Today’s patients and their families are savvy, well read and want healthcare on their own terms. Over the past decade in the United States alone, we have observed drastic changes in the way people invest and pay for healthcare services. A recent Study by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid services suggested national healthcare expenditure has grown by 5.3%. The medical community and hospital administrators, are starting to recognize the need to revolutionize the way hospitals operate.
Globally, all hospitals and clinics face the issue of providing client-centered service to meet the elevated standards of care. Customers seek value for money and expect faster solutions to their ailments. Digitization has forever changed how the healthcare industry functions on a local, regional, national and global scale.
From patient treatment to payments to prescribing and dispensing medication, advances in digital technology have completely changed the healthcare game. Throw in increasing competition, regulatory changes, clinical advances, and workforce scarcity and you will understand the massive obstacles faced by today’s healthcare businesses.
Joshua Grant, the Vice-President Marketing at the Zion Centre for Oncology (ZCO) came to us with a request for digitizing and rebranding their marketing outreach. As a renowned local cancer hospital with teaching affiliations, they already had a broad customer base. In order to understand their unique problem, we had to dig a little deeper and into the current healthcare market before we could identify goals and challenges.
Local Healthcare Market Research
In order to understand Joshua’s unique problem, we had to dig a little deeper research the city’s current healthcare trends before we could identify goals and challenges. The trends summaries obtained from primary research are listed below:
Shift From A Supply Driven To Demand Model
Consumers do not want to waste time collecting blood tests from pathology labs – they expect everything to be available online. Consumers do not blindly believe in the care and unquestioned prescriptions. Instead, they demand complete transparency of data and information.
Clinics and hospitals need to streamline their processes and take help of technology to cater to this demand because this is a treat that is here to stay. In this climate of client-centered care, it is increasingly becoming a matter of survival for hospitals to understand that patients need answers to their queries and concerns as well as a timely, sensitive, competent care form relevant health professionals.
Patients With Easy Access To Information
Patients today have access to a wide range of data on the internet. Anyone with a mobile device and an internet connection can search symptoms on WebMD and self-diagnose. Many a patient has confronted their doctor with a list of possible treatments they downloaded from the internet. Patients have also used the web to research costs and ratings of a local doctor before they even visit that doctor for the first time.
In fact, this trend is getting more and more pervasive with several apps showing up on the market to help customers get diagnosed and even obtain prescriptions and order medicines online. Greater accountability and the appropriate use of social and web platforms will be a key deciding factor in deciding which institutions will be the undisputed leaders of tomorrow’s healthcare industry.
Shift Towards Patient-centered Care
As the healthcare industry shifts from a supply-driven model to a demand-driven model, regulatory bodies are starting to recognize the need to provide accountability and clear information to patients, along with appropriate health teachings about their health condition. There is a growing emphasis on benevolent care in which patients lead the decision-making process for the treatment.
Today, there is the perception of the medical system as a facilitator of care- providing patients with options, infrastructure, medical personnel, and counsel – but the end decision-maker remains the patient. To that end, proper discharge education, self-care information, and community healthcare become imperative for preventing health problems upstream rather than fixing Health issues after they occur.
Challenges to meeting these imperatives
Once we looked at the current trends, Joshua and the <client> team came up with three strong imperatives to incorporate into our marketing efforts. So, although we had identified the market changes, ZCO still needed to incorporate the findings into an outreach strategy that made sense. Before we could do that through, we had to identify the obstacles ZCO faced:
Poor public perception, insufficient funds and lack of human resources were the biggest challenges. Advanced cancer treatment – be it chemotherapy, surgery or radiology – can cost a fortune both for the hospital and for the patients. Investment in the infrastructure to support these treatment services had taken a toll on ZCO’s budget and as a result, the marketing budget itself had shrunk to about half of that it was previously.
The community surrounding Zion was of affluent, middle-class family homes back when it was first founded. However, as the city expanded, the middle class moved up to the suburbs, leaving an immigrant population as well as several low-income pockets in the area. As a result, funding became tight and at the same time, the increasing population density meant that the existing resources were sorely taxed.
