For rural hospitals and healthcare providers, understanding patients – who they are and how they interact with you, each other and your larger urban center competitors – is an important aspect of patient experience and marketing strategy.
While patient care is, of course, always the top priority, the goals of being patient-centric and consumer-centric are not mutually exclusive. In fact, evaluating your healthcare marketing strategy and viewing your patients as consumers can often bring to light areas that may require attention in your patient experience journey.
Patient-centric and consumer-centric are terms that are often bandied about interchangeably, but in many critical ways, they are not the same. Certain key questions can help tease out the distinctions – and make all the difference in the performance of your strategy and the care you provide.
Borrowing from the classic information-gathering approach used by journalists, we’ll break it down by way of the essentials: who, what, where, when, why and how.
- WHO is the consumer? In healthcare, the consumer is not always the patient. The primary caregiver of the household may be choosing healthcare providers for the children, spouse, parents or in-laws. In this scenario, while all family members are patients, the main caregiver is actually the decision-making consumer. You can strive to ensure they all have a positive patient experience, but you cannot discount the primary caregiver as the true healthcare consumer.
- WHAT is the difference between a consumer and a patient? A consumer mindset is the key differentiator between a consumer and a patient. A patient may leave the doctor’s office smiling and simply remarking, “They were nice.” A consumer mindset, on the other hand, notices not just how nice you were but also how efficient – plus a variety of other factors like your most recent advertising and social media, patient portal experience, provider pedigree, and quality of care. Hospitals and academic medical centers in urban areas almost always have higher marketing and advertising budgets and can afford better patient portal systems. Details count when you’re facing a consumer mindset. Share your outstanding patient outcomes, and shout about your accolades and awards. Now is not the time to be humble.
- WHERE does this play out in the healthcare experience? Before they even walk through your doors, consumers do their homework. They read the reviews – of your hospital system or practice, your providers, even career experiences of your staff – all posted online. Friendliness should greet them in your waiting rooms and at the front desk. Quality of care will seal the deal in the medical offices, ED or surgery suites. Billing, aftercare, and your choice of patient portal are all relevant to the overall consumer experience in healthcare as well. And they see and react to your competitors’ advertising alongside your own. This is where patient-focused stories on experiences and outcomes with your providers and system can make an impactful impression.
- WHEN did the consumer phenomenon become a factor in healthcare? Healthcare has not always been evaluated as a product to be consumed. In fact, it’s a relatively recent development. Only in the last two decades have walk-in care, easy-to-access telehealth, and retail-like environments and services become priorities – types of features that larger, urban center hospital systems can afford. This is when strategy is essential in determining where to allocate resources with integrity and wisdom while still engaging and attracting the healthcare consumer.
- WHY does it matter? This is the simplest question with the shortest answer. It matters because consumers have choices, and they can choose your competitors. Once upon a time, proximity to care was everything, but not in today’s world. Consumers travel – sometimes driving, or even flying, for hours – to reach the healthcare they prize. In fact, in some cases, consumers have come to discount local care from small-town providers and critical access hospitals and instead value the care found in larger cities with academic medical centers and large hospital systems – with a mindset that bigger is better. Add telehealth and new market disruptors, and it’s easy to see how winning at consumerism is an increasingly critical way to compete for any healthcare organization.
- HOW does creating a positive consumer experience differ from delivering a positive patient experience? It’s no longer as simple as providing quality medical care – though patient experience still matters profoundly. If your nursing shortage has diminished your ability to provide a seamless continuum of care, for example, that piano player won’t make up for it. You have to hit all the high notes to take home the prize.
So, the key is to be the most informed and strategic player in your playing field to meet expectations. And yes, the difference almost always lies in doing more, oftentimes with less.
Understanding consumer needs and priorities is essential to consumer-centricity. Understanding these needs requires data and analytics for actionable insights. Healthcare organizations using the right metrics and accessing the right tools will have an inside track. The right data is essential to determine who your primary consumers and decision-makers are – and zero in on what they are looking for in a healthcare experience.
Unfortunately, most rural or small-town critical access hospitals do not have data analysts and healthcare marketing strategists on staff. Fortunately, we can help.
Through dhmstudio+, we bring decades of experience to rural hospitals, delivering affordable, effective, strategy-first marketing solutions to make their organizations stronger. Interested in learning more? Contact us today.