What’s a Health System? It Turns Out Most Consumers Don’t Know

Recently I attended the Healthcare Marketing & Physician Strategies Summit (HMPSS) in Salt Lake City. The number of breakout sessions about CRM platforms, paid search strategies, EMR/customer integration, AI learning and cutting-edge tracking of ROI was overwhelming. Data-driven marketing decisions are now the norm. The ability to capture new patients, establish lifetime consumers and report ROI using these new digital technologies is hot and exciting.

Yet, to be successful, digital technologies require consumer-centric content. I was struck by a noticeable lack of sessions focused on consumer insights. Outside of one consumer journey and a consumer insights session, attention on what to say to consumers was absent. Consumer-centric communication demands we know our audience inside and out. What we say matters. A solid understanding of what consumers think, want, need and do remains fundamental to connecting with consumers, no matter what communication channel you use.

Words and phrases we use all the time may not be tip-of-the tongue among our key audiences. For example, how often do systems use the phrase “health system” in our communications? For many marketers at HMPSS, “health system” is part of their organization’s name. Because marketers and researchers in the healthcare industry use this phrase all the time in our work life, we think it’s a ubiquitous phrase, but I often remind those “on the inside” that they are NOT the target audience. We know too much. No offense, but if you’ve read this far, you’re probably in the minority and you’re the odd one when it comes to knowing what a “health system” is.

With this in mind, I recently added a simple question to one of our quarterly self-funded omnibus studies. I asked a sample of over 1,000 consumers this open-end question: “What is a Health System?”

How many people provided an adequate response? A little over one-third were able to provide a response that sufficiently described a health system (i.e., Group of hospitals and practices working under one umbrella and sharing services). Another 10% provided responses that I coded as “close” (e.g., A group of doctors working as a group). The “refused” and “don’t know” responses accounted for roughly half of all responses.  Finally, a small percentage of respondents named an insurance company (4.5%), cited a health system by name (3%), or expressed their disdain (2%) for a health system (e.g., waste of money, lower quality or very bad). The idea that more than one in two people likely gloss over or misinterpret the phrase “health system” should be alarming, given how often marketers and researchers use it today.

We highlight this finding as a reminder that conducting careful customer experience research to better understand consumers is imperative. At Market Strategies we are engaging more and more health system clients in our path-to-purchase studies, which track the complex journey consumers take in making a “shopping” decision. While our approach results in a holistic view of consumer motivations, considerations and paths to a decision, the approach is grounded in consumer perceptions accessed via a mix of innovative qualitative and quantitative methods that keep communication connected to the world view of the customer (and not of those crafting the messaging).

We recognize that our health system clients’ increased focus on broadening their online presence and investment in CRM and AI is diverting budgets from traditional advertising (and research), putting clients in a tough spot. Yet, our results from a single, simple question highlight the need to keep consumer-centric research in the toolbox. If you are concerned about adding a consumer perspective back into your efforts, feel free to reach out and we’ll share our unique approach.

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