Healthcare marketing is changing and will continue to do so as providers and payers search for ways to lower, or at least maintain healthcare costs. Regardless of how the Affordable Care Act evolves, 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 is allocated a fixed amount of money to treat a fixed number of patients. If the provider organization can treat these patients for a lesser amount, then it gets to keep and invest the excess funds. If the provider organization can’t treat these patients for a lesser amount, then the excess is covered by the provider organization. In essence, this creates an incentive to keep people healthy and, correspondingly, reduce healthcare utilization and cost. Our home state of Vermont has been working under this model for a few years now.
Given this construct, marketing messaging becomes more about becoming and staying healthy and less about addressing a particular health issue. No longer is the primary 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 attention will require much more focus 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. Also, 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 involvement, support and acceptance 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 community wellness?” Here are some thoughts on what that might look like for the upcoming year.
Your content focus must shift more towards education, as opposed to just pushing services. Teaching people how to embrace healthy lifestyles will be the underlying objective in one way or another, especially around chronic diseases, like obesity and heart disease, which generate the 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 a community wellness center, direct mail pieces about diabetes management, educational-oriented columns by local healthcare experts in community newspapers, etc.), especially in rural areas where audiences are more reliant on these tactics. 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.). For example, we 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 critically important to assess what’s working on an ongoing basis through strong digital analytics and reporting.
Whether public or private, forging relationships with community-based organizations will be critical. While we all benefit from having a healthy community, public-public and public-private partnerships should be sought with community-based organizations that are invested in these issues. These sort of partnerships not only to support the integrated or whole-person care that is needed to truly keep individuals and communities well (think behavioral health and affordable housing organizations), but community-based organizations, given their front-line proximity, are often seen as the most trusted source for delivering wellness messaging. In addition to behavioral health and affordable housing organizations, schools, gyms, health clubs, wellness centers, retirement communities, insurance companies, grocery stores, municipalities, and other 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.
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.
For ideas on how to create community partnerships and branded community organizations, or if you’d like assistance in doing so, our affiliated partner SDOHWorks can help. Learn more about them at http://sdohworks.org.
Marketing campaigns around broader health issues, as opposed to campaigns limited to healthcare procedures or treatments, will be required. 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 mindset, 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.
Implementing behavior change of this sort is truly for the long-term investor. It calls for support from a variety of stakeholders to have impact. As a result, marketing efforts will require coordination and implementation among healthcare providers, community-based organizations, the private sector, government leaders, and other 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 – investing 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 wellness.
Through community wellness, a rising tide can lift all boats.
If you’d like help with behavior-change marketing for any of your initiatives, let’s chat.
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Tenth Crow Creative is a communications agency that creates, aligns, and promotes the external and internal messaging for organizations that support living healthier lives.
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