Let’s be real. New patient acquisition is the Holy Grail of health care marketing. Sure, we have other priorities, too. But acquisition is what we all strive for. I’m not talking about just increasing inquiries, appointments or volumes. I’m talking about market share—bringing people who previously weren’t patients of your organization to your organization for care. That means that they decided to make a change. 

FYI, change is happening more than you think, and perhaps more than you’d like. In fact, the number of people considering changing health systems is growing by approximately 50% every two years.

This is EXACTLY why Patient Journey Mapping, and the new Marketing Operating System for Patient Acquisition, Engagement and Advocacy is so critically important right now. You need to have insight into people’s behavior as they experience their trigger event, and understand their intent as they begin considering their options. (Don’t be fooled by the fallacy of the inherent value of in-network referrals. Your prospective patients are looking at their options. More than 33% of your market has switched providers in the past.) 

Assuming you’ve already completed persona development, let’s get started influencing patients through the Consideration and Decision Phases of their Patient Journey. You’ll notice we’re skipping right by the Awareness Phase, assuming you’ve got a handle on creating awareness. After all, this is where the magic happens.

Influencing Moments of Consideration

In a 2017 national study of 1,200 people across America, we asked two critical sets of questions to understand why someone would consider switching providers.  The first set of questions focused on what they felt they needed from their health care organization. The second set focused on characteristics that, if offered in their community, would truly be unique. The intersection of these two ideals is your sweet spot for influencing patients.

The chart below highlights where patients’ interests cross over with unique offerings in the market. In other words, there are a couple of key characteristics that you should consider focusing on as you communicate with prospective patients in the Consideration Phase.

Hailey Sault research graphic

Key insights:

1. If you can market any kind of cost transparency, or offer cost counseling prior to care, do it. Please! People want it, and it’s highly likely that your competition isn’t doing it. Figuring out how to leverage this is a front-running strategy.

2. Outside of cost issues, leverage positive patient experience! It’s more important than technologies by a long shot. People want compassionate care from their doctors. They want their doctors to spend time with them, talk about their options, and for those relationships to be personal. Unless you’re bottoming out on patient experience, jump all over storytelling it during the Consideration Phase!

Separately, don’t spend money or energy on marketing your awards or national rankings. People don’t care. Everybody’s got ‘em.

Influencing Moments of Decision

Leaving a current health system to get care elsewhere is a hard decision. It’s typically instigated by poor patient experience or significant changes to costs. Those are the built-in barriers, especially for boomers, who have the longest relationships with their care providers.

However, if you’ve built a platform for nurturing someone along their journey, here are several recommendations for influencing during the Decision Phase.

Key Insights:

1. If you’re in-network with other payers in your market, make sure prospective patients know. This may be the least sexy thing I’ve ever written, but the fact is that people are guided by inertia. For your organization, that means that the majority of the people in your market either a) feel like they must get care within their preferred system, or b) can only go where their insurance company tells them. So if you’re on par, make sure the market knows that the door is wide open. Trust me, their insurance companies or employers aren’t going to put in the effort. You should! (The exception to this rule is millennials. They’re more likely to not have a primary care provider, and therefore not stuck within a system. Plus, they question authority and choices more.)

2. Once people know they can switch providers, they’re a lot more likely to choose someone who really knows them, versus treating them “like a number.” These relationship shortfalls are highlighted in the chart below. Here, you’ll see what people describe as their ideal relationship (Committed Partners, Teammates), versus their everyday reality (No Relationship, Casual Acquaintance, Distant). Stories elaborating on meaningful relationships are a powerful tool to woo prospective patients as they enter the Decision Phase. Curate them!

Hailey Sault research page 60 graphic

As you read this, I’d urge you to consider whether the smartest of your competitors has likely already modified their methodologies. Based on most of our experience, that answer is probably, “to a very limited degree.” So if you’re in your own personal arms race in a competitive market—and it’s likely you are—I’d urge you to consider how much of this intelligence you’re applying to the critical phases of your prospective patients’ journeys. 

As health care marketers, there’s only so much you can do to affect choice drivers like price transparency and how physicians engage with patients. But you do have massive opportunities for nurturing prospective patients along their journeys of care. As I’ve shared in this article, patients are on the move in record numbers. What will you do to capitalize on this opportunity?