Capitalizing on Opportunities in Current and Future Health Care Policy
// By Lisa D. Ellis //
The fate of the American health care system is currently unknown as a new health care plan is making its way through Congress, raising many questions for people working in health care organizations, as well as for the patients they serve. How can you be sure your organization is well positioned for whatever comes next?
President Donald Trump’s promises to “repeal and replace” the American Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also referred to as the ACA or Obama Care) have led to a new health care plan, called the American Health Care Act (AHCA) that was passed by the House in May 2017. Now the Senate is developing its own version of this bill. Both versions will need to be reconciled into one solid plan before it can ultimately be passed. In the meantime, amid all of this uncertainty, it’s important for organizations to stay focused on “business as usual” moving forward.
Some savvy leaders are also still focusing on key elements of the ACA that are expected to remain in whatever version of the new health care plan ultimately passes. You can follow a similar strategy to strengthen your marketing and branding efforts and help your organization to gain a stronger foothold in the marketplace.
Making the Most of Current Realities
“I wouldn’t say that provider organizations are using the ACA to strengthen their marketing strategies, but I would say that some organizations are adapting better than others,” explains Daniel Weinbach, president and CEO of The Weinbach Group in Miami, Florida. “Perhaps most notably, the urgent care sector has used pricing strategy more effectively than other providers to attract patients who might use alternative care settings.”
In addition, some businesses are also looking for ways they can position themselves to fill in the gaps that exist in the current realities.
One such example is Bart J Zoni, chief marketing officer of Juventio, which is an over-the-counter line of skincare products distributed through DermWORX to be sold in professional health care offices. Zoni says the ACA has really helped focus his company on being competitive and filling gaps that exist in the current health care system.
“We intentionally market non-prescription products that are premium quality, but fairly priced—partially because we saw the rising costs of prescription products in our space. Patients are increasingly turning to over-the-counter products and we believe the Affordable Care Act is one of the catalysts for this shift,” points out Zoni.
His brand actually focuses its marketing on the professionals, who in turn market the products to their patients, thus creating a multiplier effect. In fact, while Zoni does not market to the consumer directly, the dermatologists who distribute the products pass on the brand benefits to their patients, thus empowering them to be more involved in their own care while managing their own costs, too.
Juventio/DermWORX is just one of many organizations positioning themselves now to not only survive, but also find ways to thrive, in the current marketplace.
Filling a Need That Exists
“The ACA did a number of things to the way physicians and practices operate. Foremost, the law preceded a troubling pessimism among office-based physicians. Our own research shows providers are generally expecting (a) patient care becoming more difficult and (b) to work harder, at more risk, for less reward. I think it’s important for marketers and brands to understand this and sympathize with these realities,” Zoni says, adding that with this understanding in place marketers can then determine how best to respond both under the current health plan and also under any new plan that is passed in the near future.
For instance, he says, one of the leading factors driving his efforts at Juventio stems from the price increases that resulted from the passage of ACA.
“For our market, we saw that prices for patients are going up across the board. This is an obvious outcome of the ACA and the way it’s structured. We recognize that the out-of-pocket costs for prescription medications and medical devices can be staggering. For our part, we actually built our plan on two main foundations: Offer fair prices for consumers and make our physician customers’ lives easier,” he says, adding, “In short, we ask ourselves constantly, ‘How will my marketing make our customers’ lives better and easier every day?’”
Making the Most of Opportunities
Such an approach can go well beyond the dermatology field and bring real benefits to health care providers in a wide range of settings. In fact, regardless of the area of medicine you represent, he points out that it’s important to focus on the basics and stress what differentiates you from the competition, while improving your patients’ experience in the process, as you explore how best to move forward.
“Our brand is, in some ways, a response to failures of prescription medications in those areas. We think, in certain areas, it’s a winning strategy to offer OTC solutions that bypass the managed markets. I think you’ll see more innovation and effort in these areas in the future and we’re included in that basket,” he says.
