Healthcare Marketers Live in Multiple Worlds — Leverage That Insight

As healthcare marketers, you live in multiple worlds. Of course you are a professional. But every time you go to the doctor, you’re a healthcare consumer. And while your employer provides care to tens of thousands of people each year, it’s also one of the largest purchasers of health insurance coverage in your market.

As healthcare marketers, you live in multiple worlds. Of course you are a professional. But every time you go to the doctor, you’re a healthcare consumer. And while your employer provides care to tens of thousands of people each year, it’s also one of the largest purchasers of health insurance coverage in your market.

These multiple perspectives can be a strength as you build bridges among your audiences. Or they may frustrate you, because it adds nuance and complexity to the task at hand.

Let’s take a look at the duality of being both a provider of healthcare and a consumer of health insurance, with all of its rules and paperwork.

Hospitals are one of the largest employers in most communities. A hospital of 200 beds may employ as many as 1,400 full- and part-time benefit-eligible employees, while large facilities can top 5,000. Workforces of that size are diverse, with many roles that impact patient experience but don’t require familiarity with the intricacies of health insurance. But, hopefully, all of those employees are eligible for insurance and made their selections last fall for the 2020 coverage year.

Likewise, consumers who may have changed insurance or their doctor are beginning their patient experience journey. Perhaps, as a consumer yourself, you’ve taken one of your kids to a new doctor and experienced a little disorientation. What would have helped?

This is all to say that more often than you think, you have opportunities to see things through more than one lens. That recognition of the friction points can lead to real improvement in communications and brand experience.

Bring those insights to the table.

5 Ways Healthcare Marketers Can Prepare for Seat at the Table

Healthcare marketers, are you at the kid’s table or the grown-ups table? Whether in a small town or large city, your medical practice or hospital is impacted by external matters, such as zoning issues, health plan changes, and the national debate about healthcare access.

Healthcare marketers, are you at the kid’s table or the grown-ups table?

Whether in a small town or large city, your medical practice or hospital is impacted by external matters, such as zoning issues, health plan changes, and the national debate about healthcare access. Are you at the leadership table when these issues are made?

Historically — and even today, in some organizations — the marketing and communication function was seen as a “packager” of decisions made by others. This “take this and sell it” mindset can fail spectacularly when the stakes are high, forcing a series of clarifications that make the organization look uncoordinated.

A lack of upfront input from communications contributes to decisions that come across as tone deaf when messaged to the public or other influential audiences  In these situations, the communications function hasn’t failed, but leadership failed to anticipate the external response, because of a lack of communications input at the beginning.

The communications function should be a critical input to actual decision-making, especially when it impacts patients. Having communication professionals at the table can help operational leadership anticipate — and prepare for — criticisms and questions that will arise when major decisions are announced.

For this construct to work, however, the communications function needs to come to the table prepared. This requires five things:

  • Reading a broad array of consumer, medical, and policy publications to understand various perspectives on trending issues, as well as core ones;
  • Staying in contact with external audiences through original and third-party market research and participation in influencer events;
  • Anticipating likely questions and bringing well-developed FAQs to the table for solution development by the full leadership team with an emphasis on how the organization will help transition those who are negatively impacted;
  • Aligning (or internally pointing out misalignment) between a decision and the organization’s publicly stated mission, vision, values, and previous statements. In cases where they do not seem to align, be transparent about the considerations that led to the decision and any steps being taken elsewhere in the organization to lessen perceived harm; and,
  • Recognizing that the outcomes of issues management may impede progress on your carefully constructed strategic marketing framework, particularly if the issue lingers in traditional or social media.

Wishing you a happy holiday season and a seat at the grown-ups table.

Healthcare Marketers, Start Your Push for Annual Wellness Visits Now

As we enter the fall, healthcare marketers should be starting their push for Medicare enrollees to schedule an Annual Wellness Visit. Unlike an appointment for a specific ailment, the Annual Wellness Visit is a longer-than-usual appointment, centered on a conversation between patient and provider.

As we enter the fall, healthcare marketers should be starting their push for Medicare enrollees to schedule an Annual Wellness Visit.

Unlike an appointment for a specific ailment, the Annual Wellness Visit is a longer-than-usual appointment, centered on a conversation between patient and provider. Self-reported issues, such as feelings of depression or cognition difficulty, coupled with direct observations by the provider, allow for better monitoring of concerns, as well as a more complete clinical record.

This matters to health plans with Medicare Advantage enrollees, as well as provider groups who care for them, because better documentation means a more accurate risk-score assigned to the individual enrollee. Patients with multiple conditions often require more extensive monitoring than healthier patients. In recognition of that additional effort, the federal government applies a risk-score adjustment to the fixed monthly payment (capitation) paid to the Medicare Advantage plan. This is intended to encourage care management interventions that can improve the patient’s health.

Medicare Advantage plans, in turn, often offer bonuses to medical groups and providers that have a high percentage of completed Annual Wellness Visits among eligible patients. If your organization has a large number of Medicare patients, you’ll generally find that at least one-third of them are enrolled through a Medicare Advantage plan. The incentive revenue to your organization from the health plan for completed Annual Wellness Visits can be significant.

Although the risk-adjustment model of payment applies only to Medicare Advantage plans, the Annual Wellness Visit itself is a covered benefit for all Medicare patients.

There are three challenges when promoting Annual Wellness Visits:

  • Encouraging a person to see their provider when they are feeling fine. In general, people go to the doctor when they have a specific medical complaint. In contrast, the Annual Wellness Visit is not a visit for diagnosis and treatment, but for a conversation that leads to improved care on subsequent visits. Annual Wellness Visits can be performed by a physician, nurse practitioner, registered dietician, or other medical professionals under a doctor’s supervision.
  • Ensuring the patient knows to ask for an Annual Wellness Visit rather a different type of visit when making the appointment. This matters, because Annual Wellness Visits are longer than other types of appointments, so the number of available scheduling slots may be fewer. Annual Wellness Visits also have no co-pays from the patient, but the patient will be asked for a co-pay if the appointment is incorrectly classified.
  • Communicating urgency to make the appointment before end-of-year. Although a patient can take advantage of this annual benefit on a rolling 12-month calendar, the provider has to log the appointment by close-of-business on December 31 for it to impact upcoming risk-adjusted payments. (Thus, any incentives offered by the plan to your organization also will have a 12/31 cut-off.)

Despite these challenges, promotion of Annual Wellness Visits can benefit patients, plans, and providers, alike.

Why Google’s SEO Strategy May Drive You Back to Digital Display

Bit by bit, Google has been changing the terms of its SEO strategy deal with healthcare marketers. Google’s strategy is shifting away from matchmaker to one of being a destination in and of itself, with fewer hand-offs necessary to your non-e-commerce site.

Bit by bit, Google has been changing the terms of its SEO strategy deal with healthcare marketers.

Health systems produced content and then made it “findable” by following established search engine optimization (SEO) techniques, in exchange for greater visibility when Google’s users plugged in related search terms. With more than 60% market share, Google’s importance as a matchmaker between content and curiosity could not be overstated.

But Google’s strategy is shifting away from matchmaker to one of being a destination in and of itself, with fewer hand-offs necessary to your non-e-commerce site. As your organic traffic plateaus, marketers will be forced to re-balance their digital tactics, just to hold onto the same user volume.

Google’s changing approach is based on old trends, as well as new ones. Marketers have long known that the longer a user spends on a site, the more opportunity there is to capture value from the visit. Google now leverages that logic for its benefit. The more information previewed in the top-level results, the more likely it is that the user’s question will be satisfied without the need to click through your site. The results from voice-based searches are even more succinct and less subject to commercialization (at this point).

What Healthcare Marketers Can Do

Are you unsure if this trend applies to your hospital?

Do a condition-based search, relevant to your facility, on a desktop. The results page probably starts with knowledge panels and instant answers, a map with showing facilities like yours, followed by paid ads, and then organic results — where SEO lives.

This hierarchy is more pronounced on mobile. Google depends on your site to serve up information that it compiles and displays in an at-a-glance format, regardless of device. A substantial number of searches relevant to your core content can be addressed, without ever registering on your analytics as a site visit. The irony is you can be getting better at SEO; especially with speakable schema, but not see the growth in traffic you’ve come to expect.

So, do you abandon SEO efforts? No. Digital queries in all forms will continue to increase, and competitors will not sit still. Quality content will retain its value, but likely needs additional behind-the-scenes mark-ups to be optimized.

Beyond that, you may need to revise your assumptions about traffic volume that will be produced by organic results and offset that volume loss with traffic generated from targeted outbound display ads. Of course, this has implications for your budget and audience mix.

The good news is that digital display on reputable outlets can give you the targeting and frequency levels necessary to generate awareness. And, creativity will once again become the focus of display ad development to pique the viewer’s interests and earn the click.

Like so many things, what was old is new again.

From ACA to Medicare: 5 Answers to Healthcare Marketers’ Legal Questions About Insurance

As healthcare marketers and communications professionals, this swirl of forces hits close to home. Are you able to describe the various paths of reform to internal or external audiences?

In the spring of 2010, healthcare marketers saw the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), nicknamed ObamaCare, become law. It was the largest expansion of health insurance coverage since the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. More than 50 years have passed since healthcare became more accessible, yet it remains a fiercely debated topic among politicians and is now the No. 1 concern among voters, according to a new poll from RealClear Opinion Research.

The tug-of-war between those who view healthcare as a guaranteed right and those who believe the government should have a minimal role is shaping up to be a driving force in the 2020 election. The processes used to “right-size” the government’s role shows we remain deeply conflicted. Court cases in different jurisdictions return victories and defeats to both sides. Voters generally approve Medicaid expansion when it’s on a state ballot, but elect federal representatives with divergent views. Why is this still so complicated?

The U.S., which has the world’s most powerful armed forces, spends 3.6% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on the military. Contrast that with the 18% of GDP spent on healthcare, and you start to get a sense of the scale of the industry and the Rubik’s Cube nature of how its pieces depend on each other. Those who view healthcare as a matter of seeing the doctor when you are sick tend to see the upside in expanding coverage. Those who think of it in economic terms tend to worry about potential disruption to jobs, given that healthcare is the largest source of employment in many towns. And those who view it as a commodity tend to think the marketplace should be left alone to sort it out.

As healthcare marketers and communications professionals, this swirl of forces hits close to home. Are you able to describe the various paths of reform to internal or external audiences?

  • The ACA (today’s status quo): For Americans who do not receive health insurance through their employer, the ACA removed restrictions on individual policies, such as exclusions for pre-existing conditions, lifetime limitations on benefits, and widely divergent premiums based on your health. Of course, the ACA also set up online exchanges where you could see if you qualify for certain subsidies to help you purchase different levels of gold, silver, or bronze coverage. Some people objected to the “individual mandate” that penalized taxpayers as a means of encouraging them to get coverage. Since its passage, the penalty for the mandate has been reduced to $0.
  • Single-Payer: Single-payer refers to the federal government reimbursing physicians and hospitals for services provided to patients, but doesn’t explicitly tie the reimbursement amounts to those of an existing program, such as Medicare or Medicaid. The uncertainty creates financial uncertainty for providers. Single-payer would, for the most part, eliminate the role of health insurance companies, which advocates believe would save money on administrative “waste” and opponents see as removing choice from the marketplace. Consumers who have “skimpy” health coverage might have more services covered under single payer, while those with richer benefits through commercial insurance might have fewer services covered.
  • Medicare-for-All (multiple flavors): Medicare-for-All is an expansion of an existing federal program accepted by almost all providers. Several proposals generally fall under the “Medicare for All” moniker, making it more complex to sort out. The name gives the impression the covered benefits would be similar to original Medicare parts A&B, but most proposals envision benefits like those available through Medicare Advantage, with benefits for vision, dental, and prescription drugs. Some proposals use traditional Medicare as a starting point for calculating reimbursements, while others use a more ambitious “global payments” approach for hospitals and standard rates for other types of providers. Consumers could purchase supplemental insurance to access services that are not covered. There would be no monthly premiums because tax revenues would cover costs. Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP would be discontinued in favor of Medicare-for-All.
  • Medicare Buy-in: Medicare Buy-in is a smaller expansion of Medicare than envisioned under Medicare-for-All. This proposal would allow people 50 years old and over to pay a premium for the coverage provided under traditional Medicare or Medicare Advantage. The buy-in premium would be expected to cover 100% of administrative and benefit costs, although the enrollee may qualify for subsidies that bring down monthly premiums. Consumers could also purchase supplemental coverage, preserving a role for commercial insurance companies for that segment, as well as for younger consumers. Reimbursement rates for providers would mimic Medicare payment rates.
  • Universal Coverage: This is a goal rather than a pre-defined approach. As the name implies, Universal Coverage means everyone has access to healthcare, but it does not necessarily mean all services would be covered and it does not specify which of the above methods would be used to achieve it. In some countries, Universal Coverage also means that the government would control pricing, which critics say leads to an overall decline in the quality of care and advocates view as being more socially equitable.

As the debate over healthcare heats up — yet again — it may produce confusion and fear among people who have come to depend on specific programs, even if those programs have well-known flaws. Real change isn’t likely until after the 2020 elections, and the direction of that change will depend on who voters send to D.C. to represent them. In the meantime, be prepared to answer a lot of questions from worried patients.