Healthcare is in the midst of one of the most exciting moments in its recent history, with a wide variety of new forces reshaping the industry for the digital age.
Americans are taking greater control over their healthcare decisions — and dollars. Out-of-pocket healthcare spending grew by 40% between 2010 and 2014 alone, and McKinsey suggests patient choice could affect up to 61% of all healthcare spending.
This trend toward healthcare consumerism has placed unprecedented power into patients’ hands, as the industry reorients itself around convenience, personalization, and end-to-end digitization. Below, we explore five of the healthcare industry’s most intriguing trends and disruptors — and the opportunities they offer healthcare providers (HCPs), healthcare marketers, and patients alike.
1. Generational Shifts: Millennials and Healthcare
The younger generation expects full flexibility in the management of their health. Products and services that appeal to older Americans don’t necessarily appeal to Millennials or Generation Zers, compelling stakeholders across the healthcare spectrum to reevaluate how they serve today’s emerging consumer groups.
Most glaringly, only 55% of young adults have an established PCP, compared with around 80% for older Americans. This group favors a consumer-first model, including urgent care facilities, telemedicine, and “wellness culture.” Their first step typically isn’t visiting a doctor, but rather turning to online resources like search, blogs, social media, and apps.
Digital natives have been conditioned to expect everything on-demand — this paradigm holds true not only in their media consumption habits but in the way they choose to manage their healthcare as well. The millennials are “always on” and simply put, waiting weeks or months for appointments or for answers won’t fly. Media has an enormous opportunity to capitalize on this expectation for immediacy, serving up timely, relevant information to a cohort that demands it.
While on the one hand, millennials are walking into doctors’ offices with more information than ever, they are actually less likely to know about treating illness, managing stress, and navigating health insurance. Closing this knowledge gap is the first step toward producing better health outcomes. Stakeholders must become adept at delivering important information on these topics in ways that are unobtrusive, narrative-driven, and, most importantly, actionable.
2. The New Voice(s) in the Room
From all corners of the healthcare media landscape, new voices are emerging. These voices are democratizing how patients access information about healthcare — and not always to their benefit.
Social media influencers hold sway over a public eager to make empowered lifestyle choices. Loyal fans feel an emotional connection to these influencers — in fact, younger consumers are 44% are more likely to trust what influencers say about a brand over what the brands say about themselves. Patients want to feel that they’re getting advice from a trusted friend, which can override more traditional sources of health advice.
Celebrity influencers have an undeniably wide reach, from Kim Kardashian’s Instagram advice to Gwyneth Paltrow and her $250 million Goop empire. Popular figures like Dr. Oz and Dr. Sanjay Gupta appear regularly on T.V. But even unlikely stars can influence patient choice: Doctors are increasingly taking to social media, while YouTube, Instagram, and the blogosphere have created phenomenons like Dr. Mike Varshavski or “Yoga with Adriene,” which boasts over 4 million subscribers. The 30% of U.S. patients interested in alternative medicine have a vast array of online evangelists to follow.
When patients seek out this kind of online health guidance, more and more are using “smart speakers” to find the answer. Juniper predicts that half of all searches will be conducted via voice apps by 2020. Unlike text-based search, voice queries through Siri, Alexa, and Cortana tend to be fully-formed questions, like “Where is the closest hospital?” The intuitive nature of voice search captures a great deal of a patient’s underlying intent and offers healthcare stakeholders a more precise way to tailor communications to individual patients.
And these sources of information are empowering patients to find their own ‘voice’ within their wellness journey. At the same time, these patients are increasingly inundated with information. And healthcare marketers will have to acknowledge the complexity of educating patients in this environment of “information overload.”
3. People as Point of Care: The Behavioral Revolution in Health
The point of care has expanded from the 300 square feet in the waiting room to the multiple devices in the patient’s pocket. While the doctor’s office remains an irreplaceable part of U.S. healthcare, increasingly proactive patients are learning about treatment options and considering critical healthcare decisions before ever stepping into a doctor’s office.
Although 26% of all U.S. adults lack a Primary Care Physician, that number balloons to 45% for adults under 30. This preference has contributed to the rise of easy-to-access urgent care clinics, which now handle 29% of all primary visits. Similarly, telemedicine offers improved accessibility regardless of location, and is popular with 40% of millenials, compared with 19% of Baby Boomers.
Patients are more eager than ever to take control, and a whopping 72% of internet users have searched health information online at some point. These patients are using apps like Healthcare Bluebook to compare prices, and figuring out which specialist is right for them with Healthgrades and Vitals.com. Meanwhile, startups like Hims and Lemonaid can actually prescribe and send certain medications without an in-person visit. Traditional providers are adjusting, too. With patients demanding greater access, around 90% of HCPs now offer 24-hour online patient portals, nearly as many make use of automated mobile alerts, and medical chatbots are taking on more and more responsibility.
