Consumerism: The Future of Healthcare

Patient-Focused Care is a Growing Challenge

Even before the advent of the Affordable Care Act, a primary goal for healthcare providers has been to get consumers more involved in their own healthcare decisions.

From the now-defunct federal Health Systems Agencies (the original HSAs), to Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), to Flexible Spending Accounts, to Health Savings Accounts (the new HSAs), to the more recent Accountable Care Entities, engaging and empowering consumers to make informed choices about their healthcare needs has been both an ongoing objective and challenge.

Healthcare communicators, who are at the heart of providers’ consumer relations and community relations efforts, need to understand what’s driving this important movement.

 

Key Drivers of Healthcare Consumerism

In a recent webinar sponsored by Thomas Jefferson University’s Jefferson College of Population Health and IBM Watson Health, Dr. David B. Nash, dean of the college, noted that the two biggest factors driving the evolution of healthcare consumerism are utilization and costs.

Dr. Nash pointed to data from 2015 showing that the total expenditure for healthcare in the U.S. topped $3.2 trillion, accounting for 17.8% of the country’s gross domestic product. Per capita national health expenditures amounted to almost $10,000. Almost 60% of those expenditures were tied to two areas of spending: Hospital Care (32.3%) and Professional Services (26.2%).

One key problem, he noted, is quality. More “socialized” national systems found in Canada and Europe provide consumers with better quality at a better price compared to the U.S. health system. At the same time, U.S. consumers are shouldering more of the total healthcare cost burden, including unanticipated costs. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, U.S. workers’ share of health insurance premiums grew 221% since 1999, while premiums themselves increased 203%.

From a healthcare finance perspective, it’s an unsustainable situation. Empowering consumers to exercise more control over their healthcare spending is part of the solution.

 

More Education, Transparency Needed

Unfortunately, too many consumers don’t understand what they’re paying for – or how they’re paying for it. Lack of awareness about insurance terms, processes and pricing tend to inhibit patients from getting involved more directly in their healthcare decisions.

“If you can’t define what a copayment is, you won’t be an empowered consumer,” Dr. Nash explained.

Consumers want to understand what is happening, but available data can be overwhelming. Many are turning to social and public sources for information, but lack the ability to translate the data in a meaningful way that would help their decision-making.

 

Social Determinants of Health (SDOH)

Other key factors driving the evolution of healthcare consumerism are social determinants that describe conditions in which people live, learn, work and play – all of which can have significant impact on an individual’s health risks and outcomes.

Poverty, not surprisingly, is the number one social determinant of health. Those without insurance, or access to regular healthcare checkups inevitably fare worse in terms of early detection of adverse conditions and ensuing complications, chronic health issues, and life expectancy.

A recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation survey asked American physicians what kind of prescriptions they wish they could write to assist patients with social needs. Among their top answers: Fitness Programs (75%), Nutritional Food (64%), and Transportation Assistance (47%). For doctors whose patients were predominantly urban and low-income, the responses were just as telling: Employment Assistance (52%), Adult Education (49%), and Housing Assistance (43%).

 

Engagement is Key

To help address many of these needs, many health systems are increasing their focus on community-based care, meeting patients closer to where they live and addressing their individual needs. This trend can be seen in a number of ways:

  • Increasingly, large regional health systems are affiliating with traditional community hospitals, based on level, type of condition or geography.
  • The popularity and prevalence of retail clinics continues to grow, as health systems see a means to deliver lower-cost local services beyond primary care.
  • Bedless hospitals are springing up – newer entities that are often multi-specialty and offer traditional hospital services except for inpatient care.
  • The BCBS Institute is partnering with the ridesharing company Lyft to address transportation-based SDOH. The Institute and Lyft will work together to coordinate rides in neighborhoods with limited public transit access and low rates of vehicle ownership.
  • The growing popularity of telehealth, mobile technology and digital therapeutics, that allow physicians to provide lower cost care and regularly monitor their patients’ progress almost anywhere at any time.

In addition, spending more time with patients – encouraging them to ask questions, taking time to explain procedures, treatments and options – can be a major factor in improving healthcare outcomes individually and in the community. Healthcare insurance professionals can also play an important role by working closely with consumers to make sure they understand options and nuances involved in their insurance decisions.

Healthcare communicators have a major role to play as well, by paying close attention to the evolving nature of healthcare consumerism and working with their colleagues – healthcare administrators, physicians, nurses and other medical professionals, as well as their allies throughout the community – to reach out, identify and educate consumers to ensure as many as possible get the care and support they need to live healthy, happy lives.

Build Loyalty with Peer-to-Peer Healthcare Communities

User-Generated Content Helps Patients Thrive

Every hospital and healthcare delivery system wants to build a deep connection with patients, families, and the community. But sometimes far more powerful connections can be formed when the organization takes a step back and allows those audiences to connect with each other with user-generated content.

