Marketing strategy should educate the audience, engage them to make a decision and empower them to take action.
To lead compassionately with an open heart so that others succeed.
How I use healthcare marketing to fulfill that why statement became much clearer during the last six months of my father’s life. This extremely personal experience with the health care system made me realize that education, engagement, and empowerment are critical success factors for healthcare organizations. And marketing provides an avenue to make a difference from the inside. Through marketing, I can make a difference.
Marketing has a role to play in patient literacy/education. After working in health care for nearly 20 years, I know the importance of quality communication in every aspect of the patient-caregiver relationship. I have helped translate many conversations and am the “I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV” person for many of my family and friends. Yet I still resisted the idea of writing marketing materials in “plain language”. I get it now.
A cancer diagnosis comes with a flood of terms, tests and treatments that make very little sense to the average person. This diagnosis to an 83-year-old man with a recent pacemaker implant and diabetes opens the door for much more needed education. Sadly not enough education was provided. What’s a PET scan? What does it do? What impact will chemotherapy have on blood sugar levels? How do chemotherapy and blood thinners interact? What is palliative care? How does Hospice work? Is it the right option? Just to name a few. I knew the answers for many of them and working in health care, gave me resources to get at the answers. But if I hadn’t, would those questions have been answered? Startling fact: Fifty percent of Americans leave the doctor’s office not understanding what they were told or what they are supposed to do.
Marketing plays a role in generating stronger engagement among all the important players – whether those players are patients, family, referring providers, insurance companies or donors. Patient experience is critical to the engagement between provider and patient or provider and provider. The experience is part of the overall brand perception and therefore a responsibility of marketing. All the marketing efforts in the world won’t be successful if the patient experience is flawed, thereby undermining the message and positioning put in place by those efforts.
My father was seen by a PA, a cardiologist, and an oncologist. In rural South Dakota, providers are with systems and his were with three separate entities. Their medical records weren’t electronically connected and the providers didn’t seem to seek each other out as colleagues. In an academic setting (which I was used to), providers are colleagues, medical records linked and care conferences focus on all of the health issues of the patient. Communication between his providers could have made a big difference for him and the well-being of the rest of the family. His oncologist and the supporting team didn’t engage my father or my family regarding how he was doing between treatments. I admit that some of my perceived lack of patient engagement may have been because my dad didn’t share more than he thought he should – not wanting to be a burden on the oncologist. But I also know that providers who are engaged with their patients – who take the time to get to know their patients – would have had a different relationship with my dad.
Carefully crafted messages encourage patients to ask questions, learn about their disease and diagnosis and become their own best advocates. Empowered patients are more likely to follow their physician’s directions, take their medications as prescribed and have better outcomes. Ultimately they may become an advocate for the health care system that provided their care. Access to electronic medical records empowers patients and providers to have two-way communication while strengthening ownership of one’s own health information.
Follow doctors orders. Many people live by that old adage. They do not ask questions, request clarifications or second opinions, or make suggestions that might improve their patient experience. I asked the tough questions, pushed for the second opinion and became my dad’s advocate. Today’s patients need to be comfortable being their own advocate. And the provider and hospital should welcome that level of empowerment, otherwise, the patient remains quiet. Additionally,
providers need to be advocates for the patients they refer on to specialists. Lines of communication must be open between the primary care provider who knows the patient – their health history, the chronic diseases they have, and the personalities and beliefs of that patient – and the specialist. Ultimately the primary care provider will be the one getting the questions.