The 5 Greatest Challenges Health Care CMOs Face

NRC Health
Marketing Health Services
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Key Takeaways

​What? Health care consumers are choosing providers and pledging loyalty the same way they do with other service industries.

So what? This means they are expecting a customer-first experience and transparency from providers.

Now what? Health care CMOs must leverage real-time feedback to both address lapses in patient experience and provide the transparency prospective patients seek.

​Aug. 22, 2017

From technology to reimbursement, health care is evolving at a rapid rate. As every member of the C-suite knows, health care organizations are faced with ever-changing obstacles as they seek to enhance their brand, expand their footprint and provide the highest quality of care. It is, however, the chief marketing officer who is frequently at the crux of this evolution.

In 2017, several of the major challenges facing health care suggest a move toward one ultimate goal: the consumer-centric health organization. 

1. The journey from fee-for-service to value-based contracts

The journey from fee-for-service to value-based contracting was reported as the top challenge to face in 2016 and into the foreseeable future. Though some organizations have already transitioned completely to value-based care, many continue to operate under a combination of the two models, testing incentive-based pay-for-performance while keeping processes in the fee-for-service model.

While hurdles such as organizational alignment and technology integration can make this evolution a challenge, as of 2016 about 50% of hospitals are on the continuum toward full value-based care. Based on incentives like improved outcomes, lower costs and increased access to care, this trend seems to be continuing in 2017 as health care groups strive to create patient-centered practices.

Embracing consumerism in a healthcare environment

Organizations that have successfully transitioned to a value-based care focus are now turning their sights to the new reality of health care: the need to embrace consumerism. Because patients are asked to pay an increasingly large portion of their health care costs through out-of-pocket copays and plan premiums, they want to ensure they get the most value for their money.This desire leads to increased consumer engagement when it comes to choosing health care services. Consumers are now able to check websites and apps to compare quality metrics when selecting a provider or health care organization, causing a “shopping around” effect similar to hospitality and other service-oriented industries. Organizations that fail to meet this level of transparency are less likely to be considered a viable option for care.

Bill Miller, director of strategic marketing and intelligence at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, shared the following on the topic: “The more that we research it, the more we realize that the next generation of consumers have a very different set of expectations within the health care environment—and those expectations are not driven solely by pure medical expertise. They’re driven by the whole experience: the convenience, the bedside manner—everything delivered on their terms.”

In this environment, marketing leaders have the opportunity to take center stage. CMOs are uniquely positioned to help organizations understand and react to this new set of personalized expectations, particularly by providing the necessary internal education to guide the transition’s cultural transformation.

2. Understanding the wants and needs of health care consumers

As patients become more invested in ensuring they get maximal value from their own care, health care organizations must anticipate the particular needs of consumers in order to market their services effectively.

Consequently, many groups are taking decisive steps to increase consumer understanding, including:

  • Increasing budget allocation for research.

  • Hiring additional data analytics team members.

  • Creating new departments focused on marketing intelligence and consumer engagement.

Increasing confidence in consumer understanding

A survey by Deloitte found that consumers are looking for a personalized health care experience where they are heard, understood and given clear instructions. To provide this kind of service and ensure patient loyalty, organizations need to better understand the precise ways that patients measure such metrics and make decisions on where to seek treatment. CMOs are routinely looking to the market for feedback on consumer preferences and expectations.

When asked what they require to increase their confidence in understanding consumers, many CMOs reported that insight into the customer decision-making process and customer segmentation were top priorities. Though most marketing directors are familiar with the factors that influence these choices, they want to know more about what happens in the mind of the consumer once all the information has been gathered.

While there is still progress to be made, the surveyed CMOs express greater confidence in consumer understanding now than in 2014, suggesting that health care organizations are headed in the right direction.

Determining desires of your consumers

The only way to keep up with consumer expectations is to constantly engage with and listen to your current customers: your patients and their families, your nurses and your staff. Hence the importance of health care providers and groups closely monitoring both market and patient experience (PX) data, and course correcting rapidly.

Real-time data collection and analytics are important components of this process. By receiving quick and thorough feedback from patients immediately after an encounter, organizations gain insight into why patients are—and are not—happy with their care. Because providers are now able to receive patient feedback within 24 to 72 hours after each encounter, they are also able to identify root problems in existing processes and respond to concerns before issues escalate.

Although chief patient experience officers are still relatively new in the health care C-suite, organizations have been investing heavily in developing this role and shaping its mission.

3. Defining the role of patient experience in marketing

When it comes to marketing your health care organization, patient experience plays an important part. Consumers are increasingly looking for assurance that they will receive the best possible service from all aspects of their care before they choose to trust a particular provider.

As such, your marketing and patient experience teams must work closely to provide the best possible care, while simultaneously leveraging each component of your services effectively when advertising to consumers.

Understanding the patient experience

Outcomes, cost and most other care metrics can be measured internally, but patient experience is based on the consumer’s perspective on their care. Consequently, your organization needs insight from consumers themselves when attempting to quantify this aspect of its services.

