MedCity Influencers, Patient Engagement

Why patient loyalty in health care matters: Why now and how to get started

Creating an effective loyalty strategy can deliver on consumer needs while creating a personalized experience that will help establish deeper relationships between patients, healthcare systems and providers.

When it comes to loyalty, many industries might immediately come to mind, but what about health care? Loyalty in health care has been talked about for some time, yet the reality is that the implementation of patient loyalty remains largely in concept and discussion. Given the tremendous opportunity it presents to those who are committed to better serving their patients, it’s time to move patient loyalty into the mainstream across healthcare sectors.

Case in point: according to NRC Health, more than one-third of consumers are indifferent to health system brands. In fact, that statistic rose from 31% in 2018 to 36% in 2021. Further, according to Accenture’s Covid-19 Consumer Health Experience Survey 2020, data “indicates that those health systems that evolve to meet new consumer experience needs can expedite financial recovery and capture patients from competitors, potentially increasing their revenues by 5% to 10% pre-Covid levels within 12 months.” That’s hundreds of millions of dollars in additional annual revenues.

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A Deep-dive Into Specialty Pharma

A specialty drug is a class of prescription medications used to treat complex, chronic or rare medical conditions. Although this classification was originally intended to define the treatment of rare, also termed “orphan” diseases, affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the US, more recently, specialty drugs have emerged as the cornerstone of treatment for chronic and complex diseases such as cancer, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

Over the past year, we’ve seen tremendous changes in consumer behavior as Covid-19 accelerated the demand for a new patient experience and the ways in which consumers think about their health care. People are educated and smart about their health and are shopping around for providers and reading reviews to ensure that they make the best choices. They know that they have a choice and are no longer hesitant to make changes if it means that a provider system will better fit their long-term needs and are looking for things that are important to them, including a streamlined experience, cost transparency, a digitally connected experience, convenience and of course, that their private data will remain safe.

Further, deferment of care has caused many healthcare consumers to disengage, but that doesn’t mean their conditions, large or small, have disappeared. How can you make them feel comfortable reengaging in their health?

The answer lies in loyalty. Creating an effective loyalty strategy can deliver on consumer needs while creating a personalized experience that will help establish deeper relationships between patients, healthcare systems and providers that will last through the patient’s continuum of care. For organizations that might be hesitant to explore a loyalty strategy, it’s important to remember that there is a distinct difference between loyalty programs and a loyalty strategy. A loyalty program focuses on repeat business and incentivizing your best customers, who may purchase or use your services on a regular, or frequent basis. In most sectors of health care, because the ideal outcome is a healthy population, creating a program that rewards based on frequency of use or engagement with your system would not be advised. Instead, by creating a loyalty strategy that is focused on using data to understand your patients on an individual basis and create personalized experiences tailored to those needs, you can establish positive, lifelong relationships with your patients that allows your organization to deliver patient-centric engagement and create relevant, personalized experiences.

When done correctly, a loyalty strategy can be extremely effective and beneficial for both the healthcare organization and for its patients, but it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and focus. So, what can you do to provide meaningful engagement so your patients or customers feel known, appreciated and like they are in a relationship with your organization or brand? Here are a few examples and thought-starters for how each of the four key segments of healthcare—integrated delivery networks (IDNs), payers, med tech and pharmaceutical companies—can create loyalty strategies that build more meaningful relationships with their customers:

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IDNs
Several health systems have been on the leading edge of patient loyalty – and have demonstrated the clear-cut value of implementing loyalty strategies. Kaiser Permanente, for example, the nation’s largest IDN and a brand with a long history of progressive policies, has earned first marks for its patient satisfaction, topping the NICE Satmetrix U.S. Consumer NPS Benchmarks nine years in a row. In addition, this California-based nonprofit is also a payer and was named the No. 1 insurer for the fourth year in a row in Forrester’s 2019 insurance provider rankings. That’s thanks in no small part to its wellness program, which annually rewards each member and covered spouse with a $500 reward card or statement credit — or $1,000 per household — for performing five wellness activities, including biometric and preventive health screenings. When patients are loyal to a system, the result is the centralization of care, which prevents fractured interventions and multiple, dislocated health records. Additionally, from 2018 to 2019, Kaiser tripled its income to $7.4 billion, mostly due to investments, and a commitment to reinvest in high-quality, affordable care to members and to improving the health of their communities.

Payers
Payers have a great opportunity to implement a loyalty platform that’s oriented toward wellness and prevention. When patients behave proactively versus reactively, troublesome conditions are caught earlier, promoting early interventions, causing less patient hardship and less payer investment. This is a win-win-win: the patient is in better health, the payer pays fewer claims, containing costs; and costs drop overall when people maintain health. In addition, for payers/providers (e.g. Kaiser Permanente), or those who have payer-provider partnerships, they’re in the best position to offer a loyalty plan, owning patient data, centralizing care and providing both care and reimbursement.

Pharmaceutical Companies
Pharma companies stand to benefit hugely from engagement programs, especially from loyal patients who adhere to their regimens. The estimated annual cost of prescription drug-related morbidity and mortality resulting from nonoptimized medication therapy was $528.4 billion in 2016 U.S. dollars with a low end of $495.3 billion and high end of $672.7 billion, according to the authors of “Cost of Prescription Drug-Related Morbidity and Mortality” (March 26, 2018). They also estimated that nonoptimized drug therapy results in about 275,689 deaths per year. This has huge implications and gives more credence to companies tackling medication issues. In addition, pharmacies that partner with payers can help drive considerably better health outcomes and manage compliance. A pharma-payer strategic partnership would generate the most positive outcomes for patients and both organizations.

Medtech
Medtech companies generally serve other businesses. As decision-making has shifted from physician preference to a value-analysis committee model, medical device manufacturers have been challenged by this new selling constraint. Med tech companies have historically led with business-to-business strategies, but organizations can engage consumers and drive consumer pull-through by creating communities around the disease states their devices serve. For example, Coloplast, a Danish medical device company, has a strong care community, offering support groups, educational opportunities, and much more. Active outreach to patients demonstrates a commitment to improving lives. Additionally, a manufacturer might create a loyalty platform loaded with valuable rewards (e.g. value bundling or solution selling) for distributors, much like auto manufacturers do for car dealerships. Or an organization may want to create a strategic partnership with an IDN to infuse value across the customer experience. Options might include sharing data insights, VIP reserved products, or accredited continuing education for clinicians.

The opportunity and benefits of establishing a smart loyalty strategy for all sectors in the healthcare space and more importantly, their patients, are tremendous. It has the potential to not only boost earnings for health care organizations, but more importantly, to improve patient care.

Photo: Mykyta Dolmatov, Getty Images

Tess MacGibbon, director of Thought Leadership & Health Care at The Lacek Group, is an innovative and collaborative leader with 25+ years of experience developing and leading ground-breaking content and thought leadership strategies to positively disrupt markets and drive customer/potential customer engagement in start-ups to Fortune 100 companies. At Lacek (an Ogilvy Experience company), Tess has developed the Thought Leadership and healthcare practices She designed and implemented the go-to-market healthcare strategy and lead multi-agency healthcare initiatives to broaden awareness and accelerate growth planning. Prior to joining the Lacek Group, Tess held several marketing and communication leadership roles at several leading health care organizations such as 3M Health Care, St. Jude Medical, Medscape, Coloplast and the Medical Alley Association.

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