By Lisa Kersey
ACO. HIE. HIT. Meaningful Use. Medical Home. EMR… If there’s one thing that never changes about healthcare, it’s the number of acronyms and the jargon used to describe what is arguably one of the nation’s most complex industries. While industry leaders, policy wonks and elected officials are focused on the WHAT and the HOW of righting the ship of healthcare, public relations and marketing professionals would be wise to focus on communicating and positioning their clients with respect to health reform.
On one hand, consumers don’t understand the terminology related to health reform. Instead, they’re interested in how health reform will impact their premium and out-of-pocket costs and their access to care – particularly their choice of physicians. On the other hand, hospitals and health systems are focused on making policy a reality.
So, what should healthcare marketing professionals focus on as the tides ebb and flow?
1. Positioning – Health reform provides a prime opportunity to position healthcare execs as thought leaders in the industry. They have a unique platform to discuss what their organizations are doing to improve the quality of care, while cutting costs. Done well, such positioning helps instill confidence in the local hospital or health system, both to internal and external audiences. Be sure to leverage both traditional and non-traditional outlets, including CEO blogs, newzines, e-letters and community speaking engagements.
2. Messaging – Once you wade through all the acronyms and jargon, you’ll find there is actually a fair amount of content that can be used to help hospitals and health systems enhance their reputation and brand. Perhaps the single biggest opportunity is around population health. This topic allows hospitals and health systems to discuss community partnerships and alignments they may already have and explain their commitment to improving community health and wellness. This becomes particularly important since many municipalities are struggling financially, even questioning the not-for-profit status of their local health systems to determine if they can become a source of revenue. In other instances, venture capitalists, national for-profit health care corporations and other not-for-profits are making bids to acquire community hospitals and smaller health systems. Given such consolidation, it’s important that hospitals understand their community benefit, and successfully communicate their key messages to the community.
3. Marketing – If the stage has ever been set for the primary care physician, that time is now. Health reform, including the ACO, EMR, HIE and medical home, are helping to create the perfect storm for hospitals to showcase their primary care network. Whether that network is employed, affiliated, or more likely a hybrid of the two, health reform has opened a window to allow health systems to market their network of primary care physicians. The key messages hospitals need to convey are that their primary care network and health system are working together to improve the quality of care, the coordination of care, and access to that care. Other important messages to relay include hospitals’ prevention and wellness efforts, including programs that help physicians partner with patients who have chronic diseases to improve their quality of life.
So, as long as the jargon continues, healthcare marketers will have job security. The good news is that with the multi-year rollout of health reform, there is no end in sight!