2013 Health Care Advertising: Looking For Answers

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by Tracy Weise

If you look into a crystal ball, or even a Magic 8 Ball, and ask, what about the future of health care, your answer might read, “Reply hazy.” With the changes from the Affordable Care Act, as well as the growth of Accountable Care Organizations and Health Insurance Exchanges, health care delivery is evolving fast. At the same time, delivery costs continue to rise, services are being cut, physicians are abandoning primary care and consumers are demanding more options and craving more information. With these factors combined, iIt is no wonder the future of health care remains uncertain.

Amidst this uncertainty, we must look to health care consumers’ current behaviors and attitudes. Based on recent trends, we know they are selective, and price conscious. As advertisers, we have to focus on how to manage and change consumer behavior in light of, and sometimes in spite of, the current health care environment.

Given these attitudes and the climate of rapid change, here are our top five suggestions for health care advertising and consumer engagement.

1. Create Medical Communities Through Social Media

Hospitals and health care systems need to move beyond a robust corporate website to innovative ways of engaging and educating perspective prospective patients online. According to Healthcare IT News (healthcareITnews.com), half of all Internet users are looking for information and referrals about doctors and health professionals online. More than a third of Internet users are looking for that same information about hospitals. So if your goal is to increase patient census, more than an online presence is needed. A truly effective online campaign is essential. Successful health care advertising will focus on reaching consumers where they are conducting research that guides their health care decisions – this includes social media sites, blogs and referrals sites – more than just a corporate web page. To reach these consumers, and optimize your website for search, you must create meaningful online communities and effective social media campaigns.

Customer engagement through social platforms can be educational, fun and inspirational. Most importantly, these platforms can create a community of potential patients whom your advertising budget may not otherwise reach. One example of how to create an online community would be to develop physician-led webinars for specialty diseases. These webinars can connect geographically dispersed physicians and patients, lead to prospective patient engagement and ultimately patient acquisition. It is important to remember that Communities don’t spring up overnight. You must be engaged and dedicated to promoting the communities, providing relevant content, responding to comments and developing relationships with your consumers if you want online communities to work on your behalf.

2. Increase Engagement with Mobile Media

The growth of smart phones and tablets, and the applications they support, continues to grow in importance as a component of any online marketing campaign. More people are expected to access the Web via their mobile devices than via their desktops by the end of 2013. Although social media platforms are mobile ready, your websites, email campaigns and registration sites should be mobile- friendly as well. What’s more, medical apps can create connectivity for medication ordering, appointment setting, maps, assessments or health initiatives. Health care organizations can purchase and white label exiting applications or create custom apps specific to the needs of their organization. In addition to apps, mobile optimized websites can provide directions, maps, contact information and assessments.

3. Take a Broad Approach to Community Wellness – and Integrate Wellness Into Your Brand

Clearly articulating a health care organization’s value proposition is critical in advertising messages. Successful hospitals of the future will offer “well-care” just as much as “sick care”. They will look for innovative ways to influence the health of their community through education, health screenings and preventive services which will help keep people out of the hospital system. Such outreach not only provides a service that is more valuable to customers, it creates a greater sense of loyalty to the institution.

According to Laura Stephens, Assistant Vice vice Presiden, Marketing & Business at The Medical Center of Aurora, in Aurora, Colorado, “As value based purchasing evolves, we will continue to look for new ways to decrease readmissions, not only for reimbursement reasons, but to provide that additional value to customers by maintaining their good health and avoiding a hospital stay.” She continued, “All hospitals will be forced to become better partners in their communities – with the physicians and patients – to provide the entire continuum of care. Starting with prevention, through post-discharge management, we will have to work together to avoid readmissions and better the health of the communities we serve. All of this, of course, needs to come through in our advertising and communication messages – both online and off.”

4. Be Keenly Aware of the Competition

Jay Weise, Creative Director at Weise Communications and a health care advertising veteran, stated, “The days of patients having limited choice are long gone. Competitors are always part of our strategic and creative discussions. When I started working on health care accounts 15 years ago, we focused on branding and name recognition because there were few choices for health care services. Now, we focus on getting consumers into our facilities in lieu of our local competitors, and on keeping them in our communities so they don’t leave for options further away.”

Today, competition for the health care consumer is local, regional, national and international. Health care tourism is happening and will continue to rise in importance because consumers are educated, informed and cost-conscious. They will look for the best facilities in their local area, but are willing to travel regionally if a highly recommended doctor or facility is found. And thanks to the rising cost of health care, international medical tourism is also on the rise. According to Patients Beyond Borders (patientsbeyondborders.com) 750,000 Americans will travel outside the US for medical care in 2013. Worldwide, the medical tourism market is growing at a rate of 25-35 percent annually and is being promoted as a legitamate­ and affordable alternative to local health care.

This means we have to find creative ways to compel our audiences that go beyond the billboards touting, “Great Doctors, One Mile Away”. That kind of messaging does not work for orthopedic surgery, weight loss surgery, oncology, reproductive medicine, scans, tests, health screenings and second opinions –, because for these services, patients have proven they will travel far and wide.

Health care advertising needs to be deep, consistent and relevant to the specific target audiences in order to provide the incentive and create demand for the services at your institution.

5. Show Sensitivity For Consumer Anxiety Through Proactive, Targeted Communications

Changes are coming! Consider this:

• In 2012, 94 hospital merger/acquisition deals were finalized in the U.S.

• We are seeing a trend for surgeons to retire early because of low Medicaid/Medicare reimbursement rates.

• According to Association of Medical Colleges (https://www.aamc.org), the United States faces a shortage of more than 90,000 physicians by 2020—a number that will grow to more than 130,000 by 2025.

• Hospitals across the nation are eliminating services. For example Windber Medical Center in Pittsburgh, Pa., recently stop providing OB Services due to the financial implications of the Affordable Care Act.

The reality is that hospitals, health care institutions and health care providers are adapting in order to survive in the evolving market place. Changes will continue and they will inevitably have a profound impact on the accessibility to health services… as well as the attitudes of your target market.

Advertising, public relations and marketing efforts need to emphasize the positive impact of these changes. Remind your community and target market of your tradition of support and results-proven care. Consumers want to be associated with great medical institutions. While you may eliminate some services, you will inevitably maintain the best and most profitable services at your institution – promote this message. Emphasize your dedication to your community. Give consumers a reason to believe in your institution and herald your services. Ignoring fears, pushing through changes, limiting external communications and disregarding the fears of your community will hurt business operations on many levels. Instead, be proactive, communicate regularly and keep your fingers on the pulse of your community.

About the author

Weise Communications is Colorado-based integrated marketing agency. Our expertise in integration – including research, design, branding, marketing, advertising and public relations – allows us to focus on achieving better ROI for our clients and determine the most effective media for messaging execution. Our verticals of expertise are health care, franchising and business-to-business. Our work focuses on getting people to do, buy and believe. Our strategies do not just produce work; they produce results.

Tracy Weise is co-founder and president of Weise Communications. She is a recognized expert in health care marketing. Twelve years ago she began Weise Communications with husband and partner, Jay Weise, who continues to spearhead innovated creative executions for their agency clients. To learn more about the agency, visit www.weiseideas.com

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