In the Age of Patient Centricity, Are Patients Actually Shopping for Healthcare?

Shopping for Healthcare

Digital marketing can prevent wasteful healthcare spending and increase patients’ agency over their care.

Health insurance deductibles have been rising for well over a decade now. Theoretically, this should be a good thing for the industry as a whole; if patients must contribute more to their care, they will be more cautious about opting for elective or unnecessary procedures, thus reducing wasteful spending across the board. That’s the idea behind the recent push for “patient centricity,” or encouraging patients to make informed choices about their care.

But in practice, higher deductibles and other measures meant to encourage patients to research on their own don’t just encourage cutting back on elective care — they’ll often lead patients to cut back on necessary care, too. Patients don’t know what healthcare they do and don’t need, which is exactly why they consult physicians.

The problem is that while doctors are trained medical professionals, they’re not trained to save patients or insurance providers money; meanwhile, patients aren’t confident in their ability to find healthcare services on their own. However, with the right input from medical marketers, both physicians and their patients could be equipped to reduce wasteful costs and genuinely increase patient centricity.

Transparency Alone Isn’t Enough

“Shopping” and “healthcare” don’t sound like they go together, and frequently, they don’t; in a medical emergency, patients don’t have the time or wherewithal to consider the costs of treatment from various medical providers. However, as much as 30 to 40% of care is elective or non-urgent and therefore “shoppable.”

A good example of a shoppable healthcare expense is a non-emergency, outpatient, lower-limb MRI, a service at the core of a recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. According to the NBER’s study of more than 50,000 adults, the greatest deciding factor in where a patient will go for a procedure is neither price nor distance but instead their doctors’ referrals. On average, patients will drive by six other locations where the same procedure could be done for a lower price on their way to their doctor’s recommended location.

While much of this wasted time and cost can be attributed to lack of information availability, studies show that even increased price transparency doesn’t motivate patients to seek out information about prices. This may be because people find health care too complex to research themselves and because patients with health insurance typically have to pay around the same deductible, regardless of the cost of their procedure.

Bridging the Gap Between Patients and Information

Despite healthcare professionals’ efforts, the gap between patients and information about their care remains wide. The communication of information in the healthcare industry currently falls short of effectively decreasing wasted costs. However, understanding the nature of this information divide is the first step to effectively marketing to potential patients.

Reaching patients with pertinent knowledge about distance and pricing can equip them to make smarter choices about their healthcare. Targeted social ads are an effective way of advertising to patients who have demonstrated interest in a condition, but haven’t yet found a provider. Facebook has over 2.23 billion users nationwide as well as highly-advanced targeting capabilities, so the odds that you’ll be able to reach a given patient population with targeted ads, are very high.

Digital marketing can also help medical practices reach patients throughout the conversion funnel, whether they’re just gathering information or about to make a decision about their care. Because search ads work by targeting specific keywords, they’re perfect for responding to varying user intent. For example, patients looking for information about irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, might search for “what is IBS?” while patients looking to be treated might search for “GI doctor near me.” Search ads help medical practices attract both sets of potential patients and give them the information they need to make a decision.

While patients may not seek out information about a medical service’s pricing and locations, that doesn’t mean they won’t respond when directly presented with the information. Healthcare providers should feature that information prominently in their advertising, providing context as well so that patients feel informed about average prices for a medical service in a given area. Strategic digital marketing like this can allow healthcare service providers to reduce waste industry-wide and communicate directly with the patients who need their services most.

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