a variety of stakeholders, with a sustained focus on community wellness. This will become the mantra for healthcare marketers – “how do we promote health in our communities?” Here are some thoughts on what that might look like for the upcoming year.

Content

Your content focus will shift towards education, as opposed to pushing services. Teaching people how to embrace healthy lifestyles will be the underlying objective in one way or another, especially around the prevention of chronic diseases, like obesity and heart disease, which generate the vast majority of healthcare costs.

Common content formats will continue to be blogs, videos, e-books, and social media posts, but don’t discount old-school, guerilla-type tactics (think flyers on a grocery store bulletin board for upcoming yoga classes at community wellness center). While the content must educate and motivate, it should continue to be delivered in ways that are engaging and compelling (videos, interactive activities (contests, games), etc.). As an example, we recently created a social media campaign for a medical center promoting staying mobile. The campaign involved a contest on Facebook where people could submit photos of what keeps them mobile (e.g. an image of someone hiking). The participants then voted on the photos and the winner was given a gift certificate to a local ski resort. People not only appreciate participating in this fashion (we had a great response) but they will more likely remember what the campaign was about.

Because behavior change of this sort takes time and money, healthcare marketers will want to ensure that their sustained efforts are even more efficient and effective than before. So, it will continue to be so important to assess what’s working on an ongoing basis through strong digital analytics and reporting.

Partnerships

Whether public or private, forging relationships with community partners will be critical. While we all benefit from having a healthy community, public-public and public-private partnerships should be sought with those organizations that are invested in this issue. Schools, gyms, health clubs, wellness centers, retirement communities, insurance companies, grocery stores, municipalities, affordable housing communities and nonprofit organizations are some of the obvious ones but don’t ignore other local businesses, as they all have a vested interest in keeping their employees and their employees’ families healthy and productive.

The form and substance of these partnerships can run the gamut. From traditional marketing efforts of promoting and supporting healthy events throughout the year to less traditional measures, such as creating and implementing health awareness programs around particular topics for presentation to aging communities, or supporting and promoting weekend lunch programs for students. The list of possibilities is really only limited by your imagination.

Branded Community Organizations

Utilizing the relationships you develop with community partners, consider creating a branded organization to be the central hub for promoting, coordinating and pushing healthy lifestyles. This gives a focal point and vehicle for promoting your messaging and programs. It’s also a mechanism for broader community involvement by getting local stakeholders to serve on the board. A great example of this in action is RiseVT. An initiative of Northwestern Medical Center and the Vermont Department of Health, RiseVT is a community collaborative designed to promote healthier lifestyles, improve quality of life and lower healthcare costs. Working with schools, families, municipalities, businesses and others, RiseVT strives to inspire and motivate people to make small changes in their lives that will have big impacts on health quality. From blogging about nutrition to providing exercise and nutrition programs to classrooms around the community, RiseVT is on the cutting age of improving population health.

Issue Campaigns, Stories and Infographics

Marketing campaigns around broader health issues, as opposed to campaigns limited to healthcare treatments, will be required. In order to be effective, these campaigns can’t just take the form of public service announcements. Again, we are talking behavior change here and that requires more than someone telling you what is good for you. These campaigns should really tell a story, as it is storytelling that, if done well, will provide the lasting impressions that will affect change. Just keep them human and focused on the community (no chest thumping).

More so than in the past, these types of campaigns will need some serious public relations support. Because we believe this sort of messaging should come from a variety of directions and sources to saturate the community mind set, utilizing PR support will help not only get the story out but get other people within the community talking about and sharing the story.

Additionally, these types of issue campaigns will likely involve information that is not necessarily easy to explain. Infographics and other creative ways to convey the messaging clearly and concisely in a largely visual manner will become even more valuable and important.

Patience and Discipline

Implementing behavior change of this sort is truly for the long-term investor. It calls for a groundswell of support from a variety of stakeholders to have impact. As a result, marketing efforts will require coordination and implementation among healthcare providers, the private sector, government leaders and community stakeholders, which takes time, commitment and patience to have significant impact. Yet this approach can yield real and sustainable results. And, after all, isn’t that what community building is all about – investment in us and our future? So, while messaging will still need to be compelling and engaging, healthcare marketers should be prepared to stay the course in reinforcing their long-term goals of getting their communities to embrace healthy lifestyles.

Through community wellness, a rising tide can lift all boats.

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