Healthcare is changing. Every day, announcements of mergers, acquisitions, and new physician alignments are leaving patients and associates wondering just where their loyalties should lie. New technologies are emerging daily. Medical tourism has proven to be far more than just a trend. Retail and big box healthcare are impacting the primary care model in huge ways.
To help stay ahead of such overwhelming change, it’s very likely your organization has assembled a team of internal and external experts who are figuring out strategies and creating plans on how to deal with these changes.
Healthcare consumers aren’t so lucky. Your patients don’t have a leadership team and outside consultants helping them understand and navigate these changes. They are being forced to rapidly adapt with little to no knowledge, expertise or help. And they are facing the daunting task of balancing their care and finances like they’ve never had to before.
As healthcare marketers, our focus has always been on the patient. We know what motivates them, how they think, what their challenges are, and, most importantly, how to communicate with them. As prospective patients struggle to comprehend how changes in healthcare affect them, marketers must own the critical role of healthcare guide. We have to earn their trust and help them make the right healthcare decisions. When we help patients make these decisions, we help our organizations grow.
Designing the Pre-Patient Experience and Driving Growth
A comprehensive pre-patient experience strategy builds awareness and trust, facilitates consideration, and enables the smooth selection of your organization. By strategically designing this pre-patient experience, we can help patients navigate their healthcare experience and help the organization grow.
As your healthcare organization focuses on delivering an exceptional patient experience, you and your team must focus on delivering an exceptional pre-patient experience. Failure to manage the pre-patient experience means failure to attract and convert prospects into patients, which is why it is so important for your team to sit down and strategically map and design the pre-patient experience.
The decision-making process starts with awareness. They need to know who your organization is and what services you offer before they can begin to decide if you’re right for them. To build awareness, your first focus should be on your brand. If you have already invested the time and energy to solidify your brand position, you’re already ahead of the curve. If not, there is no time like the present to define who you are. Brand development is critically important work, as it not only defines your organization, but also creates a clear roadmap for all future communications and marketing efforts.
- When developing your brand position there are a few things you must think about:
- What do you want people to think about your organization?
- How do you want them to feel when they think about your organization?
- What is your organization’s rally cry? How are you unifying the team?
- What does your brand promise? Are you delivering it?
- How do you speak to your audience? What is your personality?
After you have carefully defined your brand position, you are ready to start building awareness by creating and executing an awareness strategy which will include advertising, public and media relations, social media, and community engagement. With the positioning framework in place, your messages are more likely to be on-point, making it easier to understand who you are and recall what services you have to offer.
Trust is a critical component to the healthcare consumer’s decision-making process. A strong brand reputation doesn’t mean much if it’s not authentic and trustworthy. As marketers, we must constantly reinforce our brand messages in real and genuine communications to which your target audience can easily relate.
One way to build trust is to position your organization as the healthcare expert in your marketplace. As you know, many feel confused by the changes in healthcare and aren’t ready to manage it on their own. You can build trust by being there for them — by being their go-to healthcare resource. Think beyond advertising and marketing and uncover new ways to become a trusted healthcare partner. To better embrace the role of healthcare expert, leverage media relations and social media to help educate how patients can better manage their health, utilize their health insurance, and understand how healthcare changes will impact their families. Maintaining a presence as a reliable source of information, advice, and assistance can go a long way in building trust.
Once a prospective patient has identified a need for healthcare services, they begin considering options. Being a trusted healthcare partner puts your organization on their list of possible options. But they still need your help to understand why they should choose you. During this consideration phase, your brand image, website and collateral play a critical role.
Most healthcare brochures, booklets, and rack cards are written from your organization’s perspective. They talk about hours, services, and locations. Owning your role in the pre-patient experience means you must re-imagine your collateral from their point-of-view and leverage that opportunity to help answer their questions and demonstrate what you can do for them. This is also an opportunity to point out how and why your services, technology, and team are better than the competition.
Your website is more than a place to find information, it is an opportunity to help develop a connection with your brand. Tell them what to expect and give them an opportunity to meet the doctors and nurses that will be caring for them. Familiarity and expectation bring a sense of comfort — and that feeling of comfort will help your organization stand out in their mind.
For employed physicians, a simple 60 to 90 second introduction video will provide the chance to meet their potential doctor and see if they will be a good fit before they make an appointment. If you have key services or procedures you are trying to grow, consider asking your doctors to record short videos providing an overview of the procedures.
Once there is awareness of your organization and trust in your team, the final step of the decision-making process is selection. At this point they have decided they like what you have to offer and that you are their top choice. And while this may seem like the finish line, there are still many opportunities for the prospective patient to change their mind and select the competition instead.
During this phase, an appointment still needs to be made. Spend time mapping out all the ways the patient could go about it. Can an appointment be requested online? If so, make sure the process is easy, simple, welcoming, and reassuring. If patients must call to make an appointment, make sure the experience reinforces their decision to choose your organization.
It’s always a good idea to personally call and observe what your appointment processes are, so you can help your care teams avoid common pitfalls where customers are lost. Patients who are put on hold can easily hang up and those who are greeted by a cold, unengaged receptionist may decide your organization doesn’t care. For online appointments, a difficult-to-navigate or glitchy website may have established frustration, causing them to look elsewhere.
Timing is another critical consideration during the selection process. If you are promoting a service that has an eight-week wait time, and your competitor only has a three-week wait, you may be doing your competitor a huge favor by advertising. Once someone has decided to take action, they want the process to move quickly. If a second-choice option can get them in sooner than you can, they may switch to the competition and cancel (or no-show) the appointment at your facility, which means you have just hand-delivered a patient to your competitor.
Another critical step in the selection process — one that can make or break patient experience — is how well you manage expectations. How long will the first appointment take? What can the patient expect from surgery — from pre-testing through recovery? Make sure whatever you share with the patient in your marketing, over the phone or during an appointment is what they will experience. Also, it is a good idea to follow-up in writing the critical information shared during the visit, so they can reference the information.
As marketers, we hold a lot of power.
Power to earn the trust of your prospective patients by being there for them, by communicating what they want to know, and by being a brand they can believe in. By elevating your focus beyond marketing to designing the pre-patient experience, you can help your organization drive growth and build equity and trust in your brand. And, with a solid brand experience to reinforce that pre-patient experience, you’ll in turn build a stronger brand, a stronger reputation, and stronger, more lasting relationships with your community.