Alan Tam, VP of Marketing
The past couple of years have been challenging for healthcare; from the providers on the frontline, to administrators focused on keeping the doors open, to the patients who needed care and marketers who kept patients engaged and informed, there’s no one who hasn’t been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the health IT/tech side, we have seen technologies like telehealth experience record-breaking adoption and the digital front door become part of health systems’ everyday vernacular as they work to improve patient experience, satisfaction, loyalty and health outcomes.
So, as 2021 comes to a close and we look ahead to another year, we asked industry experts to weigh in on what will stick with us, what will be left behind, and whether we’ll see progress where there has previously been hesitation.
Prediction #1: Rise of proactive communications
Health systems are in the midst of a perfect storm; they are still recovering from the financial pressures brought on by COVID-19, while facing increased competition all around, even from companies that traditionally had nothing to do with healthcare, such as Best Buy.
That is going to drive many organizations to increase and improve their proactive patient communications and engagement strategies as they seek to stand out in a crowded field, particularly with new(ish) entrants that are much better at consumer engagement and loyalty.
According to Mike Linnert, Actium Health’s CEO: “When it comes to patient engagement and communications, health systems are being driven by three (3) factors:
1. Revenue recovery
3. Value-based care
First, coming out of COVID, they need to get volume back up, so they are looking for easy and effective strategies and tactics to do that. Second, systems are competing for consumer loyalty more than ever before. New companies are entering the healthcare space, payers are providing care, and retail outlets are turning into clinics. Third, as healthcare continues to move towards value-based care, providers need to identify ways to keep patients healthy – and engaging them with relevant health information in their preferred channels is one proven way to do that.”
Prediction #2: Better and more equitable use of AI and data
Back in 2019, it was discovered and revealed that an algorithm widely used by hospitals in the U.S. was systematically discriminating against Black people. It’s been two years and we’ve taken tiny steps in the right direction, but are definitely not where we should or need to be. That said, healthcare organizations – and the healthcare industry in general – are starting to recognize there’s a problem, even if they don’t quite understand how to address it. That matters, as solving a problem requires us to recognize there is one.
As we look ahead to 2022, experts predict that we will see marked improvements in the use of AI and data, both for patient engagement that drives relevant, meaningful action and more equitable outreach.
Chris Hemphill, Actium Health’s VP of Applied AI & Growth observes: “Responsible AI will be a greater focus in 2022. As we see greater attention on racism and bias embedded in algorithms, healthcare leaders will seek more responsible, equitable approaches. We're still in the early phases of this, and many healthcare leaders still are unaware how technologies they use may cause bias. It's up to healthcare leaders to learn and hold their vendors accountable. It's up to AI vendors to innovate responsible approaches and help educate about them. Counteracting bias in algorithms is possible, and our patients shouldn't have to wait.”
Prediction #3: Improved connection between health systems and patients
While the COVID-19 pandemic is not the sole catalyst driving the big shifts we’re seeing, it has accelerated healthcare organizations’ work toward a more consumer-centric way of operating. With much of the competition entering healthcare with a consumer-first mentality – and years of perfecting their consumer engagement strategies and technologies – health systems are playing catch up big time.
Over the next several years, Craig Kartchner, AVP of marketing and customer experience at HonorHealth, predicts we’ll see shifts to satisfy customers’ greatest pain points:
- Access to care: We’ll offer customers more and more ways to get care, and allow them to choose the modality, time and place. Accessing care will be entirely in the customer’s control, not as subject to providers’ schedules or health systems’ physical locations.
- Communications with care teams: Health systems will organize around the patient/consumer; they will be properly connected and integrated to communicate on the patient’s behalf. They will be able to communicate with their care teams how and when they want. (A great example: how HonorHealth designed and executed a non-traditional and highly tailored method of engagement to get patients vaccinated for COVID-19.)
- Navigating healthcare: We’ll make it clear and convenient to follow treatment plans. When a patient leaves a primary care appointment, for example, we’ll make it seamless for them to take the next steps in their care – get labs drawn, schedule appointments with specialists and determine insurance coverage, among many other steps.
Prediction #4: The evolving role of the Chief Marketing Officer
Take Virtua Health for example. In 2020, the system ran a campaign aimed at getting people back in for mammogram screenings, starting with those identified as being at a higher risk for breast cancer. The campaign led to more than 11,000 mammogram appointments, which resulted in 1,395 breast cancer diagnoses for patients that may not have otherwise scheduled their screening.
Over the past several years, many health systems have recognized the important role marketing plays in not just patient engagement, but overall patient experience – and even health outcomes. As competition heats up, more will realize that breaking down traditional departmental silos and bringing together diverse skills and experience is critical to remaining relevant.
Ryan Younger, VP of marketing, Virtua Health:
“Increasingly, marketing will have a seat at the table. With the right strategy and tools, marketing can listen to – and be the voice of – the consumer. By seamlessly collaborating with clinical and operation teams, combined with marketing’s unique perspective of the audience, health systems will be able to address patients’ ever dynamic expectations and needs when it comes to their health and healthcare. Without one piece of that puzzle, organizations risk falling short of those expectations and watching consumers go elsewhere for their needs.”
Prediction #5: Payers will accelerate consumer-focused strategies
It’s not just the provider side of healthcare that is evolving as a result of changing consumer expectations, preferences and demands. As we look ahead to 2022, payers will continue – and likely accelerate – their movement towards consumer-centric strategies and tactics.
According to Frank Jackson, general manager, payer at Actium Health: “For payers, 2022 will be about playing catch up to consumers, and they’re ever-changing expectations and preferences. COVID-19 changed a lot of people’s priorities; they are re-thinking all aspects of life – where they live, work, how and where they get their healthcare. Consumers have seen how quickly industries responded to changes brought on by the pandemic, with things like grocery and restaurant delivery, Hollywood releases straight-to-cable and in-home/virtual doctor’s appointments. Payers should be preparing for consumers’ changing expectations around buying, consuming – and engaging with – their health insurance. COVID-19 didn’t begin the shift towards a more engaging payer-member relationship, but it did accelerate it.”
While the past few years have laid the groundwork for what we can expect – and have predicted – for 2022, we’ve all learned that things can change without much warning. What we can say with certainty is that regardless of the challenges or obstacles, healthcare will rise to the occasion and do what it always has: deliver care that’s needed, to the people who need it. Assuming no major distractions, all the pieces – and priorities – might now be in place for healthcare to truly make the leap to a consumer-centric industry.