The healthcare industry’s steady move to evidence-based medicine is good news for all of its stakeholders. As the system shifts from rewarding volume to value, it will drive improvements in health outcomes and maximize the return on innovation. We’ve already seen many positive developments resulting from this transition such as increased transparency of quality and cost of care; as I look to the future I see a number of related trends emerging that promise to further shape the future of healthcare.
The first, and arguably most noteworthy, is the rising tide of healthcare consumerism.
Patients are the new customer
Consumers are no longer willing to be passive recipients of healthcare services. The increased access to healthcare information coupled with the growing burden of healthcare costs is driving them to take a more active role in their healthcare decisions.. They are studying their family history for disease risks, practicing primary prevention by modifying diet and lifestyle, seeking secondary prevention with advanced diagnostic and genetic tests, and evaluating personal healthcare economics, often long before they ever enter their physicians’ offices. This is a trend that life sciences companies cannot afford to ignore. Consumers today expect proof that a treatment will deliver the desired outcome at an acceptable price, which means life sciences companies need rethink the way they engage with patients and market their products.
That may be a tough transition for many firms. While certain companies have invested in direct-to-consumer advertising in a limited number of therapeutic areas, providers and payers have commanded a disproportionate share of their marketing and communication efforts. In order to keep pace with this increasingly consumer-driven marketplace, they need to put patients at the center of these campaigns, to figure out what information they want, where it will come from, and how it will affect their decision making.
How life science companies should respond
To fill this gap, some healthcare stakeholders are partnering to research consumer expectations and adapt their marketing accordingly. For example, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center recently partnered with Acxiom, a marketing technology firm, to study how shopping behaviors affect use of emergency services. They found internet shoppers were more likely to take advantage of ERs, perhaps due to a lack of mobility among such individuals, according to a New York Times article
about the research. And in a related example, Aetna teamed up with the Financial Planning Association for a public education campaign dedicated to helping patients navigate the financial aspects of their health benefits at various phases of their lives.
This type of consumer behavior analysis and targeted marketing is a longstanding practice in retailing, travel and finance, but it is new to healthcare, reflecting a convergence between today’s “sharing society” and the new healthcare law’s pressure to contain costs. Working with strategic partners who have knowledge and experience in this area can help life services companies seamlessly adapt to the new consumer-driven healthcare marketplace.
Life sciences companies should also factor the principles of consumerism in their go-to-market strategy, and craft custom messaging to target the unique desires of subpopulations. In the same way that they might hone their message for physicians in different specialties or regions, marketing and sales teams must also consider factors such as a patient population’s healthcare-seeking behavior, buying habits, and local healthcare system in an effort to better appeal to their customers’ needs. To have the greatest impact, these marketing strategies should embrace a multi-channel approach – including social media – to actively reach patients with appropriate promotional and educational materials tailored to differentiate their products based on individual preferences.
Direct patient engagement is certainly fraught with regulatory, legal and economic challenges. But while compliance is of paramount importance, the risk of not engaging the ultimate healthcare customer in the future marketplace is untenable. Companies need to migrate from upstream supply-side connections to downstream demand-side engagement. To be successful in the future, they must use a consumer-level feedback channel to refine the precision and personalization of their medicine, and tailor new therapies to meet the predicted needs of various consumer groups.
(This is the first in 10-part blog series on industry trends that are shaping the future of healthcare. To see a report on all ten trends click here)