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There’s no way around it: Payer negotiations are high-stakes events.

With so many constituencies having well-deserved – yet often competing – interests in the balance, navigating the contract negotiation process can be a tense proposition. Just consider who’s impacted: Patients concerned about paying for care. Employers hoping to offer their workforce good benefits. Elected officials cognizant of the need to make healthcare better for their communities. Physicians who want to make sure patients have consistent access to care without leaving their practice. Even the news media, which is always looking for a story of injustice.

Basically, this is politics. Each cohort has its own angle.

So, what can you do to prepare for your next contract negotiation?

Two words: Consider polling.

In addition to smartly leveraging your relationships with each group, incorporate polling for real-time insight from those you need most to hear from.

There’s power in data. When it comes to community sentiment, data is the most efficient, clear-cut way to avoid mistakes in your messaging. Here’s the sort of intel that a poll can help you discern on the front-end – and even during – your contract dealings.

  • How might your community react to an out-of-network event? If your hospitals and physicians were out of network, what would your patients do? Would they find different doctors? Pay out of network? Shop for a new insurer? And who would they likely blame for the disruption?
  • Where is your reputation strong? And at risk? Did that hard-hitting news series or the social media firestorm a few weeks back hurt your organization? Or did you escape unscathed? A well-designed consumer poll can assess the impact on the public’s trust in your organization and give a sense of your overall reputation.
  • Which audiences need to hear from you most? After finding out who has heard what, determine how that knowledge – or lack of – affects the way each audience views their own healthcare. Not necessarily how they view you, although that’s secondary. But what does it mean for them, and how it might affect their decision making? From that information, you can decide who needs reassurance and who needs a nudge towards action.
  • Who are your most compelling messengers? We know physicians are some of the most trusted individuals. But who else does your community look to for perspective when issues arise? Knowing this can help you identify who is best to speak on your organization’s behalf – in both press releases and in third-party commentary on social media or in the op/ed section. A suit? Or a white coat?
  • Which messages are most likely to resonate? A statement like, “Our organization isn’t paid fairly by insurance companies” may seem simple. The bad news? the public just doesn’t find that to be a compelling argument. They care whether they’re paying a fair price and whether they have access to the doctor they like. Your focus on getting paid fairly is the heart and soul of success in the negotiation. But that’s not the message for the public. So be ready to consider what messages matter to each audience and test them out.
  • How – and how often – do you need to communicate those messages? Consumer polling can give you an idea about how much people are thinking about your organization. (Hint: Probably not as much as you think.) From there, you can determine how much you need to push your messages to get the point across without overdoing it.

Author: Teresa Hicks

Image Credit: Shannon Threadgill

Ready to get started?

There are many high-quality polling options with different price points that offer everything from a quick, five-question digital survey to an in-depth, 20-question phone interview that produces cross- tabbed results by demographics. In fact, it can even over-sample in that one county that’s keeping you up at night.

Click below to learn more about our approach to using strategic communications to help in your payer relations efforts.

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