If you work in healthcare marketing, you’ve come across the phrase “the consumerization of healthcare.” You may have used it yourself. I have. Lately it got me thinking: What are we talking about when we refer to consumerization?
I realized two things: First, the phrase “the consumerization of healthcare” reflects both the topic’s conflict and its ambivalence. It spotlights the fact that this deeply human experience is not consumer centric.
Second, the notion that by applying a slick neologism like “consumerization” will not only signal a shift but also make the shift happen is extremely glib. There is no consumerization black box like the flux capacitor that enabled Dr. Emmett Brown to time-travel in his DeLorean.
When you research what thought leaders actually mean when they use the phrase, it yields a bounty of references. At one extreme, a company used the term to describe the simple act of changing its brand name. At the other extreme, a healthcare organization described its multi-year, highly complex initiative to review and revise every single business process to improve customer centricity. In between those polarities, people jostle the uses of consumerization to describe the development of technology solutions and digital resources.
So are those examples what we mean when we talk about the consumerization of healthcare? Maybe. But there’s certainly a Goldilocks quality to these examples. Some are too this; some are too that. But which is just right?
What we really mean when we refer to consumerization ishumanization – putting somebody like us at the center of the immensely complex system of systems we refer to as healthcare. And if we’re going to focus on any single aspect, let it be on the quality of the experience that’s delivered to a patient, a caregiver or a healthcare provider. Understanding and improving how humans experience any interaction – particularly one as personal and profound as their health – is the best way to use the tools of marketing and communication to make a real and sustainable difference for every stakeholder involved.
We know as marketers what makes a powerful and positive customer experience; it’s our bread and butter. We know how to understand a journey, how to map it, how to build it, how to measure and manage it. But it’s more challenging in healthcare, with its fragmented delivery system, deep information asymmetry, high stakes and complex decision-making dynamics. Plus – and this is a big one – there are certain prerequisites to effective customer experience marketing and management that can be challenging in healthcare. These include the availability and access to quality information; an understanding of expectations; a focus on satisfaction (even better if it’s an imperative); the ability to track and read the process; and the means to measure.
A friend shared a recent example of her own experience with the healthcare system, and it’s instructive. Beth woke up feeling sick – bad sore throat, aches, pains and exhaustion. When things didn’t improve, she did some quick Internet research, learned little and drove to an urgent-care facility. Like many women in their twenties, her primary-care doc is a gynecologist. There the doctor – rushed and curt – performed a rapid strep test. Negative. Still, Beth was put on antibiotics, and even when the more accurate test results confirmed no strep, she was told to finish the dose. This despite all we know about the risk of antibiotic overuse.
Beth worsened quickly and in odd ways, with a rash on her hands and feet that spread rapidly and severely. Large, painful, itchy blisters followed. The Internet had no answers. Urgent care offered nothing. Finally, she snapped photos, sent them to a surgeon cousin, who fortunately recognized it immediately as the Coxsackie virus. Common in kids, rarer in adults, but as Beth learned when she researched it (neither easy nor fruitful, since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t require reporting of this virus), a virulent strain is affecting adults.
This strain carries risks of serious and long-term side effects, she learned. And as Beth discovered from a forum, the disease has created a tremendous amount of frustration, anger and anxiety among patients, not least because no one knows how many people are affected. Beth had never heard of symptom-checker tools, but when made aware of them, she reverse-engineered the process to see if Coxsackie showed up as a possible cause of her symptoms. Nothing. Today she’s still recovering and wants to fight for Coxsackie awareness and education, proving once again that advocacy starts at home.
Many factors here contributed to a truly awful experience: an almost complete absence of information; an incorrect diagnosis; a stubborn insistence that she continue the wrong drug regimen; a paucity of resources; one lonely peer-to-peer network that reinforced the confusion and alienation; and the completely normal but deeply frustrating feeling that she was totally on her own. If it could have gone wrong, it did.
So we end where we began – with consumerization. It’s not the flux capacitor, after all. It’s something more important: a set of challenges focused on experience that we’re uniquely qualified through our expertise and skill to address and master. And to return to the Goldilocks trope, this way of thinking about the consumerization of healthcare seems to us to be just right. It’s less about consumerizing and much more about humanizing.
Wendy Lurrie – Managing Director, gyro:human
Wendy Lurrie is the managing director of gyro’s healthcare practice gyro:human based in New York. gyro:human is gyro’s newly formed U.S. division dedicated to all aspects of the healthcare industry. Lurrie is a healthcare industry ace who has worked with United Healthcare, Aetna, Eli Lilly and Company, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, to name a few.
She held executive positions at major agencies Draft, DraftFCB and Grey, where her responsibilities included the management and growth of the healthcare portfolios. Lurrie has worked on the client side as a VP of marketing at Travelers as well as served a consultant specializing in marketing strategy.