Regardless of how you position your organization for whatever lies ahead in the coming years, Zoni also says that tracking results will continue to offer valuable insight so groups can assess the results of their efforts.
Learning to Listen
“The mechanisms of our analytics aside, we are sure to ask customers directly how working with us and our products affects their business and their practice. Customers will often tell you what they need—if you’re willing to ask,” he says.
Zoni offers this advice for other groups looking to build a stronger rapport with patients:
“It sounds trite, but a serious self-assessment can help.” He advises groups to ask themselves the following questions:
- “How well do my brand’s goals align with those of my customer?”
- “How does my marketing make the clinician’s life better/easier/less stressful?”
He adds, “If you don’t have really good, clear, and obvious answers to those questions, it might be time to pivot.”
Advice for Marketers
While no one yet knows exactly what the final version of the American Health Care Act will look like, there are some provisions that are expected to continue under any new health care plan that is ultimately passed, according to Daniel Weinbach, president and CEO of The Weinbach Group in Miami, Florida.
He says this includes the following:
- A focus on pay-for-performance vs. pay-for-service, and
- The increasing financial burden placed on consumers to shoulder a growing portion of their health care costs, primarily as the result of high-deductible health plans and HSAs (Health Savings Accounts).
Ramifications Moving Forward
Both of these areas have some interesting ramifications for marketers in the context of their work moving forward.
“It means physicians need to adopt a more consumer-sensitive posture in the way they run their practices and how they market their services. The shift to value-based care is happening, so why not advertise the quality of your services in measurable terms? That means highlighting clinical excellence and a favorable patient experience,” Weinbach says. “Physicians also need to recognize the role of pricing strategy, price transparency, and price sensitivity in how they sell their services. If a patient is responsible for 100 percent of their health care costs, then they may take a much more exacting approach to how they select a provider, including shopping for the best deal,” he adds.
Embrace These Five Steps
Weinbach offers these five steps for health care organizations to make the most of whatever comes next:
- Use technology to maintain contact with patients. Everything from automated appointment reminders, to follow-up emails, to social media, should be part of a provider’s communications arsenal.
- Approach price and value in patient communications. Let them know they have choices regarding the care they receive, and help them make decisions with price as a criterion.
- Include health education and literacy as key components of your marketing messages. They produce ROI.
- Demonstrate price transparency.
- Capitalize on the data required by MACRA/MIPS. Providers have to report outcomes measures. If the data is favorable, why not use it as substance for marketing.
Patient Satisfaction and Tracking Matter
Weinbach also points out that both now and in the future, patient satisfaction should be a central priority of provider operations. “Good customer service will pay huge dividends in the form of enhanced reputation (including online reputation). Conversely, poor service will wreak havoc. In addition, a favorable patient experience can have clinical benefits, including adherence to individualized care plans,” Weinbach says.
He also says that regardless of whatever comes in the way of policy changes in the future, tracking and measuring are also here to stay.
“Current guidelines (MACRA) require providers to report quality measures. From everything that’s been presented to date, these requirements will likely continue under any future health care legislation. So doctors need to accept the new reality, adapt, and leverage good performance when they achieve it,” he says.
What all this means, then, is that health systems need to continue moving full steam ahead for whatever may come next, and marketers must continue to use their expertise to support their system’s efforts. “It will become increasingly important for health systems to educate patients about how to most affordably and efficiently receive care, i.e., not in an emergency room, but in a primary care or urgent care setting. These kinds of educational initiatives require marketing and communications investment, but they have real value by reducing unnecessary access to expensive (often unreimbursed) care,” Weinbach stresses.
Lisa D. Ellis is the editor of Strategic Health Care Marketing. She is a journalist and content development specialist who helps hospitals and other health care providers and organizations shape strategic messages and communicate them to their target audiences. You can reach her at editor@strategicHCmarketing.com.