Cultivating an online community of patients, who share a common condition, disease, or experience, can be an effective way to build loyalty to your organization while delivering helpful information to the group, according to a recent webinar by the New England Society for Healthcare Communications (NESHCO). And the best part is you’re empowering group members to create that content.

 

User-Generated Content is Highly Prized

If you’re considering setting up an online community, the first and overriding question to ask is “What’s in it for them?” Typically, members who join a group, such as one devoted to a specific disease, are seeking:

  • Treatment information – Who’s doing a clinical trial?
  • Practical information – Topics that may not be gleaned easily from clinical experts, such as quality–of-life issues (e.g. “How do I travel cross country for a wedding with my condition?”)
  • Emotional support – camaraderie with others affected by the same thing, like bladder cancer, or cirrhosis.
  • Loyalty – the warmth of the group that gets people coming back because they feel like they’re part of something.

These communities live and die on user-generated content. They should be places of peer-to-peer communication. This is not the forum to promote the health system, provide tips from your physicians, or post an “Ask the Expert” column.

After all, “everyone is an expert in their own condition,” noted John Novack, who oversees the million-member Inspire health and wellness social network. And these de facto experts frequently want to share their knowledge and experiences with others. If members of the group are exchanging information and it’s seamless, they will feel like the community is their own, and that’s good. It can be scary, Novack said, because you’re not controlling the content, but you can be the guiding light.

That means identifying active contributors, and leveraging them (if they want to be leveraged) into community “champions.” These members may already be blogging, speaking, creating videos on YouTube or serving on patient advisory councils.

To build champions, said Colleen Young, community director for Mayo Clinic Connect, “watch their activity and behavior online, and nurture it. Think about rewards – you can never say thank you enough, and there are many ways to thank people.” She adds that simply being given the opportunity to contribute user-generated content can be meaningful “compensation” for those with a voice they want to have heard.

 

Building Connections, Removing Barriers

Here are some more tips from the experts for building a community of user-generated content:

  • Encourage commenting. Every page should allow comments. This will foster engagement, and those asking a question one day will be the same ones answering that question the next.
  • Reduce barriers to get people to engage. Make sure the registration process is easy, and connecting with others is simple. Think of the population you want to attract, and see if there are barriers specific to those members.
  • Consider featuring “boutique” pages or blogs within the community. Think of these as specialty shops within a shopping mall, where visitors can get information specific to them.
  • Moderate, but resist interfering. The Mayo Clinic has a staff of five monitors for Connect, to ensure everyone is respectful and following the rules. Intercede only when necessary, such as when someone starts giving hard-and-fast “thou shalts” or dispensing medical advice that’s not grounded in their own experience.
  • Learn from your community. Not only can members learn from each other, your clinical staff can learn from them. Young recalled how a nursing team monitoring the Mayo community gained a better understanding of what it’s like to be in an epileptic unit, awaiting a seizure. The direct feedback of patients is a great way to see what it’s like on the other side of the gurney.
  • Don’t expect overnight success. When you see a successful community, it looks easy, but the upfront work is hard. You have to nurture it, and this will take time and effort.
  • You don’t have to recreate the wheel. There are online communities like Connect, or Inspire, that you can partner with. If you’re thinking about creating a community, do the research first…you may find an existing community you can hitch your wagon to.

The Internet has created an ability for more people to gather more information about diseases than ever before. Patient-to-patient networking is emerging as a valuable resource. If your healthcare organization is poised to facilitate this, and create a community in which people want to connect and share experiences, wonderful things can happen.

11 Ways to Maximize Your Earned Media on Social

You Scored a Great Hit, Now Comes the Easy Part

Congratulations, you’ve earned a great TV story, newspaper article or bylined thought leader piece in a trade publication! Now what?

Share that success via social media marketing! By doing so you can:

  • Get more eyeballs on the story, thus expanding the audience for your organization’s messages;
  • Further enhance your physicians’ expert reputations in the eyes of patients, consumers and journalists following you on social media;
  • Keep internal audiences, including administrators, star doctors, partners and off-site staff, in the loop on the great work your public relations department is doing;
  • Improve SEO, as the online version of the article (frequently containing a link to your organization) gets shared;
  • Build relationships with reporters by sharing their work (something they’re often judged on);
  • Highlight your agency’s work for prospective new clients.

Social media marketing of client hits is part of SPRYTE’s DNA, and should be part of yours too. And it should go beyond just a link, or a canned “Share This” from the original website. This is your opportunity to hype the story with advance notice if possible, short accompanying text, and even behind-the-scenes photos from the event or interview.

Make the Most of Your Success through Social Media Marketing

Here are some more tips for marketing your results online:

Share the clip promptly, preferably within 24 hours of its appearance. Sometimes links go stale as articles are removed, and some publications put their content behind a paywall after a certain amount of time.

Don’t include the entire text of the story in your post; an introductory sentence or two, along with a link to the original site where the story appeared, is sufficient, will respect copyright, and is preferable for SEO purposes.

Break up the story into short snippets of information, to share in the days after it originally runs, especially if it contains useful tips. Be sure to include the link to the full article each time.

