Why CEOs and CMOs should care about patient access

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, was once quoted as saying, "We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It's our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better."

As I was preparing my 2015 marketing budget, I thought about these words and how I should best allocate my dollars — to not only attract clients, but give them a good experience that makes them become loyal to our company. Jamie Gier CMO SCI Solutions

Businesses, including health systems, make considerable investments in marketing to attract and retain clients. But what good is this effort if we don't make it easy for clients to do business with us and get premium value for what they purchase?

Extending marketing collaboration to drive ROI
As a chief marketing officer who is accountable for creating market demand and turning that into company growth, I can empathize with hospital CMOs and marketing leaders; their hard work and marketing resources should ultimately help deliver on their hospital's revenue and market share growth objectives. They should get credit, where credit is due, for driving high volumes of patients into their health system. This is no easy task, and these efforts won't be recognized by their organization if the pay-off is lost and patients aren't ultimately consumers of the hospital's services.

Today, in most industries outside of healthcare, marketing efforts are tightly integrated with businesses' operational practices and are delivered across new and disparate channels to ensure realization of ROI as an output of marketing costs. The healthcare industry has been slower to catch on, and now, more than ever, CMOs must collaborate in new and more sophisticated ways with their larger ecosystem of health system stakeholders, partners and the c-suite. Today is the CMO's day to pull up a seat at the business strategy table, and discuss better collaboration, point to growth opportunities that are lost and help close gaps to drive more revenue into their system.  

Patient access — An opportunity to close the gap
U.S. hospitals, for example, spend more than $1.5 billion annually on advertising — better than $2 million a year from the marketing budget of the average 400-bed facility. In Seattle, where I live, it is not uncommon to see large billboards or hear expensive radio ads promoting hospital services in our very competitive market. But these dollars can be easily wasted for one primary reason – patient access. You have the consumer's attention, but what if they can't easily enter into your health system, or their doctors don't refer them into your system? CMOs spend a lot of money on programs designed to attract patients. But if their organizations don't make it easy for patients to contact them quickly or receive timely responses to requests, patients move to competitors – and in many cases, they are lost forever. Health systems are unwise to spend money on attracting new patients if they are unable to address access and get patients financially qualified, scheduled and seen. Hospitals are actually losing revenue when CMOs and CEOs aren't working together to follow the dollar into their organization.

CMOs can make their marketing dollars work more effectively by ensuring that those patients they attract can actually do business with their organizations, without the hassle of inefficient systems and processes. Competition for patients has never been higher. But these patients are lost in a system, which for far too long, has been paper-based and requires too much effort to secure an appointment that is authorized and will be covered. In fact, one industry statistic shows that only 54 percent of faxed orders actually convert to scheduled appointments. That is a lost customer and lost revenue.

Technology enables new patient experience strategies
Technologies exist today that can drastically improve the patient experience and differentiate your health system, simply by removing the patient-dependent workflow. And these technologies are inexpensive – in fact, they cost no more than a few key words for search engine optimization purposes – and they have proven results in driving ROI. By implementing these tools, your health system may better connect with community partners to automate and streamline patient access functions, including referral and outpatient orders, and appointment scheduling. In doing so, organizations will increase the likelihood that patients will be referred into their systems, and that orders will actually result in booked appointments. We have seen this with our own clients, who now enjoy anywhere between an 85 percent to 98 percent conversion rate. Additionally, patient satisfaction will increase based simply on the fact that they no longer have to worry about administrative processes, and instead, just need to show up for their appointment to get the appropriate care.

We live in a highly connected, integrated world where consumers of all products and services are accustomed to instant gratification and are increasingly delighted by no-fuss processes; Uber and Amazon are two excellent examples. Hospital CMOs can't overlook this new paradigm which is fueling the competitive emergence of minute-clinics at Walgreens, CVS and other retail chains. The health system needs to mirror the consumer experience in every other industry, and CMOs are best positioned to champion this movement and instigate better processes through greater collaboration and tools. In doing so, hospitals will capitalize on giving patients a good experience.

For a small fraction of what CMOs spend monthly to attract patients, hospitals can deploy technologies that will help them secure and keep those patients as loyal consumers of their system. More importantly, these new practices will help organizations start to build their health systems as referral destinations within their communities, protecting their referral bases and significantly growing revenue, which ultimately makes marketing dollars exponentially more valuable.  

As Chief Marketing Officer at SCI Solutions, Jamie Gier is responsible for leading brand strategy, corporate communications, product marketing and demand generation.

Jamie’s distinguished career encompasses over two decades marketing cutting-edge healthcare technologies, including electronic health records, information exchange solutions and clinical decision-support software. She has extensive experience working with leading provider and payer organizations, as well as healthcare policy groups.

Prior to joining SCI, Jamie held executive-level positions at a number of companies, most recently leading corporate marketing for Edifecs, one of the fastest growing healthcare companies. She was also responsible for building and managing brands at Microsoft, GE Healthcare, IDX Systems Corporation and several private healthcare and medical device companies. Jamie co-led marketing integration for two major industry acquisitions, including GE/IDX and Microsoft/Sentillion.

Jamie graduated summa cum laude from Washington State University with a bachelor’s degree in Communications.

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