Over the past week I’ve been catching up on the news and I’ve noticed that there are always lots of predictions about what issues will be important during the coming year. Matthew Holt and others have done a nice job focusing on what will happen in healthcare in 2007. For about half a second, I thought about writing a predictive post, but soon changed my mind. After all, life is nothing but unpredictable.
Rather than making predictions, I thought that I’d pose three questions I’d like to answer this year about the marketing of healthcare. Over the coming months I’ll be tracking these topics and reporting on what I find. Following are my questions.
Question 1: What will it take to convince the public to fully embrace consumer driven healthcare?
There’s been a lot of chatter about consumer driven healthcare over the past decade. However, despite the introduction of high deductible insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs) uptake has been slow. Vimo, which bills itself as the “nation’s first integrated comparison shopping portal for healthcare products and services” released an interesting report today about consumer driven healthcare. According to the press release, Vimo’s research “reveals a significant gap between the number of people enrolled in high deductible health plans and the number of people that hold a Health Savings Account. The report also shows that funds on deposit in the average HSA are roughly half of what is required to cover the typical health plan deductible for these consumers.”
Here’s what I think boosters of consumer driven healthcare will have to figure out from a communications perspective in order to boost uptake of these plans:
1. How to clearly explain the benefits and risks of consumer driven healthcare to people who are used to “set it and forget it” insurance plans.
2. How to allay worries that purchasing a high deductible insurance plan will mean that you can’t afford to get care when you need it or will be stuck with high medical bills.
3. How to help people in the “sandwich generation” manage the [expensive] medical problems of their parents.
4. How to answer charges that consumer driven health care plans will result in adverse selection – i.e., the sickest patients will remain on traditional insurance plans resulting in increased premiums for companies with a diverse (in terms of health) workforce.
5. How to teach people who lack health and financial literacy to effectively manage their medical dollars
Question 2: Will the pharmaceutical industry ever “get with” social media?
Readers of this blog know that I’ve been talking a lot about the pharmaceutical industry’s poor public image and its need to better explain the risks and benefits of medications. I think that the pharma industry can gain a lot from embracing social media and engaging in limited and careful campaigns to tap into the “wisdom of crowds,” engage critics and talk about their drugs. Several drug firms have already launched a pretty significant online and offline charm offensive, which could benefit from the smart use of social media marketing techniques.
I was very interested to read on John Bell’s blog that “a big pharmaceutical will announce a very pro-active social media ‘listening’ program to better understand patients and share that with physicians. They will simultaneously announce a very pro-active adverse events reporting discipline.” Given that Bell works with a number of pharmaceutical companies through his communications firm Ogilvy, I wouldn’t be surprised if his prediction comes true.
On another note, John Mack has launched an initiative “YouPharma,” which is intended to “provoke thinking about new ways the pharmaceutical industry can engage their customers and consumers through Web 2.0 and other technologies.” Mack’s on to something here and it will be interesting to see the industry’s response. However, I’d warn him against trying to trademark his logo as it’s very similar to YouTube’s.
Question 3: Will individual mandates push healthcare reform forward?
The Democrats have just taken power in Congress and they are already talking about healthcare reform. However, anyone who has been following this issue knows that the federal government has nothing on the states. In 2006, Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts announced plans to provide universal coverage to their residents. Massachusetts for example is implementing an individual mandate where all state citizens must carry health insurance. In addition, earlier this week New Jersey state Senator Joseph Vitale introduced a bill that would also require people in New Jersey to purchase insurance.
I wonder whether other states will jump on the individual mandate insurance bandwagon and if media coverage of these plans will ignite interest in health care reform. I’m also curious about how universal health insurance plans will be “marketed” to the public. While we’ve seen that the public isn’t too fond of wholesale solutions (witness what happened to the Clinton healthcare plan, which I’ve written about extensively here), an incremental approach may be more popular and successful.
Here’s to an interesting 2007!