Once labelled the most under-utilised resource in healthcare, patients are starting to be seen as part of the solution for troubled healthcare economies.
The use of technology is seen as the enabler to a revolution in self-care that will play a major part in ensuring a sustainable NHS.
In an interview with the Guardian, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh talked about the health service plans for a huge roll-out of wearables and other mobile technologies over the coming years to reduce the strain on the health service.
GPs could soon be prescribing NHS-approved health apps to patients under plans being developed with NICE and NHS England. Patients should expect to gain access to their health records this year, with the aim of empowering people to take more control over their own health.
And just as the NHS is moving towards a patient-centric approach, and technology in healthcare is becoming ever more patient-facing, the healthcare technology industry is poised for a massive shift to a consumer-centric approach.
As patients become an active participant in their care, many healthcare technology vendors find themselves in a position where they need to build on their existing business-to-business (B2B) model with a business-to-consumer (B2C) approach.
Many are developing customer-facing applications. Others recognise that patients may well form part of the decision making process. Some can see the writing on the policy wall – the patient will see you now. Self-service is the future.
So in this changing market, not only will supplier organisations have to convince healthcare providers of the benefits of their products and services, but also their customers’ customers. In other words, their patients.
How to address the B2C market
Communicating to patients, especially around the benefits of healthcare technology, requires a very different approach than the one used to target your typical hospital chief information officer.
So what are the key elements healthcare vendors wanting to raise their profile in the consumer world should consider when adapting their marketing strategy?
Segment your audience
As with any strategy, setting clear goals and objectives is essential. These need to be measurable and monitored. You will need to understand what works and what needs improvement.
Then you will need to identify and segment your consumer target audiences. These could be groups of people suffering from specific conditions, the frail elderly, or carers. Health-conscious people, or patient groups, may be relevant. Who may benefit from the use of your product? You can even develop personas of typical group members.
This helps you to develop the messages that will resonate with them. A one-size fits all approach simply won’t work; consumers need to be targeted as individuals. Consider mass customisation approaches.
Next you’ll need to start engaging with your consumer audiences. This can be achieved through various traditional marketing channels, such as:
Web – Creating a dedicated webpage for patients/consumers on your company’s website and providing consumer-focused, benefit-driven content that offers expert advice and shares real-life customer experiences. The key is creating content that responds to consumers’ needs and resonates with their personal journeys.
Video – Since healthcare content can be long, complex and time-consuming to read, it is advisable to make the message shorter, clearer and simpler. Online videos and animations can help.
The popularity of online videos has been rising, along with mobile usage – over six out of ten adults in the UK are using a smart phone. To make digital content more mobile friendly, it is key to condense messages into easily viewable videos that consumers can watch on the go. Take a look at Sam’s story from the King’s Fund to see how to make a complex subject user friendly.
Alternatively a good example of a longer-form, educational video produced by Siemens clearly explains to patients how MRI scans work and what they can expect when they arrive at hospital.
Social media – With two-thirds of the UK population on Facebook, there is an ideal opportunity to engage with digitally savvy individuals and invite them to connect with fellow patients in an online community. Even Facebook itself is looking to move into health communities. For the healthcare technology business, using such activity should encourage patient advocates to promote your products and services.
Twitter also features many active patient communities and campaigns, such as We Nurses and #HelloMyNameIs. Businesses can offer support to large groups, but be cautious about being too self-promotional.
Media – Generating compelling patient-focused stories that will appeal to the consumer press will be a key factor in raising your profile beyond the corporate world and the healthcare industry. Mainstream news coverage – such as a promising high blood pressure device featured in BBC News – shows patients the potential benefits of your technology. They in turn ask healthcare providers.
TV commercials – If your budget permits, advertising is a powerful way to get across your message to a wide audience. This commercial from GE Healthcare targeted at patients demonstrate the work they do to keep them safe with their hospital technology.
As with any campaign, it is important to monitor your activities, and see which is the most successful. Build on these, and continually evolve your approach. Listen, and learn.
As patients are being put in the driving seat and healthcare is evolving into a B2C industry, it’s time for healthcare suppliers to rethink their marketing strategy. Brands can build on the emotional connection they need to make with people, as we mentioned last year. Just do not forget: the patient is a stakeholder that can no longer be ignored.