Use one or two relevant hashtags, along with handles for the organization, physician, reporter and any third parties involved in the story.

Highlight the story’s presentation if desired (for example, if it appeared front page, above the fold), by including a photograph or snip with the media outlet’s logo, along with the article link.

Encourage your staff to like and/or share the post on their personal social media channels (and do the same on yours).

Be mindful of paywalls. If the article isn’t free on the original website, you can still quote from it or include an image of the headline and first paragraph or two without stepping on toes, under the Fair Use Doctrine. Don’t include the entire article without written permission of the publisher.

Keep it professional. Linkedin isn’t the place for breathless excitement and exclamation points. Highlight a useful business or communications angle for your description if possible, to make it relevant for that audience.

Pay attention to photos. Facebook will grab a default image from the linked page, and you can no longer change this. If there’s no photo, or you don’t like the default, remove the link, add your own photo (you must do this step first), then paste the article URL in the text box after the blurb. The photo will appear under the post, and the URL will remain in the text box.

Punt if necessary. Not every story is available online, particularly TV or radio clips. If there’s no link, get creative. Use a screen grab or the outlet’s logo, or attach a photo you took at the interview to accompany your post.

Say thank you. It’s never a bad idea to enthusiastically thank the reporter or media outlet for doing the story in the text accompanying the link. This can strengthen the relationship. Just include handles, so they can find it – and hopefully share or re-tweet it.

You likely worked hard and put in significant time to secure that great earned media hit, but leveraging it with social media marketing is under your complete control. Making this part of your standard practice will extend the life of the clip and let others know about your great work!

Are Your Doctors Top Docs?

Follow this Process

Top Doctors rankings appear in many regional lifestyle magazines across the country. Here in the Philadelphia area, Philadelphia Magazine features the area’s best practitioners annually, in the May issue. But what’s behind the Top Doctors ratings, and should you be nominating your own physicians?

The short answer is yes. Having multiple Top Doctors from your organization populating the local list delivers cachet to your practice or health system. It says, “our doctors have excellent training and clinical skills, and give superior care and concern to their patients,” and that can be valuable from a reputation management standpoint. Publications that run them online frequently link to their full contact information, and their pictures often appear in print, sometimes on the cover. Some publications archive the best doctors on a searchable online database.

Of course, Top Doctors is also an advertising opportunity, as organizations can extend their honored doctors’ visibility with paid congratulatory notes, expanded doctor profiles or, in the case of Philadelphia Magazine, Q&As or first-person doctor essays. A news release highlighting the organization’s multitude of honorees is yet another option. And social media posts, e-newsletters, and magazine reprints highlighting the honored doctors can extend the life of the list even further.

A Straightforward Process

Unlike some other Best of Lists (e.g. Best Pizza Place, Best Spa) frequently found in these regional publications, Top Doctors are not voted for by readers. Rather, they are often supplied by a third party organization called Castle Connolly, whose only mission is to publish lists and books ranking healthcare professionals. Publications like Philadelphia Magazine subscribe to the service.

According to the Castle Connolly website:

“Physicians can nominate those other doctors whom they feel are the most outstanding in their medical specialties, in any area of medicine and in any part of the country, indicating also whether they believe that the physician is among the best in their region or among the very best in the nation. Also, already-selected Castle Connolly Top Doctors are actively encouraged through various communications to participate in this process as well.”

Doctors are peer-nominated, and cannot nominate themselves. Any licensed MD and DO can submit nominations, in several dozen categories based on specialty. The good news is nominations are free, as are resulting listings in the company’s guides.

The nomination form is exhaustive, requiring detailed biographical information of the doctor. The Castle Connolly team evaluates nomination based on “medical education, training, board certifications, hospital appointments, administrative posts, professional achievements and malpractice and disciplinary history.” Often, they will interview the nominated doctor too.

Castle Connolly’s nomination process is open year-round, and doctors can be selected and recognized on the company’s various websites throughout the year, but you will have to wait until the next Top Doctors issue of your local magazine to see your honored physicians in print. It pays to be mindful of deadlines and editorial calendars, to reduce the lag time between nomination and reaping the benefits of a recognized doctor.

Streamlining Your Top Doctors Nominations

It might also be worthwhile to designate one physician or administrator in your organization to spearhead the nomination process. That might entail polling each department for potential nominees, and choosing a peer or the department head to complete the form. Alternatively, your designated staffer might handle the entire process, from choosing nominees to interviewing the individual to filling out the form. In either case, it is best to have a central “clearing house” through which to submit nominations, and to serve as a single point of contact for Castle Connolly.

For healthcare consumers, Top Doctors has become a reliable way of finding the best practitioners in a given geographic area. The imprimateur lends credibility to a practice, and can alert prospective patients to the existence of a doctor they may not have known about. The annual list also provides another opportunity for a practice or health system to stand out from its competitors. So take a look at your organization’s high performing physicians and get nominating!