A three-part series examining one of marketing’s most misunderstood media spaces.

When fraud allegations were leveled at point-of-care giant Outcome Health last fall, the company’s clients weren’t the only injured parties. POC networks going about their business the “right” way — accurately representing the volume and location of their screens and signage, as well as the content on it — were compelled to defend their own practices.

Similarly, just about every other peripheral POC player faced questions about the credibility and viability of the space at large. Fairly or no, the POC space became a flashpoint for debates over transparency and accountability.

Ten months later, the waters have calmed. While holdouts remain, a majority of marketers and POC media buyers seem to have come around to the belief Outcome’s fraud was an isolated incident, as opposed to a systemic malady.

“If anyone had doubt about the [point-of-care] channel previously, the news about Outcome served to reflect on the entire channel,” says Jennifer Greufe, a media consultant specializing in POC. “But many individuals with deep experience in the space understand the intrinsic value. They were able to reconcile the choices that may have been made by one network shouldn’t paint everyone with a negative brush.”

Ken Goldberg, CEO of digital signage firm Real Digital Media, agrees, but only to a point. “Time tends to heal all wounds, but the business news cycle isn’t like the political news cycle,” he explains. “The bad news [for POC] is business people tend to have much longer attention spans.”
What standards?

However, execs in and around the POC realm are united in their curiosity as to why industrywide auditing and verification standards haven’t been formally codified, whether by the Point of Care Communication Council (PoC3) or another organization. Around the time the Outcome Health news exploded into public view, PoC3 said its validation and verification standards were on the way. As of mid-July, the group continued to point to a POC buyer’s guide and a statement about campaign-level auditing best practices as its most current guidance.

Many industry players are wondering why it has taken so long. “Prior to Q4 last year, I don’t think [PoC3] was very focused on compliance measures or auditing,” says Paul Theisen, founder of PlaceBridge, a third-party provider of auditing and verification services for the POC space.

“The standards should already have existed when this mess happened,” Goldberg adds.
Others wonder if PoC3 should be the definitive voice on such matters. They believe it’s less a representative industry organization than an alliance of POC networks. The group’s current members are Constant Media, Health Media Network, Health Monitor Network, Mesmerize Marketing, OFX Media Group, PatientPoint, and Phreesia. Outcome Health withdrew from PoC3 this past November.

Of course, missing from that list are companies from the media buying and planning and agency worlds, as well as POC-adjacent vendors and technologists. Not surprisingly, individuals who work at these organizations feel left out of the dialogue around POC transparency and validation.

To that end, some of them are in the process of doing something about it. Buyers from a range of A-list media organizations, including representatives from Interpublic Group’s Healix, MDC Media Partners, Omnicom, and WPP’s Wavemaker, have formed an association of their own.Its very existence suggests the buying community isn’t satisfied with what they’ve heard from PoC3, which they see as pushing solutions more akin to certification than full-fledged auditing. Still, the goal remains the same: to shore up the vetting process and reaffirm their comfort with investments in the POC channel.

PoC3 board and verification and validation standards committee members understand the impatience and frustration. While they acknowledge the organization has taken longer than anticipated to roll out its promised standards, they also note the POC space has evolved well beyond pamphlets randomly scattered around doctors’ offices.“Some people forget everybody’s medium is a little different,” explains PatientPoint founder and CEO Mike Collette (pictured below), who currently serves as PoC3’s co-chair. “If every medium were a waiting room and a digital screen, it would be [easier]. I’m not sure we fully appreciated all the media and how we’d need different standards for each.”

Getting close

The PoC3 leaders believe they’re on the cusp of creating verification and validation standards that will satisfy most POC players. While the organization declined to share draft language, the standards will likely include confirmation of screen and signage locations, as well as the HCPs associated with those locations; independent, in-person audits of POC locations; and campaign-level verification of content on the screens.

“‘I’m not going to share my list of offices and doctors — that’s not going to fly anymore. You have to provide your list,’” Collette stresses. “The single biggest thing is providing confidence [companies] are going to get what they paid for and not be charged for what they didn’t get.”

Skepticism will likely fester until the PoC3 standards are officially unveiled — and possibly even beyond then. “If a standard is going to be actionable and enforced, it has to come from unbiased, third-party sources trusted by buyers and sellers,” Goldberg notes. “Who’s going to be the third-party keeper of locations? Who’s going to show a screen is functional and the content is updated? This requires real humans to go out and validate. It’s not cheap.”

Theisen — who notes multiple times he’s an “interested party,” given his company offers auditing and verification services for the POC space — thinks PoC3’s standards could potentially be overly deferential to companies and individuals who are “reluctant to open their doors to live auditing. There’s always been some hesitancy to put that into contractual agreements,” he explains. “It seems there’s a movement by some PoC3 members toward self-certification — so rather than sending out a dedicated independent crew to do live audits, some networks self-audit and then have a third party come in to validate. There’s a big difference between the two.”

In the wake of the setback, Outcome Health appointed a new CEO, added new board members from such firms as LinkedIn and Novartis, and invested in measurement tech, all in an effort to restore customer confidence. Ironically, the firm’s malfeasance will likely end up as a galvanizing incident for the POC industry. (When contacted for an interview for this story, Outcome did not respond by press time to emailed questions.)

“We’ve all had many conversations with clients and agencies since last October, which has given us the ability to illuminate everything that’s happening at POC — all the metrics and innovation,” says Mathew Reynders, VP, business development at Mesmerize Marketing and a member of PoC3’s verification and validation standards committee. “Hopefully that has given everybody a little more airtime to explain how POC works and how to maximize campaigns.”

Goldberg, for one, is on board with anything that results in a better POC environment. “Getting this done right is time and money well spent,” he says.

For the second part in “The New POC Landscape” three-part series, click here.

For the third part in “The New POC Landscape” three-part series, click here.