A Few Thoughts on Healthcare Marketing Amid Neverending Brand Crises
Today's news cycle operates at breathtaking speed. Headline after headline shoves its way into the spotlight and then is forgotten almost as quickly. So what does it mean for healthcare marketing when every refresh of the web browser seems to include another story related to healthcare?
Poor healthcare access. Astronomical health insurance premiums. Surprise bills.Medicare for All. Single Payer. Universal coverage. The list of healthcare grievances and proposed solutions goes on and on. The near-constant presence of these stories indicates a level of societal frustration that should worry all of us who work in healthcare.
Pick any one of these stories, and we can explain it. Poor healthcare access? Well, it's related to a bottleneck in residency programs, a growing shortage of licensed providers and low reimbursements. Unaffordable health insurance premiums? That’s because the cost of covered services is high and demographic trends are driving more consumption. Medicare for All? Don't you know that would result in hospital closures and massive layoffs? Each well-reasoned explanation becomes another brick in the wall.
The seemingly unsolvable complexity of healthcare creates an atmosphere in which incremental improvements are unsatisfying, and Hail Mary visions of massive reform start becoming more palatable. That's a risky spot to be in for an industry that dislikes market uncertainty. Industries that remain tone deaf to societal pressures become targets for disruptors. It's starting to happen in healthcare around the edges, where the barriers to entry are lower, such as primary care and telehealth. Meanwhile, established players pursue vertical and horizontal mergers to keep patient volume in their delivery systems, which doesn't address the underlying affordability and access challenges driving public discontentment.
As marketers, it's important to understand and respond to the changing competitive environment. As communicators, we respond to media inquiries and help people navigate our systems. Let's also remember that our scope of responsibilities includes raising difficult conversations about external perceptions with internal stakeholders. Without that ongoing engagement and a willingness to try new things, we may reach a point where the “system” is transformed around us through legislative action or competitive disruption.
Michael Crawford became interested in healthcare listening to the conversations around the patio table as his parents and their colleagues talked about work. For the past 30 years he's used his marketing expertise to help medical groups, hospitals and health systems connect with consumers, physicians, employers, brokers and health plans. He advocates for a strategic approach to marketing, audience-based communications, coordination between marketing and customer service functions, and early inclusion of the marketing discipline when planning services. His work has earned more than a dozen awards over the past few years. He’s no stranger to healthcare reorganizations or healthcare reform, from the failed effort during the 90s to the implementation of the ACA to today’s efforts at repeal. His blog, Healthcare Marketing Survival Guide, offers advice for B2C and B2B healthcare marketers trying to chart their course during uncertain times. Connect with him via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @health_crawford.