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How Can Healthcare Brands Create a Better Value Equation for Customers?

A version of this article was published by Healthcare Business Today.

It’s no secret that healthcare, now America’s top employer, is a mess.  It’s a huge mess, too. Healthcare spending topped $3.3 trillion or $10,348 per person in 2016 (the last year figures are available)—or 17.9 percent of GDP—more per person than any nation in the world. Yet it consistently ranks as the worst health system among the world’s most developed nations.

Things are changing, but not necessarily for the better, as the industry heads in the direction of becoming monolithic and therefore even more inefficient and Byzantine. Physician practices are being bought up by larger healthcare systems, as well as traditional insurers like Anthem and UnitedHealthcare. Consolidation is blurring the lines between insurers, pharmacy benefits managers and providers, while driving up costs for patients without improving quality of care.

Despite the incredible amount of electronic data available about every aspect of patient care, the majority of healthcare providers fail to gather the most basic information on outcomes of operations and other procedures. The fact that three corporate giants are banding together to form their own, separate healthcare entity for their half-a million employees illustrates the gravity of the situation

What role does branding have in all of this? The answer, so far, is: typically a clumsy and ill-judged one. Some healthcare brands spend heavily on advertising campaigns, but few connect with customers in a meaningful way, and patient satisfaction continues to suffer. Many of the industry’s biggest challenges may be outside the control of any individual organization, but here are 3 ways that branding could help create a better value equation for patients.

  • Tell Positive Stories About Human Beings

We often hear negative stories about patient care, but there are also many positive stories that need to be better told. Otherwise, the negative headlines will continue to drive the healthcare narrative unchallenged.

After investing $20 million in out-of-hospital patient care, Florida Hospital launched the Someday Starts Today campaign, focusing on the future of healthcare within the community rather than the advancements happening within their facilities.

As vital as it is to offer value across all patient interactions, providers also must do a better job of capturing that value through the eyes of patients. A great example is Sharp HealthCare’s in-depth documentary series chronicling the journeys of patients leading up to, during and after their hospital experiences. The Hospital for Special Surgery, the Mayo Clinic and Memorial Sloan-Kettering have also created extensive collections of patient stories that can be filtered by customers to find the most relevant content.

Takeaway: Brands, especially insurers, must do a better job of conveying the value they deliver in ways that patients can easily perceive, identify with and experience.

  • Make Consumer Information & Content More Intuitive

The proliferation of healthcare content marketing is evidenced in a report that shows 60 percent of the industry’s marketers create one piece of content each day. But what good is all that content if patients can’t find it? Intuitive site navigation such as the blog platforms of The Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and The Rothman Institute allows users to easily filter content by condition, treatment or article type.

Navigating the web for information can be an especially complex task when it comes to finding a provider that matches your care needs and is covered by your insurance. The difficulty has even prompted the emergence of a new profession of independent patient navigators. A study analyzing content that prospective patients seek on a hospital websites found that insurance information ranks second only to data on procedures. While few providers go to great lengths to display intuitive insurance information, the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital clearly outlines the variations of plans it participates in, along with whether or not prior authorization is required for common services.

Takeaway: Targeted content is vital, but can only be impactful if patients find it accessible, intuitive and valuable.

  • Rethink the way Customers Connect With Providers and with Other Patients

The advent of telehealth holds great promise, and a recent study found that 75 percent of healthcare delivery organizations are now investing in it. The potential is apparent in use cases such as NewYork-Presbyterian’s NYP OnDemand service, which led to average wait times for low-acuity patients decreasing from 2.5 hours to 39 minutes. But future applications of telehealth could improve the customer experience well beyond remote patient visits and provider support.

The potential of Amazon’s Alexa skills is driving providers such as Boston Children’s Hospital to explore new ways to improve patient experiences. The hospital introduced an app called KidsMD, to help parents find answers to questions about common illnesses and dosing. Advances in artificial intelligence are bringing us increasingly sophisticated health-related chatbots, such as those being developed by LifeLink. Blockchain technology, too, offers opportunities to make tracking patients as they move between providers easier and more secure.

Social media also has great huge, unrealized potential for patient engagement. A University of Cincinnati College of Medicine study found 95 percent of participants in a Facebook support group for liver transplant patients said it had an overall positive impact on their care. Healthcare providers are taking note, paying members of the public to accelerate patient engagement online.

Takeaway: Telehealth services and digital and social engagement channels can improve the way customers interact with physicians and other patients alike, leading to better care and a more positive reputation.

Lastly, it’s best to remember that people consume healthcare in very different ways than other products or services. Spending millions on a slick advertising campaign, such as NYU Langone Medical Center recently did, falls wide of the mark, because it assumes patients choose medical facilities like breakfast cereal. They don’t. At its best, branding can help zero in on value delivery by seeing the world through the eyes of customers, not the corporation selling to them. Within the tumultuously changing healthcare industry, branding can and must take a clear-eyed approach to promoting a mission of increasing visibility and accessibility, and above all improving the care and experiences of all patients.

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