Population health is a top concern, but it represents an opportunity
The Affordable Care Act has affected everything for hospitals, including the struggle to be financially successful.
Notably, however, it prompted the switch from a fee-for-service reimbursement model to a pay-for-performance one that emphasizes the value of the healthcare service.
This in turn has prompted hospitals to take population health more seriously because their reimbursements are now dependent on the success of outcomes. For that reason, hospital CEOs have listed population health as one of their greatest concerns.
Hospital CEOs now need their hospital systems to be further integrated into their communities, working with local organizations and instituting programs that help population health. By doing so, hospitals earn more money based on the pay-for-performance reimbursement. Better population health means a better bottom line.
While many administrators see this as a hindrance, it can actually be an advantage for hospitals looking to steal market share from its competitors. It represents an opportunity to create preference.
Hospitals struggle to create preference
Traditionally, hospitals have grown organically. A new facility creates a new audience, whether if it’s at a new location or represents a new specialty. A system starts with a name usually associated with a location, a founder or a prominent contributor from the community.
Hospitals rarely see themselves as marketers who are creating for preference as much as they are seeking awareness. They also often consider the internal audience (physicians, staff, contributors) more than they do prospective patients. They take the care of their patients seriously, as they should, so they focus on acquiring talent, technology and new training.
But the changing landscape of healthcare, especially when it comes to reimbursement, has made investing in the hospital brand more important. There is now more competition, with greater regulatory oversight and technologies creating savvier patients.
Hospitals now have to think of themselves as a true brand, analyzing the competition, conducting market research and putting more dollars into their marketing. The competition has simply gotten too fierce. The world has also gotten more complex.
Population health is an opportunity
The regulations surrounding the Affordable Care Act can be confusing for the hospital, the patient and even insurance companies. Those are the ones forcing the pay for performance model because they don’t want to pay out as much money. Insurance companies also want to see better population health because it results in fewer claims.
The knee-jerk reaction is to promote the hospital’s various partnerships and programs to raise the community profile of the hospital. That’s all fine, well and good. But those alone don’t raise preference. They are simply the proof points to your brand promise.
The danger is that hospitals will sport brands that are all about better health and caring medical professionals. But those aren’t the reasons to prefer one hospital to another. They are just definitions of a hospital.
Instead, the process of increasing preference is to find the emotional triggers that make those things – including the overall healthiness of a community – important to the prospective patient. Why are those important? What are the drivers for those patients so that they choose your hospital?
The key to gaining preference is to be early in a prospect’s decision tree. The earlier you are positioned, the greater your preference. The struggle for hospitals is that no one wants to think about a hospital. It spells danger, risk and potential death. Instead, you must be important enough to prospective patients that, when they need a hospital, they have already chosen you. Even if it’s subconsciously.
To accomplish that, hospitals must avoid the clichés and trite messaging that comes with most hospital branding. A few tips:
Understand your competition. To be a true choice, you have to be truly different and better in your messaging. If your main competition has messaging focused on caring and expertise, you have an opportunity. Audiences filter out those messages because all hospitals claim to care and have expertise. Those messages mean little.
Go deeper. Most marketing stops at the wants and needs, but those can be fulfilled by any number of healthcare providers. True preference is created when you understand the reasons why those wants and needs are important. That means uncovering the precepts that drive behavior and the self-identification those audiences treasure. Aligning your brand with that belief creates audiences who are incapable of choosing anyone else because they would, in effect, be choosing against themselves.
The opportunity with population health exists because hospitals can be more important to communities. They can position themselves differently. Improving population health offers a gateway to a meaningful brand that goes beyond traditional hospital marketing. It means the promises of your hospital have changed and now you have the proof points to show for it.
Your hospital is now in the results business. Think about that as a hospital brand.