How Direct Marketing Must Adapt in Today's Healthcare System

Lindsay Resnick
Lindsay Resnick

Healthcare has become an amalgam of medical, financial and lifestyle transactions.

As patients, consumers face tough decisions as healthcare morphs into a retail-based direct marketplace. Navigating the complexities of both how, when and where medical care is delivered and drugs are prescribed is difficult. Combine this with the mind-numbing array of insurance benefit choices and it's no wonder that many Americans say healthcare is so complicated they don't know what's covered, what it will cost or where is the best place to go to get it.

Inside healthcare's vast ecosystem—where payers offer benefits, providers deliver care and drug companies market therapies—each of those three faces a similar challenge: educating, motivating and engaging consumers to take a more active role in their health. One approach gaining traction is strengthening the bond between the chief medical officer and chief marketing officer. We call this CMO², an approach for clinical direct marketing.

By breaking down traditional organizational silos to bring together the chief medical officer and the chief marketing officer in a CMO² collaboration, companies can unite the forces of clinical best practices with direct-to-consumer response marketing. The result creates a powerful force for consumer health engagement. Clinical direct marketing can provide consumers with the information they need in order for them to be savvy shoppers as well as empowered participants in their personal health. Think of it as population health management with a communication action button.

What's population health management? It's the aggregation and analysis of patient data into actionable profiles so care providers can improve both clinical interventions and financial outcomes for at-risk patient segments. The result improves the patient experience, lowers cost and can be measured.

What's direct marketing? A data-driven discipline to encourage immediate consumer interaction with a target audience through creative communication that establishes and maintains an ongoing one-on-one relationship with a customer. The result provokes action, gets personal and can be measured.

The interoperability of CMO² leverages direct marketing's tool kit of data, technology and precision outreach in tandem with programs of clinical-decision support and patient-centered medical management. The resulting intervention motivates customers to interact, empowers them with information and establishes a platform that begins to change an individual's behavior toward his or her health. Here's an example using a classic direct response principle for an asthma program:

Qualify: Use member or patient data to identify your “high likelihood” asthma population and approach it with strong yet carefully crafted language, including keywords and tone, to quickly capture its attention and qualify your audience.

Offer: This is the promised payoff for responding. Extend a compelling reason to engage, such as free “must-have” information about asthma … “6 Easy Steps to Living with Asthma” or “Ten Superstars Living with Asthma … and Loving Life.”

Product: Present key attributes and practical benefits of your asthma program, such as products or services, to reinforce value and build on clinical credentials. Make it personal, keep it simple and always answer the customer's question: What's in it for me?

Call to Action: Provide clear direction for next steps when the audience reads or hears your message. Ideally, you'll have data points on your targeted customers or you can acquire them through a third party to provide insight and direction on their most preferred channels for interaction and engagement.

Effective patient engagement is about helping individuals make smart personalized choices in a healthcare system where choices are getting more complicated every day: emergency room vs. retail clinic; HMO vs. PPO vs. ACO; concierge medicine vs. virtual doctor visit; exchange plan vs. supplemental coverage. At a time when “own your health” is a popular mantra, responsibility falls to the payer and provider communities to step up and support the underlying ideology that educated connected healthcare consumers will help drive better care, better outcomes and, ultimately, better value.

Clinical direct marketing created by a CMO² cooperative effort meets the challenge of influencing and engaging healthcare customers in a self-directed, self-quantified marketplace. A value-add within this approach is the built-in testing practices, a fundamental of direct marketing, that allows for systematic learning of which tactics are most effective for the different segments and different programs.

Simply offering undifferentiated off-the-shelf programs to improve patient health around chronic conditions, prevention, early detection or wellness isn't enough. Success only comes when you can get individuals to respond, interact and engage in a meaningful two-way relationship built on trust. For that, CMO² is a pathway to true consumer-centric health engagement.

Lindsay Resnick is chief marketing officer of Wunderman Health.