Brian Solis talks about Connected Consumerism and Generation C in his book “What’s The Future of Business”. I believe connected consumerism in healthcare is an investment in product relevance and meaningful relationships to improve the state of a consumer’s health throughout their life cycle. In order to engage your consumers, trust is a required element before consumers will engage with you. The concept of providing health care is about being connected and remaining connected with your consumers and offer services that integrates with their lifestyle. However, a relationship needs to be developed in order to build trust. Why? Health is personal. The best examples of engagement in health are personalized services. Services should be local and embedded in the community since the community is a natural support group for people reaching for health goals or trying to change a behavior to fight a chronic disease.
Health is Special
Remember that health is very personal unlike many consumer product goods so the connection should be real and meaningful. Decades ago, doctors had genuine relationships with their consumers. They knew the consumer as they followed them along their life cycle. With increasing medical costs, doctors built larger practices and focused on cost efficiency and service speed. Consumers don’t visit the same doctor every time due to availability and scheduling in larger practices. As doctors lost the personal connection with their consumers over the past few decades, trust eroded and consumers left those doctors and chose their doctors from a list of provided by healthcare insurers. Consumers also began to obtain health advice on the Internet instead of from doctors since they were difficult to get a hold of and expensive if an office visit was required. In the consumer’s mind, doctors could be replaced easily as long as they could get a doctor covered under their medical plan. Keeping costs down instead of a continued relationship with a doctor was now a higher value to consumers. Most consumers with plans have to pay more to go out of network.
Commoditization for primary care was taking hold as consumers were sacrificing quality over cost and convenience. This was exacerbated as many employers switch health plans during renewal periods and with that; a consumer received a list of different in-network doctors. Now doctors are fighting to regain the trust once earned and grow their customer base. For a doctor, it is like pushing mud uphill as regional health practices form to manage operational costs and drive consumers to large practices. To lower costs, some doctors practice defensive medicine to avoid malpractice issues and push more consumers in a tight schedule. This is not an environment that nurtures and grows trust. Doctors are no longer connected to their consumers as consumers are now connected through social channels. Searching for health information is a top search category on Google and consumers also reach out to others seeking advice on a procedure or condition, or references about a doctor.
Some companies are trying to earn the consumer‘s trust so doctors have much more competition now. New entrants such as Google and Apple have entered the market and while they are not providing diagnostic services, they are providing information and acquiring health data from devices that support healthy lifestyles. These companies understand consumerism and how to deliver a great experience; qualities that are little used in established medical businesses. Other companies, such as Walmart and CVS are offering local, affordable basic health care services once provided by primary care physicians. Local urgent care centers are providing care services without the wait and cost issues associated with emergency departments. Doctors and hospitals are left with specialized health services as general health services move to other businesses.
Path to Trust
For a consumer, who do you trust? Trust is a key component to retention and consumer engagement so we know it is of upmost importance. What are the connections between trust, relationships, engagement, and behaviors?
- Behaviors drive consumer engagement
- In order to influence a behavior, you need to build trust
- In order to have trust, you need a meaningful relationship … a connection worthy of the consumer’s attention
- In order to build a valued connection, you need to interact where the consumer lives while combining a great experience with useful services and information that supports the consumer’s lifestyle and goals
For consumers trying to manage their health, they need tools and information to make informed decisions. Communications plays an important role in making this occur as a conduit for exchanges between the consumer and the business.
Healthcare Payers operate in a transaction mode such as when a health transaction, such as a claim, occurs for the consumer. At that point, an interaction is started with the consumer. An example of this is an Explanation of Benefits (EOB). A claim is placed and an EOB is sent to the consumer explaining the transaction that occurred. Better communications during the claim processing phase with create a better experience such as sending an email to a consumer saying, “Your claim was received on January 3, and is being processed.” Interactions and communications could include additional suggestions for improving the consumer’s health around an existing condition or personal objective for health. Extending the interaction with useful and relevant content helps the consumer manage their health issue and learn more about their health. A relationship starts to develop as content is exchange with the consumer. Relevant, trusted content is essential to a dialog between a Payer and consumer.
Coordinated, Consistent, Relevant
Coordinated, consistent communications that are relevant supports a valuable dialog and the relationship begins to form. This is much the way a doctor communicated with their patients many decades ago. The desired goal is to be embedded in a relationship that impacts the consumer’s lifestyle and daily living. The consumer is able to better manage their health and make proper decisions when equipped with relevant information and tools. The triad of healthcare, Payers, Providers, and Pharma, must work together and share consumer information and speak to the consumer in a coordinated manner; speak in a singular health voice. This approach offers the consumer a superior experience and the value of the combined effort would be multiplied as opposed to speaking as 3 separate voices. Relationships can grow as Payers, Providers, and Pharma jointly build relevant interactions around consumer’s lifestyle. What could the next C level position be? Perhaps it could be a Chief Alliance Officer responsible for making the connections between businesses, leading joint initiatives, and readying technology systems and processes to be able to exchange information readily and support a singular voice.
More about consumer behaviors, trust and building relationships, and consumer engagement in my new book titled, “Commercializing Consumer Engagement” at http://www.commercializing-consumer-engagement.com/