Healthcare marketing has grown increasingly complicated, not only because of the proliferation of digital marketing channels, but also because the business of healthcare has been changing as fast, if not faster than the technology. Traditionally, healthcare marketers have allocated their attention and budget between either patients or physicians. Depending on market conditions and the therapeutic category, emphasis shifted toward one group or the other, but the overall scope of marketing fit into one of those two broad buckets.
However, changes in sales rep–physician access, purchasing and formulary decision making, and growing patient empowerment have now permanently and irrevocably altered the healthcare marketing playing field. It really is a brave new world of healthcare marketing!
Quite simply, the old model of focusing on just patients and physicians no longer works. In today’s changing landscape, marketing teams need to expand their consideration set and focus on the new 5 P’s of Healthcare Marketing:
- Professional Healthcare Administrators
- Policy Makers
Today’s patients are simultaneously more empowered and more distracted than ever before. This paradoxical situation means that marketers need to laser-focus on patient needs and then deliver crisp, succinct messaging that addresses meaningful patient concerns quickly and clearly. While this discipline of patient focus has been present in prior years – today’s hyper-informed patient has become very discerning and very quick to hit the digital delete button. Patients have more choice than ever—over plans, defined contribution, medications, and even down to the choice of specific care providers. In this era of patient empowerment, healthcare marketers need to meet this challenge with content that really does cut through the clutter.
Despite all of the changes afoot, it’s true that physicians still write the scripts. However, a growing number of physicians now work as employees for health systems, which can significantly impact their script-writing behavior. This new working arrangement has changed the nature of physician decision making, accessibility, and economic calculus. According to a recent Physicians Foundation survey:
- 82 percent of physicians agreed with the statement, “Physicians have little influence on the direction of healthcare.”
- When asked to cite the biggest source of negativity about medicine, 64 percent of physicians stated that they lost their clinical autonomy and decision making.
In this challenging environment, it becomes critical for brand teams to truly understand the specific concerns of their particular physician specialty groups. If your target physicians are feeling like they have little to no influence over clinical outcomes, then their receptivity to branded messaging – no matter how compelling the data – is going to be diminished.
Professional Healthcare Administrators
The growth of healthcare networks and integrated care has seen a commensurate rise in professional healthcare administrators who are keenly interested in broad health outcomes, medical innovation, system utilization, and cost-benefit analysis. These gatekeepers exert powerful influence on formulary decisions, negotiated rates, adoption of new procedures, and long-term access. Nationally recognized systems like Geisinger and Mayo Clinic not only pioneer new clinical approaches, but have also become benchmarks for integrated care, formulary decisions, and patient outcomes.
It should come as no surprise then, that the same sales personnel and marketing content that resonates with individual physicians is not nearly as effective for reaching healthcare administrators. New people, strategies, and content need to be created in order sell into large systems.
While the healthcare industry has always had a strong presence in Washington, the broad impact of Obamacare and the associated legislation have raised the stakes even higher – especially in terms of marketing. Not only are FDA regulations evolving regarding the use of digital media, but the commercial impact of legislation can be significant. As the baby boomers start to hit their peak health spending, heated debates about spending, coverage, and outcomes are sure to continue and probably even escalate. While it can be difficult for commercial marketing teams to exert influence on policy, it is imperative that they include the legislative calendar as a central aspect of strategic brand planning.
Nowhere have healthcare policy makers had a bigger impact than in terms of the payer system, which is the undisputed 300-pound gorilla in the healthcare waiting room. Furthermore, the dramatic changes brought about by Obamacare are unlikely to go away, regardless of which party controls Washington. Although payers are generally inelastic when it comes to marketing messages, marketing teams still need to pay very close attention to how the increasingly complicated payer landscape is going to impact commercial viability.
While there are tremendous changes underway across healthcare, there is also a great deal of resistance – both by marketers as well as healthcare providers. Cardiologist Eric Topol comments that “There’s no group more resistant to change than medicine.” However, healthcare marketers cannot afford the same resistance to change. The key need is for more outcomes data to build the health economic model behind chronic conditions. How can marketers help a growing set of healthcare stakeholders to engineer the best ROI? By broadening their outlook to include the new 5 Ps of Patients, Physicians, Professional Healthcare Administrators, Policy Makers, and Payers, healthcare marketers can position their brands for long-term success in this brave new world of healthcare.