Today’s patients, and millennials in particular, are likely to exercise all of their options when it comes to healthcare, and they expect services that fit their lifestyles. They get an Uber instead of waiting for a taxi; they “amazon prime the toothpaste”; they “Postmates dinner”; and their expectations in healthcare are no different.
Brands who lean into these evolving behavioral expectations will capitalize on the new opportunities they create. The upshot for healthcare marketers is a vast array of new channels through which to connect and communicate with patients as they make crucial decisions about their health.
4. Machine Learning in Healthcare
AI is an extremely fast-moving field, with the potential to improve healthcare outcomes by nearly 40% even while halving the cost of treatment. Machine learning-enabled tools can process complex data at superhuman speeds, opening the door to improved diagnostics. Companies like Ada are putting the power of machine learning into patients’ hands, delivering advanced healthcare management tools through easy-to-use mobile apps.
As Andrew Beck, Director of Bioinformatics at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Cancer Research Institute explains, “Peering into [a] microscope to sift through millions of normal cells to identify just a few malignant cells can prove extremely laborious using conventional methods.” But his team’s AI tool achieved a diagnostic success rate of 92%, just 4% lower than for pathologists — and the overall rate reached 99.5% when cross-referenced with human analyses.
This immense data processing capacity can also help close the communication gap between patients and pharmaceutical companies. Understanding where, when, and how to speak to a patient is a tremendous challenge, and 45% of patients believe these companies don’t understand their needs. But intelligent algorithms are enabling healthcare marketers to transform massive volumes of data into discrete, actionable insights — insights that can benefit patients and pharmaceutical companies alike.
At the same time, we’ve seen an explosion in the production of personal health data, which is impacting every level of the healthcare industry, from pharmaceutical manufacturers and health networks to doctors and patients alike. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing kits from companies like 23andme and GenetiConcept are enabling treatments to be tailored to the individual patient. Microbiome testing kits are allowing people to identify and manage food sensitivities. Smart watches like Fitbit and Apple Watch are being used to track physical activity, heart health, and encourage positive feedback loops for better habits. Condition-specific devices like glucose, cardiac, and seizure monitors are offering patients unprecedented insights into their own health. Today, 86 million Americans (30% of the adult population) use wearables — a number that has more than doubled since 2015.
The volume, quality, and actionability of personal health data will only continue to grow, further augmenting the capacity for machine learning solutions to impact clinical decision making — and shifting the starting point of many health-related conversations. These dynamics are generating new opportunities for brands to engage people in meaningful conversations around healthcare decisions.
5. Health as a Startup
As healthcare costs rise across the industry, the market is ripe for disruption. Despite extensive industry regulations, the healthcare market is flush with innovators that are developing exciting new ways to address real care needs.
For some, improved tech is key: Bind uses a machine-learning algorithm to offer insurance savings, while online services like PatientBank provide consolidated medical records. Other innovators are exploring new models for patient-doctor communication. Apps like Heal actually bring a doctor to your home, and health memberships like Forward offer top-notch care separate from insurance. Direct-to-consumer vitamin companies like care/of and Ritual offer personalized packaging while online pharmacy startups like Capsule are making same-day-delivery the norm.
Some ambitious companies are speeding up the diagnostic process. Genalyte is working to bring on-site blood testing to doctors’ offices, and Confer Health, the startup nearly purchased by Amazon in 2018, is shooting to revolutionize at-home tools. Mail-in genetics tests are transforming how patients think about their healthcare.
The explosion of startups in healthcare is providing patients with the level of service that they’ve come to expect in the digital age. For marketers, industry fragmentation could actually mean emerging partnerships, major new opportunities to speak to patients, and a more engaged patient population.
HCP populations aren’t just getting younger — they’re changing the very way that healthcare is practiced. A rising generation of empowered, tech-savvy patients is making the healthcare industry truly work for them by putting their dollars into services and treatments that not only improve their healthcare, but that also fit their lifestyle.
New voices are giving patients greater access than ever to health-related information. Technology and innovation are delivering new solutions to old problems at a faster rate than ever before. The world of healthcare at large is expanding at a breakneck pace. Ultimately, the general upshot of these disruptions is better care.
Pharmaceutical and health & wellness companies will play central roles in driving the kind of change that moves the industry forward for patients and practitioners alike. But just being aware of these changes is not enough. Understanding this transformation is not enough. These companies will need to figure out how to communicate in this emerging healthcare landscape, and they’ll need the right marketing tools to do it.
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Greg Reilly, Chief Client Officer, Publicis Health Media, is an experienced media and marketing professional with a track record of creating and building agencies.
As Chief Client Officer, Greg leads the organization’s efforts to continually deliver a seamless, valuable, and positive customer experience.
Greg’s commitment to exceptional client engagement, coupled with his experience working with some of the world’s leading organizations and brands, improves the customer experience at every touchpoint for PHM.
Connect with Greg on LinkedIn
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