A long overdue evolution in the structure and delivery of healthcare is underway, not just in the United States, but in countless corners of the globe. This maturation of healthcare access and delivery tends to be characterized by a greater emphasis on service value, coupled with a focus on cost efficiencies, a patient-centered approach and delivery systems that are integrated and holistic.
The workplace inevitably assumes a prominent position in this new paradigm. Healthcare organizations of virtually every stripe and any market would be wise to consider developing relationships with employers as a key part of strategic visions.
There are many reasons why a greater emphasis on the employer market is warranted:
- The workplace provides large-scale access to many people. As management of large-population healthcare segments become the global norm, the workplace provides direct and daily access to large population clusters. This is likely to be even more pronounced in underdeveloped areas where access to population is often challenging.
- Employers increasingly have considerable leverage in the direction of the healthcare dollar. As more employees become covered by workplace-associated coverage, employers have an increasing stake in provider choice and health outcomes of their workforce.
- As consumer education becomes central to a community’s quest for favorable healthcare status, the workplace provides one-stop access for educating large consumer populations. This need is likely to be even more pronounced in under-developed nations or regions where timely health education can literally be the difference between life and death.
- Communication technologies seem to be changing daily. Mobile devices, the internet, email and social networking permeate our lives. A plethora of new ways to inform, educate, screen and counsel are available. The practice of proactive, holistic healthcare, always advisable, but seldom effective, suddenly seems within reach for myriad populations.
- Global decentralization of healthcare delivery is likely to continue as technologies become more dramatic and costs become more critical. In time, hospitals, for example, are likely to become the resource of last resort for the most chronically ill with many other services exported to convenient community venues. Given this inherent population base, the workplace is poised to play a pronounced role in this evolution.
Hotel relationships can provide medical tourism professionals with an important connection to a local, if only temporary, population.
There are many business sectors relevant to the medical tourism arena including travel medicine, lodging and multinational employers:
- Travel medicine – Travel medicine provides international travelers with appropriate advice, inoculations and paths to available healthcare options at their anticipated destinations. The workplace is an excellent starting point for travel medicine services.
- Hospitality industry – Nations of all stripes have in common hotels or analogous lodging venues for visitors or the international hospitality industry. Within these lodging venues are international travelers from a vast array of countries, all temporarily without their traditional healthcare security blanket. Hotel relationships can provide medical tourism professionals with an important connection to a local, if only temporary, population.
- Multi-national employers – the proliferation of multinational employers is nothing new, but continue to grow markedly as advancing communication technologies and economic realities offer more opportunities. How then do healthcare organizations connect with employers? Consider:
- Commit to broad universe. Marketing should never leave a stone unturned. Include employers of all types and sizes in outreach strategies. A larger net will yield more fish.
- Learn employer-speak. Typically, employers try to balance genuine concerns about their workforces’ health and well-being with the need to achieve a positive economic bottom line (or in some instances to survive economically). Learn to view issues from the employer’s standpoint and use a vernacular that resonates with the individual employer representative, not steeped in healthcare industry jargon.
- Play education card. Consumers of any industry are wary of self-serving marketing tactics. Take a higher road. For example, provide useful health and safety information to your constituents. Common education methods include periodic email or text-based tips, workplace-based lectures and one-on-one health coaching.
- Go high-touch. Paid media and other traditional 20th century marketing tactics are becoming dinosaurs. Modern-day marketing begs for high-touch encounters by meeting consumers on a one-on-one, personal basis.
- Embrace brevity. Marketers vie for a prospect’s attention in an information-saturated world. How much spare time is at your disposal these days? Virtually everyone feels overwhelmed and protective of their time. Avoid conceptual clutter.
- Innovate actively. Keep messages simple, short and focused. Then make that message even simpler. Remember every extra word takes a proportionate amount of attention from core messages.
- Practice innovation. Marketing is about being unique, yet most marketers revert to the tried-and-true only to find themselves behind the curve. Using baseball vernacular, it’s better to strike out three times and then hit a grand-slam home run than hit four weak ground outs.
- Target employers. Go for heavy hitters. One whale is worth a million goldfish. Take the hotel industry
for example. If your organization can develop a relationship with the largest hotel in your market, that connection would, in turn, give you uncommon credibility with smaller hotels in the same market.
- Network constantly. Enlist appropriate contacts to facilitate an entree with prospects rather than relying on prospects to come forward one-by-one. Word-of-mouth trumps everything else concerning credibility.Consider, for example, joining the social media site LinkedIn as a way to leverage current contacts into new relationships.
Working with employers is a logical if not essential strategy for making a mark in the medical tourism arena.
- Differentiate yourself. Be different than competitors. Define exactly what makes you unique: what does your organization or service offer that arguably makes it the best option in the market?
- Develop blueprint. Sales and marketing plans tend to break down because they are lengthy and verbose, too general, uninspired or forgettable. A written plan is the foundation of any business endeavor; it is the master document intended to keep moving forward and on track.
- Learn from other sectors. Great marketing is great marketing, no matter what product, service or political campaign inspiration is drawn from. Keep an eye on what marketers are doing in other industries. A political campaign is a good starting place because it features the basic tenets of effective marketing and communication: remain on message, keep the message simple and keep repeating the message.
- Sell and market value. Employer receptivity to your services is largely associated with outcomes and economic impact, not features or intangibles. Emphasize benefits and value in virtually every outreach interaction.
Hospitals, clinics, health systems and independent practitioners should develop relationships with employers in their market to help them adapt to the highly integrated nature of the emerging healthcare environment.
Marketing to employers is not a daunting task; it is less costly than traditional marketing activities and can offer an excellent return on investment. Working with employers is a logical if not essential strategy for making a mark in the medical tourism arena.
About the Author
Frank H. Leone, M.B.A, M.P.H., is author of “Marketing Healthcare Services to Employers: Strategies and Tactics.” He is founder and president of RYAN Associates. Since 1985, RYAN Associates has specialized in the employer-healthcare provider relationship, completed more than 700 consulting engagements in 49 states, and provided several hundred educational conferences, seminars, training programs, and webinars.
He also serves as executive director of the 1,800-member National Association of Occupational Health Professional, founded in 1990. http://www.naohp.com/menu/publications/mhse/