The Upstream Healthcare Audience Puzzle

In healthcare marketing, it’s often assumed high-visibility, consumer-facing communications are the primary areas of focus. But the healthcare ecosystem is complex, and there are multiple upstream influencers who determine the total number of consumers eligible to come to your hospital or physician network for treatment.

In healthcare marketing, it’s often assumed high-visibility, consumer-facing communications are the primary areas of focus. After all, the response rates to these campaigns drive the Return on Investment (ROI) metrics shown in quarterly reports. But the healthcare ecosystem is complex and there are multiple upstream healthcare influencers who determine the total number of consumers eligible to come to your hospital or physician network for treatment.

Changes in influencer priorities or relationships can dramatically decrease or increase your pool of commercially insured prospects. So, a strategic approach to marketing requires being mindful of these upstream stakeholders, crafting aligned audience-based messages and conducting focused outreach that keeps your brand as a ‘must have’ in their decision-making.

Where Upstream Healthcare Influencers Come Into Play

For example, let’s say there’s a long-established manufacturer in your market with 500 employees. It’s considered one of the best places to work because of advancement opportunities and good pay, so people stay a long time. Because of that, the workforce’s average age has drifted up into the 40s. Some still use maternity services, but the claims history now includes more high blood pressure related encounters, hip/knee replacements and oncology care.

The cost of claims to the insurer rises to over 85 percent of total premiums paid by employer and employee. Months ahead of open enrollment, the insurer proposes a significant rate increase to the broker the company has relied upon for years. The company’s CFO strenuously objects because the increase would squeeze its margins, forcing it to raise its own prices or cuts costs elsewhere.

The haggling between employer, broker and health plan begins in earnest and trade-offs are explored. These usually involve changing benefit structures, but in some situations, the manufacturer will change insurers completely or move to a narrow network product.

If your doctors and hospitals are ‘high performing’ and remain in-network, this can be a growth opportunity. For everyone else, that workforce and all those dependents just became unpersuadable through consumer advertising — they simply won’t pay out-of-network rates to come to you.

I’ve seen these volume shifts undo the progress made through consumer-directed outreach.

How do your physicians, hospitals — and your marketing — influence this chain of events?

Yes, much of it is based on hard data about per-encounter costs, clinical quality, chronic illness management and readmission rates, but negotiations also have a perceptual side. What’s the awareness and perception of your organization among these influencers?

Here’s where a marketer’s expertise can help:

Existing Patients/Members

Help your organization achieve quality and patient engagement goals by using your knowledge of persuasive techniques to improve shared-decision making efforts. According to Health Affairs, patients who are not engaged in their care incur costs up to 21 percent higher than patients who are very engaged.

Additionally, even small improvements in medication adherence, appropriate use of the Emergency Department, handwashing and post discharge follow-up appointments with Primary Care Physicians can pay off noticeably in quality and cost metrics.

A marketer’s understanding of patient experience mapping, consumer psychology and communications tone can support patient and staff engagement efforts. Touch base with clinical and case management leaders and offer your help.

Employers

In the U.S, half of health insurance coverage comes through employer-sponsored plans. The yearly determination about benefits is a serious discussion that involves human resources/benefits, as well as finance/administration.

What’s Next for Marketing Careers in Digital and Multichannel? 

It’s not too early to start thinking about what is ahead for your career with 2017 quickly approaching. What skills should you improve? How can you make yourself more appealing to potential employers, or position yourself for a promotion? To provide you with some direction, I recently spoke to executive digital and multichannel recruiting expert, Jerry Bernhart.

Jerry Bernhart, Principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC
Jerry Bernhart, Principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC

It’s not too early to start thinking about what is ahead for your marketing career with 2017 quickly approaching. What skills should you improve? How can you make yourself more appealing to potential employers, or position yourself for a promotion?

To provide you with some direction, I recently spoke to executive digital and multichannel recruiting expert, Jerry Bernhart. As principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC, Jerry has conducted searches as well as recruited and placed top digital and multichannel marketers, with clients ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies, for more than 20 years.

Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Michelle Robin: How different is searching for a job today than say just two years ago?

Jerry Bernhart: Two years isn’t a lot of time. There hasn’t been a dramatic amount of difference, particularly since the recession. But I can give you some examples of what is going on in the industry today.

Right now, I am wrapping up a recent search for a manager of e-commerce — a really hot segment. When this search started two months ago, I surfaced eight to ten candidates, and I lost half of them in the first four weeks because my client couldn’t move quickly enough. This shows an enormous demand for this type of person.

With another search for a CRM (customer relationship management) manager, I had candidate who ended up with four external offers plus a counter offer. For best-of-breed talent, this is what I am seeing happen often.

Robin: What is your number one tip for job seekers looking to get ahead in their marketing career?

Bernhart: Keep learning. The beauty of digital is it makes it so easy to learn online. There is so much out there and things are moving so quickly, it’s essential to stay on top of things. The day you quit learning is the day you need to quit marketing.

If I could add another thing, I would say to be open regarding location. If you’re not living in a top metro area, look at other places. There are a lot of opportunities out there and you may not find them in your own hometown because you are in a smaller market. It’s kind of like broadcasting. The top news anchors didn’t start in New York City. So for young professionals especially, go to where the opportunities are and expand your scope of knowledge and responsibilities. Do it in small steps though, so you don’t take a big hit on the cost of living.

Robin: How important is your online brand for digital marketing professionals? Do employers actually look at your personal website, social media profiles, etc.?

Bernhart: It’s critical! You should think about your personal and online brand as often as you get your haircut. Think about it, you don’t know how long you’re going to be working at your current employer. You can’t afford to ignore your brand. If you don’t know how to brand yourself, how can you brand an organization?

The first thing human resources people do, even more than hiring managers, is Google you and look you up on LinkedIn. They may have your résumés, but the problem with résumés is you can’t always believe what is on there. So, put your personal URL on your résumé.

I have lots of candidates who have side projects. You can use that as the perfect opportunity to show a potential employer what is going on. I’ve never seen it have a negative impact on someone’s candidacy. In fact, I prefer they are upfront and transparent about it.