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Massive Health Care Services Industry is Challenged to Survive in a Time of Significant Market Disruption

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The healthcare industry is an integral part of life; a fundamental aspect of supporting the health and well-being of every member of society. Thought by many to be a right, the evolution of once altruistic, non-profit entities, the healthcare industry has evolved into a system of interrelated business models that focus on advancing the science of medicine and delivering improved medical care to the world’s population. Consisting of 784,626 companies throughout the United States (US), the healthcare sector is the US’s largest employer and is expected to generate more than $4.3 trillion dollars annually by 2023. Healthcare has become the largest category of spending by American consumers, who spend twice as much on health-related expenditures than any other society on earth. Historically an industry focused on treatment of illness and chronic diseases, the industry is struggling to evolve into one that champions ill health avoidance and prevention.

The medical industry consists of four primary sectors; healthcare services and facilities, manufacturers of medical devices, equipment, and hospital supplies; medical insurance; and managed care and pharmaceuticals. Each sector is intricately connected and dependent to the whole, and each is facing its own set of unique challenges to improving performance and controlling costs. The healthcare services sector is the most familiar to the public. It consists of hospitals, diagnostic and treatment facilities, rehabilitation services, emergency care centers, laboratories, out-patient care facilities, long-term care and individual medical practitioners and physicians. It is where the industry meets the patient face to face and where, over several decades, patients have evolved to become consumers.

Like most professional service industries, the medical services segment is a relative late-comer to the adoption of fundamental marketing practices such as strategy development, branding, traditional advertising techniques, digital marketing tactics and recognizing the value of the consumer experience. While some in the industry continue to question the importance of marketing fundamentals, most policy makers embrace the importance of communicating via social media platforms and understand the value of positive consumer experiences, where patient outcomes are paramount. Marketing has now become mainstream in the industry where changing consumer expectations is driving disruptive changes to marketing policies throughout the segment.

The recent appearance of COVID-19 and the ensuing worldwide pandemic has thrown the medical services industry into chaos as it scurries to meet the needs of an increasingly ill society. As routine services, treatments and elective surgeries (the financial mainstay of hospital and medical services) were sidelined to meet the needs of COVID-19 patients, the action is jeopardizing the very existence of hospitals and practitioners around the US, mainly in rural areas of the country. “I get worried that with all the media and information focusing on staying away from the hospital, we’ll end up in a situation in a couple of months from now that chronic diseases are poorly managed and patients have a shortage of medications because they didn’t go to their doctor or can’t get in touch with them,” says Dr. Tania Elliott, co-chair of the virtual health clinical task force at NYU Langone Health.

Overall, a majority of healthcare marketers are rethinking their marketing strategies to align more efficiently with the new reality that the pandemic has created. In a recent survey, a majority of healthcare marketers reported they were reducing 2020 budgets, and more than one-third are holding the line on marketing spend for the remainder of the year when a clearer vision of the future emerges. “The good news is, we don’t hear anybody saying, ‘Business is going to stop,’” said Bostrom, Finn Partners’ chief strategy officer. “We’re talking about pretty critical marketing efforts to ensure that clinicians are equipped with what they need from companies, that patients’ needs are being met, and that firms have the right tools in place to keep a quality, two-way discussion going when they can’t do that in person. Reacting more quickly to the marketplace will become more important and pharma needs to find quicker, more agile ways of responding to all of our customer segments.”

As the sequester of face to face interactions between practitioners and patients continues, telemedicine is finally finding favor among an increasing number of medical professionals. Some 88% of providers are leveraging remote engagement alternatives. Health systems are beginning to promote video visits as alternatives to in-office ones, and health plans are lowering consumer costs which make virtual visits more accessible. Federal regulators are expanding Medicare coverage of virtual visits and are working to develop a process of interstate licensing for physicians, a formidable barrier to the increased marketing of telemedicine for years. “This epidemic has pushed the adoption curve of telemedicine,” said Dr. Prentiss Taylor, VP for medical affairs for Doctor On Demand. “People who have access to this will appreciate the value of the benefit. I think we’re at yet another inflection point.” Health systems that have ramped up telemedicine capabilities during the pandemic are likely to continue promoting telemedicine after the pandemic subsides.

Significant challenges will remain after the coronavirus fades. Ongoing staff shortages in healthcare will continue to require promotional activities to attract qualified health care workers across industry segments. Overall marketing efforts will need to align with the industry’s ability to fill the 2.3 million shortage of workers required by 2023.

Specifically targeting consumer segments with authentic messages that promote trust and patient value is essential for marketers of medical services going forward. Social media and blogging are becoming effective platforms for medical care providers. Sealing the relationship between provider and patient is critical. With 80 percent of consumers saying that the experience is more important than the product or service, it is imperative that initial connections with the patient are in line with the goals and objectives of the organization. The US healthcare industry is quickly moving towards a financial model that is based on value rather than volume and focused on healthcare avoidance as much as treatment.  This radical shift from a fee-for-service based system to a value-based system will demand a differing approach to healthcare marketing for years to come.

Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) is eminently qualified and experienced to assist today’s healthcare providers in navigating the industry’s new marketing reality. To learn more on how our team can help chart a successful course through volatile and disruptive times, contact Junction today at 678-686-1125.