Consumers thinking twice about all but the most critical or emergent care are at the crux of one of the most significant transformations in healthcare today. The rise in consumer driven health plans, economic difficulties, and more have led many patients to carefully consider which healthcare treatments they really need, and which they can delay or avoid altogether.
Once the territory of the un- or underinsured, active decision making based on cost when it comes to healthcare is trending up for everyone. Recently, this trend hit home personally, when I went to a podiatrist to see about having a persistent and annoying wart removed. Seven treatments of liquid nitrogen later, the wart was still there, and my doctor said it was time for the big guns: laser treatment.
To this point, between my office copay and the 20% copay on "surgical treatments," each liquid nitrogen blast was about $60 out of my pocket. Knowing the laser procedure would be more expensive, my physician suggested I call the outside vendor he uses for laser wart removal to determine what my total cost might be. He said, "It's better than calling your insurer—usually they're a little thrown by the term 'laser.'" I was then handed the vendor's bi-fold brochure and told to make an appointment with the receptionist before I left.
Here's where the difference between yesterday and today for healthcare marketers hits like a sledgehammer. Until recently, I would have simply scheduled the laser appointment. I had good insurance coverage, so my exposure was at worst 20% of the procedure cost. I'd already been through seven treatments at $60, and would want to see the treatment through to the end. (No way the wart would win this battle.) Like many others, I would have moved forward with the treatment and paid the bill.
But not today, and maybe not ever again. First off, I've spent $420 to date on this stubborn little hitch hiker. Do I really want to spend another $200, or more? For most people, that's not trivial coin. I've lived with the wart for 10 years, what's a few more? At the very least, I will call the vendor and my insurance company before moving forward.
No more blind healthcare purchases for me, at least not when I have a choice in the matter.
My attitude is not unique. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation HealthTracking Poll, 53% of respondents said their households had cut back on healthcare in the previous year due to cost concerns. Retailer CVS recently announced the closing of 90 MinuteClinics for the season, to "align with consumer demand." Many hospitals and health systems are reporting dramatic drops in utilization. Summing it up recently was David Wessner, CEO of Park Nicollet Health Services in Minneapolis, who was quoted in a Minneapolis Star Tribune story on the financial ills of hospitals. Wessner said: "We're seeing that demand is far more elastic than it was in other years."
How does this change things for healthcare marketers? In a nutshell, your customers are becoming a much more challenging sale. No longer will healthcare consumers blindly follow the advice of their physicians to receive further treatment, not when they're own money is at stake, and not when there's a choice in the matter. So not only will it be harder to compel consumers to choose your organization, it will be harder to convert them to additional care even if you do.
What could my physician and his health system have done differently to ensure I took the next step, and went Star Wars on that wart? Here are just a few ideas: