By Alan Manning & Eric M. Stone | February 7, 2019

Congratulations, you’ve cracked the code on patient-centric innovation and experience.

Your patients have never been happier or expressed greater levels of satisfaction with your healthcare delivery. From room amenities to online cost estimates to mobile scheduling using the latest newfangled apps, they are pleased as punch.

But now that the pleasantries are behind us, let’s get serious. How do you really transform your hospital’s experience and satisfaction aura into a leading element of your differentiation and brand efforts? What are proven ways to let your care decisions sing for their supper as competitive advantages in the marketplace? How can you move beyond the superficial to actively engage patients in the delivery of care?

Consumerism in Healthcare

Consumerism has kicked down the door of traditional healthcare and thrown its gauntlet at the feet of system leaders. Informed by their technology-aided experiences in industries like travel, retail and banking, and newly empowered as the primary payers for the cost of their own care, patients are no longer content with the antiquated hospital experience of old. Instead, a growing number of patients expect transparency, immediacy, convenience, and partnership throughout their healthcare journey.

Lyft has taught them that the ride – not the financial obligation – should be the lasting memory of any journey. Amazon has shown them that a world of unparalleled choice and unbridled immediacy really can live at their fingertips. And Apple has balanced form and function for them.

These pressures and transformative waves of innovation have forced health systems to forego their traditional mindset and embrace change as foundational elements of their strategy. Leadership now realizes that a human-centric experience for patients, practitioners and caregivers is a critical dynamic in the delivery of modern care.

Over the past decade this realization has become tangible. Caregivers are empowered, and increasingly expected, by their systems and leaders to provide meaningful connections and considerate care as a daily characteristic of their job. The experience of staying in a hospital has been permeated by more of the creature comforts taking center stage. Health systems are changing their approach to billing and payments to provide a self-service experience that emphasizes transparency, convenience, and – some would argue – accountability. Even regulators have gotten in on the act with programs like “Never Events,” CMS reimbursements, and more that tie benefits to positive patient ratings and lower rates of recidivism.

This new mindset has helped bring providers and stakeholders into alignment with organizations like Planetree that are dedicated to advancing the patient and caregiver experience. It has also placed value on innovation and the role of patients and practitioners in identifying new ways of delivering care. From cutting edge robotic surgery units to needle free blood draw technologies like PIVO™, the entire continuum of care is being re-thought, and even re-routed, with the human experience in mind. These advances combine high-tech and high-touch to create high-impact, all in service to patient experience and outcomes.

But it’s not enough just to remove the needle from inpatient blood draws, offer guaranteed estimates and mobile billing, upgrade to healthy gluten free cuisine, or deploy the da Vinci® Surgery System. A proactive, funded marketing plan is essential to educate your patients and their caregivers, so they can make informed decisions. Here are five ways to rethink your hospital’s innovation marketing plan and earn the coveted title of “The People’s Champion.”

Treat Patients as Customers

Patients understand their role has changed…because they are changing it, proactively. As the responsible financial party and with more information than ever at their fingertips, our most vulnerable are demanding more of providers and then voting with their wallet. Happy patients mean loyal patients, which is critical at a time of increasing retail-style competition amongst health systems.

Take a cue from Amazon, Apple, etc. and open up your arms to embrace your patients, practitioners and their caregivers like customers. Provide them with more information than they expect, service them with a smile, and ask them if they’re happy. When they are disgruntled, do something about it – not just for them, but for those following in their footsteps. Create a culture of continuous improvement – not just clinically, but operationally.

On the backend, leverage data to track their preferences and needs so you can be more efficient while creating the perception of extreme service – and do it even before you are asked. Importantly, these interactions should be designed to minimize the impression or feel of a “transaction,” and instead emphasize aspects like choice and voice that patients as customers value.

Leverage Innovation Partners

The people and companies delivering innovations to your doorstep are just as invested in ultimate success. Often, they are willing to make financial commitments that act as budget multipliers for you. For example, the PIVO device arrives with communications and marketing support that helps systems educate all their constituencies. Be aggressive about working with your innovation partners to maximize these relationships and amplify your own marketing efforts.

Retail Marketing

When it comes to those marketing campaigns, don’t be afraid to pull out all the stops. Your job is to reach and influence people throughout your local communities. Earn attention and mindshare with creative strategies and executions. Turn hospital wall space into engaging – even interactive – displays that delight while informing patients on your latest innovations. Be cheeky with your outdoor billboards. Sponsor everything from holiday displays to Little League teams. Every place you put your system’s brand is one where your competition does not.

Beyond these traditional retail marketing practices, providers can also lean into their role as a hub within their community. By opening your doors to people outside of traditional medical interactions and for educational, networking or engagement opportunities, you can foster a deeper connection with patients.

The Digital Advantage

Hospital systems are increasingly savvy about their digital marketing footprint because they have to be – their audience is already miles ahead. Online and paid search are a start, but a layered social media and communications strategy that includes novel content, educational initiatives and direct targeting can also work wonders.

These often work best when supported by imagery and short videos. Turn your innovations into easily sharable digital elements – storytelling that helps patients and caregivers relate to others who are (or who have been) on a similar journey. Tell a powerful story and enable your constituents to easily forward it on to others.

Marketing teams should also be creating integrated campaigns that attach hashtags and other online elements to offline events. Turn charity races or open houses into online gathering places using calls to action and after-event wrap-up stories. People increasingly live through their online personas so make sure your brand can reach them where they are at any given moment on their journey towards healing and stability.

Create Evangelists

Today, everyone is a creator. Whether online or in their communities, your patients, practitioners and partners can all be active evangelists for your latest care innovations. Don’t passively rely on them to tell this story, rather give them the tools to do so effectively and on-message. This can be achieved through effective marketing collateral, small group gatherings, and social media information kits. If you’re uncertain how to active your PFAC (Patient and Family Advisory Council), put them to work adding real value – sharing their personal journey for others to relate. By activating and equipping these advocates, you create an army of marketing evangelists telling the world about your human-centered care initiatives.

Alan Manning is the Executive Vice President at Planetree, Inc., a mission based non-profit dedicated to pioneering methods for personalizing, humanizing and demystifying the healthcare experience.

Eric M. Stone is a chronic disease sufferer with a clinical fear of needles. He serves as a patient advocate as a National Trustee for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and is the co-founder and CEO of needle-free vascular access company Velano Vascular.

© Copyright ASC COMMUNICATIONS 2019.

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