Traditional patient experience surveys are long, tedious and conducted by mail. By the time the results are received—if the questionnaires are completed at all—the information is dated and of limited use. That’s why real-time feedback is so critical. Receiving immediate patient feedback data increases transparency in the patient experience, giving your organization the information you need for both clinical and marketing purposes.

Through advanced voice-of-the-customer programs, customers are asked fewer, but more targeted, questions via e-mail, SMS or phone immediately following their experience with their care providers. The feedback gathered is then relayed back to the organization within 24 to 72 hours after the encounter. This strategy eliminates many of the common barriers that inhibit improvement with more traditional, mailed surveys.

Leveraging patient experience in marketing

Real-time patient experience data is a valuable tool in marketing. As current and previous experiences inside health care facilities impact marketing, receiving information as quickly as possible is critical. Data from months ago will likely be far less effective than information from encounters that occurred yesterday. The more current the data, the more powerful it can be in external branding.

A number of the CMOs surveyed even reported that their organizations incorporated patient experience into their public-facing brands, with marketing campaigns focused on patient stories. Others leveraged social media to solve problems in real time, creating a process that enables problem-solving before patients leave the facility. Strategies like these demonstrate the value of mixing patient experience into marketing endeavors to improve transparency and trust between providers and consumers.

4. Embracing transparency: the ultimate marketing and patient experience mash-up

“Transparency” is one of the hottest buzzwords in health care marketing today. As consumers take a more active role in making their own health care decisions, they want a peek behind the curtain to gain information on organizations before deciding on one.

Increasing transparency can benefit both your marketing and patient experience efforts and improve quality, marketing SEO and consumer-centric health care delivery.

The importance of ratings and reviews in transparency

One of the easiest ways to communicate transparency at a glance is by publishing ratings and reviews on your organization’s website. Consumers will learn about your services as described by other patients, whose opinions they may be more likely to trust than they would a communication from within your group. Published ratings also have a positive impact on SEO.

Technology-enabled solutions make this process simple by calculating star ratings based on existing patient survey data. They then publish these ratings—as well as appropriate patient reviews—directly to your website and other online pages.

Don Simon, director of marketing at Northwell Health, shared the following: “[Ratings and reviews are] the nexus of marketing and care. By providing a platform that displays those ratings, we’re able to give people in a consumer-driven market the information they need to make the right choice.”

The future of transparency in health care

The services and reputation of health care organizations are not consumers’ only concern. They also want to know when they can get an appointment. On-demand appointment booking is an increasingly popular tool that rewards the groups who use it with tremendous market popularity and increased volumes. As more consumers begin to look for this service, it will likely become a necessity for practices that wish to remain competitive.

Price and cost will likely be the last wave of the transparency movement. As consumerism becomes an even greater force in the health care industry, groups and providers may find cost transparency becoming necessary to stay competitive.

5. Creating patient loyalty in health care organizations

In health care, consumer loyalty is generally viewed as a patient electing to receive every single aspect of care from one health brand. With consumers comparing their options for care more than ever before, organizations need to find new ways to attract and retain patients to avoid taking a hit to their bottom line.

Because of this direct impact on revenue, consumer loyalty is a strategic priority for many health care organizations.

Loyalty in healthcare versus other industries

In many instances, in the mind of the consumer a brand is a brand, regardless of industry. For some, choosing a health care provider may seem similar to picking a hotel or hair salon. Consumers today live in a digital world of immediate access and unlimited information—they do not differentiate their expectations of service based on the industry with which they’re interacting.

Additionally, the way that this relationship is measured remains constant. Health care organizations, like any other business online, use overall ratings, satisfaction ratings and recommendation scores to quantify loyalty.

However, in some ways, it can be argued that loyalty is fundamentally different in health care. Because health care will never be a purely marketing-driven industry, it is impossible to control every element of a consumer’s episode of care.

If your health care organization’s brand is based on experience—which drives consumer loyalty—then without complete insight into and control over the experience, you will find that loyalty does not look exactly the same as it does in other fields.

“Stickiness” in health care loyalty

In the pursuit of inspiring loyalty in health care, an important player is the differentiated decision-maker. This is a consumer with the education, access and means to seek out the best care. If an organization is trying to build consumer loyalty, it is necessary to perform well with this demographic. This is not only because these patients have options when it comes to choosing care, but also because they are likely to be social influencers who will have an impact on the decision-making of others in their own submarkets.

Ultimately, health care organizations need to develop a “stickiness” that is associated with how loyal consumers make their decisions. This means that, all other things being equal, consumers will give up something to ensure that they receive care from their preferred health partners. Whether this sacrifice means a longer wait for an appointment, a membership fee or a farther commute, loyal patients will accept this less-convenient option because they believe that the services your organization provides are worth it.

That is the kind of loyalty that will help you build trusted relationships with your patients, which will in turn contribute to your organization’s bottom line.


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Author Bio:

NRC Health
<a href="" target="blank">NRC Health</a> helps healthcare organizations better understand the people they care for and design experiences that inspire loyalty.
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