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Newly Insured Consumers Necessitate a New Communications Approach

Newly Insured Consumers Necessitate a New Communications Approach

March 27, 2014 0 Comments

Patients are at the core of what we do as health communicators. We speak to a variety of audiences, but at the end of the day, we often find ourselves trying to reach patients to affect behavior change. Today this requires deep understanding of the complex patient decision-making process and how consumers navigate the health system to get the care they need.

While attending the Future of Healthcare Communications Summit in NYC last month, we heard a lot about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and how it may impact the varying industries represented in the room. While the summit focused on a variety of topics, the key point we walked away with was that the ACA has the potential to impact all of us, and we need to keep it in mind as we plan for future healthcare communication initiatives for our clients.

For better or worse, implementation of the Affordable Care Act will mean an influx of newly insured consumers. With that influx comes an opportunity for companies and communicators to educate these individuals about the importance of making healthcare a primary focus, rather than an afterthought. It brings chronic illness education and preventive care to the forefront because two core groups enrolling in ACA – the healthy young, but not traditionally employed and unemployed/underemployed individuals in need of health coverage – historically would only seek treatment if they were sick. Preventative care (routine checkups or exams) wasn’t as commonplace because those groups generally couldn’t afford it.

In addition to considering new audiences since the implementation of ACA, health communicators must also consider new pathways. The path to reaching patients was once a simple funnel: communications/media led to doctor visits, which then led to treatment conversations and, largely, prescriptions.

Now with millions more people insured, coupled with the impact of social media, the traditional communications funnel no longer exists. It’s more like a maze that patients are left to navigate.

These two shifts – new patient audiences and varied communications pathways – present a unique opportunity for all of us. We can partner with clients to develop programs that target diverse patient populations and are tailored to individual educational needs. Here’s how:

  • Shift the focus. Keep the non-health-minded patient in mind when developing campaigns and materials. There are more people than ever who may be receptive to our initiatives, programs and communications. This may mean including compelling or interesting data/stats to draw in people outside of your traditional targets, or creating materials that would appeal more broadly.
  • Don’t forget the importance of disease awareness/education (even if campaigns are treatment focused or targeted). With many new entrants into the healthcare system, there is more opportunity than ever for chronic illness education and importance of preventative care.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t just add to the maze of information. Develop communications that help patients navigate the maze and present them with choices so they can make an educated decision about healthcare.
  • Consider physician or payer partnerships to create the next generation of engagement platforms to connect physicians and payers to deliver messages (portals, online forums).

So while we continue to hear the media talk about the complexities and confusion surrounding the ACA, we should remind ourselves and our clients that we have the ability to shift the focus to what really matters – clear, tailored education that helps drive changes in patient behavior.

Alison Aromando also contributed to this post.

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