Can Health Care Take Tips From the Marketer's Playbook?

The last two days of February finally brought some long awaited (or not, depending on who you ask) snow. The snowfall didn’t stop marketing professionals in the health care industry from coming on campus for a MN AMA Healthcare SIG event focusing on the impact of health care reform for marketers.

This second in a three-part series featured a panel of health care/marketing professionals including Rich McCracken, account director at Haberman, a full-service marketing agency; Kim Wiese, vice president of marketing at Optum; and David Moen, M.D., president and CEO at Fairview Physician Associates. Daniel McLaughlin, director of the Center for Health and Medical Affairs at the Opus College of Business, moderated the panel and facilitated the conversation, which touched on the overall mind shift that is necessary in the U.S. culture, in terms of health care.

Dr. Moen stressed the importance of educating and encouraging physicians to focus on patients’ needs rather than wants.  He passionately expressed the need for doctors to have the courage to hold up a mirror in front of patients enabling them to see what it is about their lifestyle that is negatively impacting their health.  We live in a culture that values quick fixes such as pills and elective surgeries.   Marketers are faced with the challenge of changing a population’s way of thinking and altering consumers’ way of living, not simply selling a product.

Ms. Wiese spoke about Optum’s work in researching employee engagement and therefore saving health care costs.  They have invested time and money in farmers markets and healthy lifestyle campaigns.  While all of these initiatives have been positive and well received they have not directly decreased health care costs.  What research has shown is correct physician referrals have a larger impact on cost decreases.  She gave an example of 25% of the United States population suffering from back pain.  A large number of those patients are referred to an orthopedic surgeon and often eventually undergo surgery.  The proper diagnosis may have been seeing a chiropractor, saving thousands of dollars and preventing unnecessary recovery from surgery.

Rich McCracken gave a thought provoking comparison asking the audience to raise their hand if they have received any incentive email from a retailer this week (such as a Leap Year 20% off sale, etc.).  Every audience member held their hand up. He then asked how many have received an incentive email from their healthcare provider.  A few hands rose, but definitely not the majority.  As he wittily remarked, “If J. Crew were my doctor  I would receive weekly emails encouraging me to take the stairs at work, or skip dessert, etc.”  Unfortunately health care is not as simple as consumer goods and marketers are faced with HIPPA (health information privacy) regulations that prevent such contact.

Regardless of the obstacles, and there are many, the point remains; our health care system is broken and needs a good fix.  How to do it is complicated and merits lengthy discussion.  Thankfully the MN AMA Healthcare SIG is hosting this series to begin the dialogue.