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How to Overcome Relationship Inertia in Healthcare

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We’ve all heard of couples who stay together simply because it’s the easy thing to do. A kind of relationship inertia keeps the pair in place, and there isn’t enough force acting on either of them to overcome their resistance to change. Neither person is truly happy nor fully unhappy – it’s a relationship stuck in a rut. This relationship inertia fosters an environment of apathy; lacking in enthusiasm or real interest, everything just drifts along from day to day.

Could this analogy describe a healthcare provider’s relationship with many of its patients? Probably, because not every patient is a raving fan. We also could assume that on the other end of the spectrum, the disgruntled and completely upset patient has probably moved on to another provider. This leaves a large group of patients in the middle, many of whom are likely held in place by the twin anchors of inertia and apathy.

Patient Acquisition: More Than Your Fair Share

While the populations of our marketing areas may grow as people move from one place to another, most of the new patients we acquire likely come from another healthcare provider within our market. Something happened to motivate change, or perhaps there really was no relationship in the first place. But something overcame the relationship inertia, and a patient disconnected from their doctor.

All the healthcare providers in a market are competing against each other to convince this group of new movers and recently disconnected patients to use their doctors and services. These are prospective patients who are worth pursuing, and they often are in need of services sooner rather than later. But what about the larger group of patients currently held in place by relationship inertia?

As a marketer, my job isn’t limited to helping clients acquire consumers who are actively looking for a new doctor. The larger scope is to help my client earn more than their fair share of patients, and that’s only possible by attracting patients away from their current providers. That may sound a little greedy or even mercenary, but healthcare is a highly competitive market, and it’s not a zero-sum game. It’s not good enough to simply replace lost patients with an equal count of new ones.

Digital Marketing: A Hospital’s Toolset to Target Inertia

There are tactics that can attract the attention of patients who are locked in a current provider relationship through inertia: branding campaigns, promoted events such as location grand openings, and even strong marketing pushes during open enrollment season. Yet it’s worth remembering that It takes time to motivate action, so tent-pole events such as open enrollment can be far more effective if a strategic branding campaign has been paving the way beforehand.

As today’s consumer becomes increasingly difficult to reach through TV, newspaper, and radio, healthcare providers are turning to digital marketing for their branding campaigns. Digital channels offer a cost-effective alternative and the ability to go to market with unique messages for each audience segment. For example, “Next day appointments!” for the disconnected and new-mover consumer, and “High doctor ratings, easiest appointments!” to reach those stuck by inertia.

Patient Engagement, or Becoming Poach-Proof

The other side of the coin is addressing the inertia of your own patient population. Work needs to be done to make your own patients poach-proof – to replace inertia with engagement.

Evaluate your full path to success, especially the touchpoints where prospective and existing patients step out of the digital world and into your hospital’s real-world experience:

  • When patients move from the web to contacting you with a phone call, are you creating a positive, inviting experience?
    • Phone call volumes are increasing and will continue to do so for some time to come. Calls are the preferred path for most new patient acquisition.
  • If you are working to personalize your website experience, are you doing the same for your in-person experience?
    • Said another way, is the website promise the same as the in-person delivery?
  • If the hospital uses automated emails, such as confirmation messages and drip campaigns, is the email content periodically reviewed and updated to keep the messages relevant and helpful?

The fact is, most consumers only think about a doctor appointment when they need one. Their doctor relationship isn’t always front of mind. This is where larger healthcare organizations have an advantage over individual doctor offices and small group practices – hospitals offer many more opportunities to generate engagement and fight off relationship inertia.

Consider community engagement as a way to stay top of mind and relevant:

  • Provide access to classes, seminars, and thought-provoking speakers.
  • Reach out to existing patients with useful and unique health maintenance advice through e-newsletters and blogs.
    • Tie in hot-button topics and make sure you have something to offer.
  • Leverage your CRM and website data to create in-person experiences that are relevant to what your patients want to know more about.
    • Lectures, health fairs, and “meet the doc” events can be better targeted using the data you already have.

The list is limited only by imagination. Not every idea will be a winner and some may take time to develop, but it is a worthwhile effort. Knitting patient retention and acquisition campaigns together can help maintain focus on both while keeping the consumer’s experience the same as they transition into the organization.

Parting Thoughts

Relationship inertia affects almost every organization. Patients in the grip of inertia and apathy are vulnerable to outside influences that can steal them away. The patient relationship is ours to win and nurture, provided we choose to do so. Acquisition marketing coupled to internal engagement plans can help healthcare providers reduce relationship inertia and apathy among their established patients while welcoming more disaffected patients from competitors.

All it takes to overcome inertia is a push or two in some direction. When it comes to patient acquisition and retention, this statement describes a hospital’s opportunity as well as a cause for concern about your own patients’ vulnerability from inertia. To start a discussion on an integrated approach to patient acquisition and retention, contact us today.

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Stu Eddins

Stu brings over 40 years of experience in customer service and management to our client relationships. He and his team of digital marketers and analysts serve in the planning, execution, and measurement of digital marketing strategies for clients. He is Google-certified and an early user with 15+ years of experience with Google AdWords and Google Analytics. In addition to the numerous papers and case studies he has written for Perficient, his creative talent is showcased as a semi-professional photographer, focusing mainly on landscapes, cityscapes, and still life.

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