As a writer, I’ve always been intrigued by monster stories. Frankenstein. Smaug. The Whangdoodle. The Gruffalo. Godzilla. The Hulk. Not only are the names fun to say, these fabulously fearsome creatures have haunted our collective childhood and beyond.
It seems that the very best, most deliciously terrifying monsters emerge when everything around us starts to change—when all we know suddenly isn’t so clear anymore. Along comes the perception of an awful transmogrification of something once cherished and treasured into something beastly.
I know that this will come across as a “roll your eyes” writerly thing to say, but I can’t help make a connection between monster narratives and our recent healthcare history. Between March 2010 and January 2012, when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was ratified and then upheld by the Supreme Court, there seems to have been a spike in monster sightings. In fact for many, myself and a plethora of cartoonists included, our new healthcare environment seems to resemble something like a three-headed monster with infinite tentacles that reach into the deep darkness of every segment of the market—the “spawn” of the ACA, if you will.
Fighting the ACAmonster
Whether you’re on the agency or client side, establishing communications and marketing strategy in the post-ACA environment has probably felt a lot like the stuff of great monster fiction—like a dramatic collision between science, commerce and humanity. Everyone from brand managers to copywriters is grappling with the new, increasingly intricate customer base.
Gone are the days when a detail aid and a sample-armed sales rep sufficed to deliver a brand story powerful enough to change prescribing preferences. And the days when the insights and influence of a single customer segment (physicians) informed physician prescribing preferences.
To be sure, pre-ACA advancements in communication and information technologies disrupted and evolved this nearly 30-year-old marketing model. Physicians are armed with mobile apps that assist them with everything from screening and diagnosis to disease-state education. Sales reps deliver interactive product presentations on iPads. Patients arrive at their doctor appointments prepared with detailed, web-derived information about their condition and potential interventions.
But not until the advent of the ACA have we experienced such a grand commotion in the way we think about healthcare and the way we direct our thinking into the marketplace. Even more than five years after the ACA was ratified, creating marketing that bridges customer segments to drive brand success remains a challenge.
Honing the skills that work
I must confess that I think about the heart of this marketing monster a lot. How can we reach its emotions, pump sustainable value through it and help it wrap lovingly around our customers’ strategic imperatives? Yes, I know, it’s possible that I’m peering into the mirror and seeing the monster. Hear me out.
I think that most internal marketing teams are still segmenting communications using traditional customer models—albeit through the latest information technology vehicles. That is to say, brand teams continue to market to physician and patient consumers to drive prescription uptake, while their managed care counterparts continue to facilitate the contracting call flow using separate communication strategies to optimize access via payer decision-making.
Perhaps the thing that is missing here is the recognition of a need to integrate communication strategies to better serve the new, post-ACA multiheaded monster that brings together the treatment and management of patients—in fact, uniting the interests of providers and payers around the heart of patient-centered healthcare.
I also a lot think about the changes that are mixing up our market and creating new opportunities. For example, the shift from a fee-for-service to an outcomes-for-service market where risk is shared and value is measured against a benchmark of cost, efficiency and improved outcomes for individuals and patient populations. Or the advent of accountable care organizations (ACOs) and expanded employer networks that manage member populations who have been historically primed to be naïve about the responsibilities of consumer-driven healthcare.
How can we get closer?
Agency and client marketers must think of new ways to deliver education and support to providers and administrators who need to understand the access and reimbursement landscape as clearly as the treatment landscape.
I think we can help patients better understand the demands of consumer-driven healthcare by going beyond treatment-based (lifestyle and pharmacological interventions) education to a hybrid informational platform that educates on disease state, effective treatment intervention options and information, and ways to navigate healthcare delivery systems—both the insurance and treatment networks.
All said, as the dust begins to settle around the ACA and we become more aware of—and comfortable with—the new market pressure points, I think we find ourselves on the precipice of remarkable potential to reach millions more patient consumers and a much more dynamic base professional customers. It’s this shift in perspective and engagement that may just let us reach the heads and heart of this newest monster.
Micahlyn Whitt-Flicker is a member of the Creative team and applies her in-depth knowledge of managed care and the healthcare landscape to copywriting projects both large and small.