The Future of Healthcare Communications

Understanding the Key Role of Healthcare Marketers

Back in 1993, respected, retired news anchor, Walter Cronkite, said “America’s healthcare system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.” One could argue the same sentiment holds true today in 2016.

There is no arguing that healthcare in the United States has changed quite a bit in the past 23 years. In fact, the U.S. healthcare system is in “high change mode” according to Ian Morrison, PhD, strategist, author, consultant and futurist. Morrison is the former president of the Institute for the Future and a founding partner of Strategic Health Perspectives, a forecasting service for clients in the healthcare industry.

Our healthcare system is evolving from volume to value. Back in the ’90s, we focused on getting as many patients as possible into the healthcare system. Now, the emphasis is on value and the need to engage increasingly value-conscious consumers. These consumers are more educated than ever and want input in their healthcare.

So what does all of this change mean for those of us who work in healthcare marketing and communications? Consider where the industry is heading.

Healthcare has moved to more of a retail focus with people picking their insurance plans and comparison shopping for medical services. This requires marketers to clearly differentiate products and services so consumers fully understand their options and can make an informed decision.

“The patient experience is critical. This doesn’t mean just how successful a procedure is or how responsive a nurse is. It’s the clinical, operational, cultural and behavioral aspects of services provided across the continuum of care,” according to Christy Dempsey with Press Ganey.

Hospitals are rated on these experiences by the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) and ratings are tied to reimbursement so it is critical for health systems to measure, manage and improve the patient experience. Clear, concise communications play a valuable role in ensuring internal alignment across the hospital system. Additionally, helping patients and families navigate through what is often a confusing and complex process is fundamental to creating the optimal experience.

When we think about how healthcare has evolved in the past few decades, it’s evident that managing change has been essential and will continue to be. Leaders need help conveying the burning platform for change and helping associates, physicians and other stakeholders understand “what’s in this for me and why should I care?”

Lastly, we’ve probably all heard of population health and the movement from sick care to a focus on health and wellness. It’s not surprising to understand the reasons behind the movement, especially when you consider that more than 80 percent of the nation’s $2.5 trillion health spend goes to chronic disease management, according to Michael F. Roizen, MD and Olivia Delia of the Cleveland Clinic.

Marketing and communications professionals will play a pivotal role in helping motivate people to adopt healthy behaviors and lifestyles. Reaching target audiences with relevant messaging that motivates behavioral change will be paramount. This is a great opportunity to consider how integrated marketing can make a difference. How can we both reach and resonate with people where they’re already spending time? What strategies and tactics will work best and offer the greatest ROI?

While change is here and will be for the foreseeable future, it’s an exciting time to think about the role communications and marketing will play. The key is engaging these professionals from the onset, not as an afterthought. By beginning with the end in mind, healthcare communicators will be well-positioned to help their organizations through the massive changes sweeping this industry.


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