Understanding how people shop for health care can be an effective strategic and financial planning tool
Research by Lee Ann Runy
ake any product off the shelf at the grocery- store and you can be assured that extensive consumer research is behind it. Consumer product companies analyze every aspect of the consumer mar-
ket down to the very shelf on which theproduct should be displayed, Hospitals, however, have been slow to grasp consumer researdi. After all, why study the market when people viall always to get sick and need their services. Bui increased competition and more finicky health care con-
WhoisTodays Health Care Consumer?
The days of the passive health care consumer are over. More than ever, hiealth care consumers seek trustworthy informationto make informed decisions about the care they receive. Quality, service, convenience and cost are major determinants in the decision-making process. And the breadth of health carerelated Web sites puts a great deai of this information at patients' fingertips. Heaith care consumers, however, are not one large, homogeneous group. The challenge for hospitáis is to identify the consumer segmentswithin their marketpiace to help deveiop new strategies and services to appeal to consumers' various needs and desires. Health care consumers fail into six distinct segments and not along demographic lines, according to the 2008 Survey of Health Care Consumers* by Deloitte. These segments vary by the degree to which consumers prefer or use traditional services versus alternative, nonconventionaiservices. Other determinants include the likelihood to rely on physicians to assist with decision-making and the extent to which the consumer uses online tools to obtain heaith care information.
The Six Health Care Consumer Segments
CONSUMER TYPE CONTENT & COMPLIANT
sumers are changing that. "Hospitals are becoming more efficient in identifying the consimier,but there's still room to grow," says Candace Quinn, CEO and senior strategy consultant of Brand=Experience, a health care marketing consulting firm in McLean, Va. By identifying consumers in the marketplace and learning tlieir perspective about the organization, hospitals can develop eflective, targeted messages to tiie various consumer groups. "A targeted mailing can be more effective and costefficient than a television ad campaign," says Quinn, "Just because a competitor is outspending you $2 to $1 on advertising doesn't mean if s a more effective way to reach the right audience." For hospitals, it's not enough to be top-of-mind among consumers. "Tmst and loyalty are far more important," she says. "Loyalty is likely to translate into future use." Knowing the consumer, therefore, becomesan effective tool in the strategic and financial planning process. Consumer research readies beyond patient satisfaction to identify what influences patient liehavior. Among other things, it can reveal how patients view the quality of services at one hospital over ariotticr and patients' willingness to recommend a hospital to friends and family. The findings lielp hospitals determine the aspectsof care that have the most influence on patient perception about the qualit)' of tlie organization. It provides hospitals with actionable data tliat can focus improvement efforts, help sustain successflu programs and identify the needs and desires of the community. Ultimately, it can help hospitals build a loyal patient base that will recommend the organization and provide positive feedback in thecommunity. "It's extremely unwise to not understand patients' perceptions of yoiu" organization, regardless of your niai'ket share or financial performance," says Tim leist, vice president of peifonnance improvement and chief safety officer at Peninsda Regional Medical Center, Salisbury, Md. In addition to patient and employee satisfaction surveys aiid the Hospital Consumer Assessment of...