Trend #2: Converting Unknown Consumers into Patients/Members
Back in trend #6, I promised that one of the byproducts of the evolution of social media, namely this trend, would surface back up on the countdown. Here it is as promised.
Before we get into the nuts and bolts business of converting unknown consumers, let’s spend a moment talking about what engaging consumers in healthcare is all about and why it is so important to both the engager and the engaged. Yes, a growing population of engaged consumers ensures higher market share and revenue. However, unlike in other industries, consumer engagement isn’t simply about making a quick buck.
Healthcare consumer engagement’s ultimate goal is to empower patients and their families with knowledge about their care. A recent Health Affairs study suggests that the medical expenses of highly engaged patients were up to 21% lower on average, which highlights the critical role patients play in determining outcomes. Patient empowerment has been a central feature in performance improvement programs such as Premier’s QUEST(R) collaborative and the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation’s Partnership for Patients (PfP) initiative. These consumer engagement efforts have paid off $9.1 billion over the passed 4 years not simply because of higher patient numbers but because of how engaged consumers interact with healthcare as compared to a disengaged consumer.
Another study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found patients possessing a high degree of knowledge, skills and confidence (termed “activation level” in the study) were less likely to return to the hospital within 30 days. The risk of 30-day readmission was almost twice as high for patients with low activation levels than for those patients that were truly engaged. Low-activated patients also had a higher rate of emergency department visits within 30 days of discharge than highly activated patients. I need only mention the term “emergency department” to ignite the high cost of care alarm bell.
How Healthcare Organizations are Responding
However, a recent report shows there is still a great deal of business to be done in the area of consumer engagement. A biannual survey conducted by The Beryl Institute and Catalyst Healthcare Research included 1,072 respondents from 672 unique organizations. Within this survey, organizations ranked patient experience/satisfaction as a priority (up seven points from 2011). This priority topped quality/patient safety, cost reduction, electronic medical records and many other typical “high priority” items we here day in and day out. It got interesting when the following question was posed:
“How do you feel about the progress your organization is making toward improving the patient experience?”
When that question was asked in 2011, 25% of the response was very positive . However, by 2013 that number dropped to 17%. Positive responses dropped seven points from 61% in 2011 to 54% in 2013 while neutral and negative responses increased slightly. 
Yes, it’s important. So how do I convert unknown consumers?
I’m glad you asked. As I mentioned in my blog post about the topic:
This is done through investing in key areas of excellence, based on the target markets in question, to create a digital front door step with a path towards conversion. One strategic area, for example, could be women’s health since women are oftentimes the healthcare decision makers in the family. This requires demonstrating a trusted and authentic voice using many-to-many digital communication mechanisms like a website, microsites, landing pages, mobile tools, and social media. All of these methods of digital experience should contain content built specifically for the target market in question. These are the hooks out to the unknown consumer to create awareness. There are a number of options to achieve these ends:
- Integrating healthcare information from a third party data broker like Krames Staywell or WebMD
- Supplementing third party healthcare information with a library of unique healthcare content including online health chats, ask a doctor Q&A, podcasts, tools & quizzes, research, comprehensive guides on conditions, lifestyle tips by topic, health wizards, symptom trackers, and blogs equipped with RSS feeds.
- Integrating all of the information for a certain area of excellence to its own landing page or microsite. For example, in our women’s health example, a healthcare organization could have a microsite or landing page devoted to mothers.
- Classes on a number of health topics that serve as a way to increase healthfulness within the patient population while also creating awareness of available services.
Now that the healthcare organization has gained the attention of their target markets, it’s now time to convert these unknown consumers into a patients. This is done with a few very important web tools, including:
- Register for Classes: In addition to the wealth of print, audio, and video health information found on the site, users can attend health seminars either in person or online. Many class registration tools include a Google Calendar display, the ability to research the event calendar, or register by “adding to your cart”. While completing these tasks, our unknown consumers are learning more about the healthcare providers. From this gateway, a user can be linked directly to the provider’s bio and the ability to search for other physicians and locations.
- Find a Provider or Location: It can be argued that the provider and location tools are the most important components of any healthcare provider website. Many healthcare organizations optimize search results for their organization to land on their Find a Provider page as opposed to the home page. While going to that extreme is optional, it is very important to have these tools located prominently in the global utility navigation throughout site. Good tools allow users to search by last name, specialty, disease, or condition. While most provider directories give consumers minimal information, this is a mistake. These tools should provide more than standard industry jargon to include a short explanation of the physician’s specialty and a short bio written by the provider explaining their interests and why they chose to practice medicine. Some organizations also allow physicians to upload videos to their profile. It is also important to have a Find a Provider and Find a Location tool set that are integrated. The reason being that location is the most important factor for patients when choosing a healthcare provider.
- Schedule an Appointment: After our unknown consumer finds a provider that meets their preferences, we need to make it very easy for them to set an appointment. Once they arrive for that appointment, the conversion is complete. Many sites require authentication in order to schedule an appointment online. Others find it important to present as few barriers as possible during the conversion process.
The key to all of these tools is that during the conversion process a web user will reveal their identity through providing their name, email address, phone number, etc. Using advanced web/social analytics and CRM, the marketing team can then associate this individual’s digital travels throughout the site with their specific identity. A comprehensive patient profile, with personalized outreach, can then be included in future campaigns. Even more, consumers can continue to convert themselves using these digital tools while a healthcare organization’s staff are busy providing services to consumers that have already converted.
And there you have it! Stay tuned later this week for trend #1 in the countdown!