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Note: This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday newsletter. Want content like this delivered to your inbox before it hits our blog? Subscribe here.

The Big Story: One big reason healthcare access is hard

“Healthcare brands invest enormous sums of money in marketing campaigns, websites, and apps that will never be effective until a consumer can overcome the data barriers to healthcare access.” And that deficit could have ripple effects as consumers get frustrated with providers.

What it Means for Your Health System

(2-minute read, 15-minute podcast)

Providers are juggling more challenges than ever… ICUs full of the unvaccinated. Media coverage of questionable billing practices. Disruptors from tech and retail growing their investments and pushing the envelope. The ongoing push-pull narrative regarding the effects of consolidation. Breaking through the perpetual avalanche of bad news to highlight the good is no easy task for marcom pros today.

The frustration builds when big-name companies without a history of delivering care get rosy headlines, while traditional providers face seemingly endless scrutiny from the media, regulators and parts of the public. Scrutiny – warranted or not – then leads people weary of traditional healthcare to look for someone else to do it better. Enter a company like Amazon, which fits the bill because it knows people, what they want and how to get it to them. Not because it “knows healthcare.”

Healthcare organizations are certainly aware of the challenge. Providers ramped up their use of digital tools last year, moving towards a more patient-friendly system out of necessity. But the advance has slowed, according to a recent study. Providers who lose momentum are not only missing out on a chance to streamline care, but also to counter some of the negative press pointing fingers at those delivering it.

So then how to flip the script? How do you leverage the current moment, building trust and telegraphing a better future? Here are six patient-friendly questions to ask your organization to help ID areas to bolster or to brag about:

  • How are you making it simpler to receive care? This covers tools to seek, schedule and manage care. It starts with the table stakes that so many patients complain about but few providers get right – basics like online scheduling tools and check-ins. It extends to back-office functions like billing processes that affect the underlying efficiency of patients’ care. Anything to cut down on the number of disparate tools and to better integrate those you need.
  • Where are you providing care? A silver lining to the pandemic? The rise of alternative models of care. However, that means programs like telehealth and ambulatory surgery centers are no longer differentiators in 2021. (Yep, back to table stakes.) You’ll need to push a lot further to show what’s unique about your version of those offerings. Now if your organization is one of the few which have ramped up “advanced” models like hospital-at-home or mobile care, talk about those. A lot.
  • How are you targeting care for your specific community? Put your marketing cap on for this. Depending on geography, infrastructure and patient demographics, the same tool could either help or hinder a patient’s trust and comfort. Telehealth can make sense for different reasons: time saved fighting traffic, ability to seek care when you don’t have access to transportation, ease in scheduling, expanded hours and more. And those reasons can vary for an urbanite, a rural dweller, a family with small children, an elderly person, a blue collar worker, etc. Your marketing should be precise in what it says and in exactly whom it is targeting. People will trust you more if they see you offering services and communicating in ways that work for them.
  • How are you making it simpler to understand care? People don’t trust what they can’t understand. Now is a good time to scrub your communications materials for simplicity and to clearly define terms. If you want to take it up a level, look at how your organization trains patient-facing staff to ensure they’re communicating clearly and simply with patients. Always be asking, “Are we talking to consumers in a way that helps them make a good decision quickly?”
  • How are you making the financial process easier? So much of the scrutiny of hospitals today comes from questionable or downright bad billing practices. Merely setting up a simple billing portal will not negate the previous damage caused by suing patients over unpaid bills. However, setting expectations early on about things like financial responsibilities and billing process, tools and options, will go a long way in avoiding situations that are traumatic to patients and reflect poorly on your organization. Work with your front office and rev cycle teams to educate patients on the finances of healthcare, offer proactive communications about what they could owe and yes, give them easy ways to pay.
  • How are you improving access and health equity? Your mission is to provide the best possible care for the people in your community, which means that in some way everything you do comes back to access and equity. People are paying more attention to the issue than ever before. So are you. So talk about it. Northwell Health, for example, highlighted the importance of its new partnership with Walgreens for health equity. Other benefits like efficiency and convenience were framed as contributors to access and equity, rather than standalone features. That’s a playbook worth copying.

Want more? Check out the 15-minute conversation with Reed Smith, Jarrard Inc.’s VP of Digital Services.

This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday Quick Think newsletter. Fill out the form to get that in your inbox every week.