Dave Sutton | November 29, 2016

Let’s face it, you can’t turn on the television, open a newspaper, or glance at Twitter these days without suffering through the latest rant about America’s healthcare system. Regardless of which political party you favored in the most recent election, the only thing that seems certain about the future of healthcare is turmoil and uncertainty.   

What are healthcare marketers supposed to do in this chaotic environment?

How can CMOs tell their brand story, formulate a go-to-market strategy, and scale their marketing systems to engage target customers when the future of healthcare is unclear? It’s an overwhelming position, especially with 2017 right around the corner.

While we can’t promise to clear up all of the confusion, we have been able to simplify and identify 3 key trends to help marketers align strategic plans for 2017.

1. Shift to Value-Based System Accelerates

We are in the midst of a seismic shift from a “fee-for-service” system to a “value-based” system after the adoption of the Affordable Care Act  (aka “ACA” or “Obamacare”). Even though the President-Elect ran on a campaign promise to “repeal and replace” this legislation, it is unlikely that the momentum of this shift to value-based and outcome-focused systems will subside. 

Why?   

Simply put, the United States is consistently at the top in terms of per capita spending per person on healthcare yet the United States’ international healthcare ranking doesn’t correlate with our expenditures.

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A value-based system means that providers aren’t getting paid for “procedures complete”, instead, they will receive incentives for avoiding certain, unnecessary procedures and achieving specific goals and successful outcomes.  This is a fundamental driver of cost-containment for the industry. Moreover, like in many other industries, customers (payers and patients in this case) want choice, expect value for money, and desire favorable outcomes. Paying a provider on a fee-for-service basis often runs counter to what customers want and need. And thanks to the Internet, customers are enjoying visibility into the economics of healthcare provider and insurance systems enabling them to make better, more informed decisions.   

Moving forward, there will be a continued shift in this direction with new technologies making interoperability and outcome tracking across healthcare systems a possibility. Many hospitals have embraced Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems that help ensure that patient medical records are digitized. Furthermore, through grants and directed funding, the ACA has played an active role by encouraging start-up companies to create technologies focused on innovation across the healthcare system. Some of these innovations include patient condition tracking digital pills, apps that help in the fight against various diseases and wearable devices for heart rates and sleep patterns monitoring.   Telehealth is also likely to experience increased use as hospitals seek new ways to follow up on patients. Data analytics will also help healthcare providers improve the outcomes of their patients, transforming care delivery, and boosting quality.

If you think about it, this should be liberating news for healthcare marketers. You can now focus on true brand differentiators and the value created through your products and services rather than solely focusing on access and price.   

2. Demand for Highly-Trained Healthcare Professionals Skyrockets

Various studies show that there will continue to be a great demand for healthcare industry professionals in the future. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 10 of the 20 fastest-growing jobs in the nation are healthcare related. This field is expected to create 3.2 million new wage and salary jobs in through 2018.

Healthcare professionals are hardworking and busy, and finding training time can be a problem, especially for those working in clinics or hospitals. Online training, will do away with all the problems associated with taking healthcare personnel away from what they do best – providing their patients with the best service possible. With online training, medical students can get their public health degree online without missing a step. Furthermore, we can expect more and more institutions accepting online public health degrees to fill the demand. The cost and delivery of online courses are extremely low compared to the conventional classroom-based environment. Plus, online learning offers aspiring healthcare professionals a chance to examine and study at their own pace, and even rewind and review course work as many times as possible – something that is not available in a classroom setting. 

Another (perhaps unintended) consequence of the ACA has been the acquisition of physician practices by hospital systems. Hospitals are forming larger, fully integrated systems that are designed to offer better coordination between providers, patients, payers, regulators, and other influencers in the healthcare system. As more doctors become W2 employees rather than partners in a practice or sole proprietors, they give up some of their power to make the final decision on what medical services and products they should prescribe. They become part of a larger system that comprises several layers of decision-makers seeking to optimize and make trade-offs on care versus cost versus outcome. Hopefully, doctors will remain, first and foremost, patient advocates, but administrators will likely be the ones to make the final purchasing decisions. 

For healthcare marketers, this trend suggests that you need to be thinking about how your brand must do double-duty: not only engaging your customers but also attracting and retaining the highest quality, well-trained talent.  And, as more doctors become W2 employees, you need to give careful thought to how your brand plays a role in reaffirming the sanctity of the patient-doctor relationship in an environment where centralized decision-making may be perceived as a threat to that sacred promise.

3. Surge of Baby Boomers Gives Rise to Variety of Delivery Options

People are living longer – it’s just that simple. Thanks to the significant advancements in healthcare delivery and breakthroughs in pharmaceuticals and genomic sciences, the Baby Boomer generation will live far longer than its predecessor generations. With more chronic illnesses and ailments specific to old age, healthcare provider systems will invest more in technology and new processes to control the increased patient flow. By shifting to a more “self-service” approach, the system will be in a better position to control cost and offer flexibility for doctor and patient interaction.

The good news: research studies suggest that Boomers are interested in, and willing to consider, remote and mobile healthcare delivery alternatives. After all, who likes to go to the hospital anyway? (I’m not sure marketing can fix this one.) 

The generation that grew up with the Internet is open to using “telehealth” and “patient portals” which will become more prevalent to enhance healthcare workflow. Hospitals and doctors will provide their patients with better health education and wellness resources, and employ technology to encourage their patients to carry out basic preventative care and self-diagnostics. The goal is to drastically reduce unwarranted doctor and Emergency Room visits and influence customers to only seek medical attention when absolutely necessary. 

At the other end of the healthcare delivery spectrum, many start-ups around the country are promising their customers that they can deliver doctors to their front doors in an hour or two. Several mobile apps on the market are already playing an active role in bringing back the old-fashioned house call, but with new technology (e.g. Uber-Doc). Silicon Valley is not the only group to take a keen interest in bringing back home healthcare to the patient – Medicare has actively been testing the idea of a home-based primary care program to improve care quality and reduce the need for moving patients into nursing homes. From self-service options to traditional house calls, there will be no shortage of innovation in healthcare delivery to address the coming surge of patient flow into the healthcare system.

This trend will demand a significant shift in behavior for many Baby Boomers who grew up in an era where a visit to the doctor for a runny nose was the norm. 

As a healthcare marketer, you should be thinking about how to engage and educate your audience about the coming wave of self-service, self-diagnostic, and home delivery options and the resultant benefits for patient outcomes and healthcare system costs overall.  

Regardless of the fate of the ACA, the way Americans experience healthcare will continue to rapidly evolve in 2017 and beyond. The three transformational trends that we have revealed here today are simply a reflection of changing demographics, an unpredictable regulatory environment, and accelerated technology development – and there’s no turning back at this point!

From our perspective at TopRight, it’s a terrific time to be in healthcare marketing because helping to move businesses to the #TopRight of the markets where they compete is such a worthy and rewarding endeavor. However, given the political fallout and continuing chaos, marketing skill and savvy will be required to tell a compelling brand story, formulate a winning go-to-market strategy and implement the marketing systems required to scale and grow a business.

Get started learning more today about how to create the right Story, Strategy, and Systems with our latest eBook Transformational Marketing: Moving to the TopRight.





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