Filling the resource gap
As the demand for oncology care has increased, there has also been a huge gap of skilled resources. Being a midtown hospital, attracting quality staffing – be it doctors, nurses or associated healthcare staff has continued to be a challenge. The hospital has solved this problem by tying up with a number of local teaching institutions to attract fresh graduates as well as those looking for teaching affiliations.
Joshua shared with the <client> team that although the hospital had a large and somewhat loyal target population in the surrounding community, the hospital was looking to bridge the gap in their public perception.
Over the years, ZCO had fallen into a trend of redundant marketing, the public perception was that ZCO was an older hospital with run-down facilities (despite their newer equipment and recent renovations). Also, their marketing outreach lacked a critical element of public health promotion. The Marketing department at ZCO faced a complex challenge and we came up with the following solutions to their intricate problems.
Solutions and outcome
In conjunction with <client> staff, ZCO took some drastic steps to revamp their marketing and outreach programs across the board. Primarily, they focused on:
Elevating the customer experience
ZCO introduced a hospital mandate to improve the overall patient experience. An integrated campaign was launched using both online media, especially specific hashtags such as #ZCOcare and #MyZionApp to spread awareness about their changing patient experience. In addition, ZCO also enforced transparency of information and ease of booking appointments using customised apps and web pages they developed to help people look for their doctor’s profile online and then book slots. Their app also personalized the user experience by allowing both doctors and patients to see patient history details by logging into the ZCO web portal.
Adapting the client-centered care to the surrounding community
With the increase in demand and spending and the changing population demographics, ZCO needed to increase the accessibility of the healthcare services they offered. The health promotion department came up with a series of posters and flyers displayed across the neighboring community, translating the list of services into the languages the immigrant community spoke. In addition, ZCO also regularly held health promotion and information sessions catering to different cultures such as Arabic, South Asian, and Filipino which were the predominant cultures among the local community. This was a low-cost way to promote their own outreach and also build goodwill in the local community.
Another community building activity that really helped ZCO build funds was the introduction of the #RunForZion campaign. Being a long-standing cancer hospital, it was a surprise that ZCO did not host fundraisers inviting everyone from health professionals to patients and their families to build goodwill and to raise funds. We helped organize the entire marathon from start to finish and even managed to rope-in the city council to sponsor part of the event. Other sponsors included local businesses and a couple of Pharma companies.
Promote a collaborative approach to tackle the staffing problem
ZCO needed all kinds of health specialists, to fill the increasing staffing gaps, but internally, not many employees were aware of vacancies unless they dropped into HR. Also, the hospital had a number of satellite clinics which operated in isolated silos. So, although they were spending a lot on “Health Professionals Wanted” newspaper ads, they weren’t really reaching a rich network of professionals who would be able to refer past and present colleagues and acquaintances in the medical community. While we did not stop Newspaper classifieds completely, we streamlined them and re-routed the funds saved towards establishing an online inter-hospital bulletin incorporating even the smaller clinics and hospitals for internal hiring and referrals. Greater collaboration also led to a higher quality of patient care over a period of months.
The recent investment in technology meant that ZCO departments were able to provide advanced diagnostic techniques to detect tumors early and treat them while both mortality and costs remained low. In addition to this, ZCO incorporated online methods of payment so patents need not worry about standing in queues to pay their hospital bill. In fact, they were able to streamline the billing department as a result.
Embracing the changes in technology as well as the surrounding community helped drive better engagement, staffing and even helped ZCO raise significant funds to plug into their hospital reforms. As the quality of service improved, ZCO started seeing positive feedback from their patients and an increase in the number of referrals. ZCO went from being perceived as a run-down, outdated institution to an up-and-coming, newly renovated healthcare institution with innovative patient-centered community engagement programs
“I have to say, the Zion Centre for Oncology required extensive market research and <client> came through for us in a way that few other marketing agencies could have. The board was a bit hesitant at first because, in order to facilitate this massive change, the risk and cost were immense. However, after an initial consultation, <client> was quick to produce primary market research on our behalf and with their solid outreach plan and accurate data, it was much easier to onboard the key stakeholders. I am highly impressed with the deep research and analytics employed by <client>. Several of the directors have approached me commending us on our community outreach collaboration with <client>.’