By Pamela Lockard
The U.S. healthcare industry’s ongoing transformation creates both challenges and opportunities for marketers. This transition is driven by two variables. One is the evolution from a fee-for-service payment system to a healthcare delivery model based on transparency, quality outcomes and patient satisfaction. The second is the rise of the empowered healthcare consumer. These changes affect both the “how” and the “who” of medical marketing strategies. As a result, the role of physicians as decision-makers is undergoing a transformation.
The shift in decision-making power away from doctors is influenced by five key trends that every healthcare marketer should consider.
1) Doctors Becoming Employees.
In response to changes in regulations, as a result of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, hospitals have been buying up physician practices at an accelerated rate. They are forming integrated systems so they are better able to coordinate care among physicians, hospitals and other parts of the healthcare delivery system. Doctors are becoming employees.
According to a Jackson Healthcare survey of physicians:
- 21% of physicians in all specialties are employed by a hospital.
- 14% are employed in a single or multi-specialty owned by a hospital.
- 14% are employed by a privately owned single or multi-specialty clinic.
- 9% are employed as independent contractors or Locums.
- The number of primary care physicians employed by hospitals increased from 10% in 2012 to 20% in 2014.
When doctors become employees, they lose their ability to be final decision makers when it comes to buying medical services and products. Instead, they are part of a purchasing process comprised of a number of people and, most likely, a group purchasing organization. Doctors still have a key role as advocates, but others now make the final purchasing decision.
2) Consumers Becoming Avid Researchers.
And if that’s not enough, here comes the Internet and today’s healthcare consumer. They are no longer content to blindly accept what a doctor tells them. They do their homework before visiting a doctor. They research their conditions and treatment options after visiting a doctor as well. They see healthcare as a collaboration between themselves and their doctors. They take responsibility for their health and the decisions that affect it. The doctor no longer has the only say on treatment, hospitals, medications, etc.
According to Pew Research:
- One in three American adults have gone online to figure out a medical condition.
- 72% of Internet users say they looked online for health information within the past year.
- 47% of Internet users search for information about doctors or other health professionals.
- 38% of Internet users search for information about hospitals and other medical facilities.
- The most commonly researched topics are specific diseases or conditions; treatments or procedures; and doctors or other health professionals.
3) Marketers Targeting Consumers and Payers.
There are different audiences for healthcare marketers, although they are all being affected by the changes to the U.S. healthcare delivery environment. The major players include healthcare consumers, providers and payers. They constitute the primary “who”, depending on the product or service offered.
The MM&M /Ogilvy CommonHealth Healthcare Marketers Trend Report 2016 covers pharmaceutical, biotech, medical devices and diagnostic companies. Physicians continue to be the most important group for these companies with 93% of respondents stating that they belonged to their leading three target groups. They were followed by payers and patients (consumers) with each about 56% of respondents. It’s not surprising that doctors continue to be the primary marketing target. After all, they still buy, prescribe, recommend and advocate products and services.
What is significant is that payers and consumers were picked by the same number of respondents as a target group, ahead of other providers, shareholders and advocacy groups. This may reflect the new reality of decision making in healthcare. Doctor decision making is gradually shrinking as decision making shifts to payers and healthcare consumers. The trend is for healthcare marketers to increasingly target consumers and payers, while still keeping doctors as the underpinning for their overall marketing strategy.
4) Digital Channels Overtaking Traditional Marketing.
What we are seeing today is a continuation in trends that kicked into gear during the last couple of years. Digital channels are overtaking traditional marketing channels. This is actually true for all marketing sectors, including provider-to-consumer marketing.
The MM&M study cited above shows that the greatest growth for the pharmaceutical, diagnostics, biotech and medical device marketing budgets is taking place in social media, mobile/tablet apps and digital sales materials. For consumer marketing tactics, the greatest growth is taking place in mobile/tablet apps, social media and digital ads. Hospital providers are also shifting to digital channels to market to healthcare consumers. It’s no wonder.
According to Think with Google’sThe Digital Journey to Wellness: Hospital Selection:
- 77% of patients use search engines prior to booking appointments.
- Search drives nearly three times as many visitors to hospital sites, compared to visitors from other referral sites.
- 44% of patients who research hospitals on a mobile device schedule an appointment.
- Before the moment of conversion, patients typically search on symptoms and condition terms.
5) Digital Content is Key to the Decision Process.
Prior to booking an appointment:
- 77% of patients used search.
- 83% used hospital sites.
- 54% used health insurance company sites.
- 50% used health information sites.
- 26% used consumer-generated reviews.
Healthcare marketers continue to adapt to the new reality brought about by the shift to payments based on outcomes, increasing transparency, and an empowered healthcare consumer. We’re seeing growth in marketing budgets over the lows of 2013. The largest increases are going to digital marketing tactics.