How healthcare marketers can connect with patients

by Daphne Swancutt

Call it a silly, useless curse. I get sucked in to trying to find patterns and connections anywhere I can. Most of them are silly and useless. Occasionally I find ones that actually make some sense, if only to me.

As a healthcare marketer who also geeks out on reform, genetics and the e-patient movement, I can’t help but try to wrap healthcare up into a single cohesive package of connection and meaning. That’s what marketers do.

So, when it comes to that monster and what it all means, where it starts, what’s important and how to condense it to its core—where the patterns and connections are—I see P’s.

Maybe that’s because I’m a marketer and we’ve got this concept called the four P’s of marketing—the Marketing Mix. And, maybe that idea prompted one of those synaptic thingies that occur when there’s a storm of information scattering and thundering through the brain.

So happened I had also begun reading The Decision Tree. And, then I watched an interview with its author Thomas Goetz. I’ve lately been to several conferences focused on patients, patient communities, health 2.0, health reform, and I work with clients whose clinicians and researchers are excited about the future of personalized medicine.

Everywhere, there are P’s.

Thus, from this entire muddle crystallized my four P’s of healthcare—the Healthcare Mix—which perhaps only a marketer could muster.

At the center is the patient—and I challenge anyone to throw the gauntlet down on that one. Extending to and from that center are four P’s that many in healthcare are talking about (and one that we’re not talking about enough). For me, each is important on its own, but together they are invincible. Call it my P tree, if you will, but here they are:

  • Preventive: Good health begins with prevention. Period. Goetz makes this case so eloquently in The Decision Tree. His basic mantra? Exercise, eat right, don’t smoke and drink alcohol in moderation. Only 3 percent of Americans are doing this right. Wow.Consider the obesity epidemic, as well as the increase of chronic illness. Consider the pain and cost. We obviously need a stronger national call to action.
  • Personalized: The future is in personalized medicine. Pharmacogenetics is on a wave that is only going to become stronger. Genetic testing and targeted therapies will change the way patients are treated, customizing their care and reducing the likelihood of ineffective—and possibly toxic—treatments. We have to get the ball rolling faster and support the kind of research that can make this happen. It’s good medicine.
  • Participatory: The paternal model of medicine is nearly an anachronism. Patients, providers, caregivers and others must work together to achieve the best outcomes. Providers who are dismayed by their patients who come to them armed with information are missing the boat. Patients who allow their providers to make decisions for them without questioning the why’s behind them may be doing themselves a huge disservice. Advocate for yourself, demand collaboration from your providers—or go find others who get it.
  • Parity: Reform may have created greater access to those least likely to get it, but parity is still an issue. Literacy, education and socioeconomic status are part of that mix, so is the fact that a lot of people simply can’t tap in to technologies that can inform and include them. Until we are truly embracing every single person in America—and that means government, businesses and individuals stepping up even more—we’ll remain weak and collectively unhealthy. (This is the one we’re not talking about enough.)

So, there it is. My neat, packaged P’s of healthcare. It’s not the entire package. It’s just what I see as the necessary and connected essentials. Though I don’t specifically include health information technology in my mix, I’d sure include part of that under Personalized as personal health records—PHRs.

Healthcare marketers should get really close and intimate with these four P’s and use them in their efforts to connect with patients or via other intermediaries in various communities—online and offline.  Failure to do so could mean the difference between success and slow, lingering death.

Of course, this is just one person’s perspective. Mine.

What about you? How would your Healthcare Mix look?

Daphne Swancutt is Director, Healthcare Strategy at IMRE, and blogs at IMRE Health IQ.

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