Insurance Companies’ Lessons Can Help Providers

As part of a new blog I started recently to help assemble resources for health care consumers, I came across a report in the Puget Sound Business Journal that offered some ‘lessons learned’ a couple of local insurance plan executives reflected on to the writer, Lynn Parker. They are meaningful to those who want to understand the rough-and-tumble world of health care reform from the consumer’s perspective, but also offer some insights for providers. Doctors of chiropractic looking to ‘survive and thrive’ can take some of these lessons and help ensure their practices are still around in a few years.

I reframed the points in the article to be more meaningful from the consumer’s perspective. In the points below, I copy information from the post in and then try to extract some more direct meaning for doctors of chiropractic.

  • Consumers need multiple offerings. Insurance companies are learning that the product offerings of the past created from the insurance companies’ perspectives are too narrow for consumers. One executive identified three types of buyers using the online exchanges: price buyers, value buyers, and stability buyers. In response, products will be positioned to appeal to each of those (psychographic) segments.
    • Comment: Chiropractors should be aware that this dynamic is represented in their patient population–and especially with new, younger patients coming in the door. Smart doctors will have three different types of programs (‘products’) for their patients to choose from–and offer multiple channels for engagement as well (see below).
  • Brands mean something to consumers. In retail this is a given, but a new concept in health care. Consumers shop at stores with brand identities that segment their shopping interests–which in turn reinforce what the stores offer in the future, creating a reinforcing ‘loop’ of brand identity. In marketing, this is called ‘the brand promise,’ what consumers can expect from their retailers. This same influence is now being extended to health care consumerism, and plans that figure out what makes their brands distinctive will be able to position their products more effectively to consumers.
    • Comment: As has been noted in this blog before, the ‘brand’ of chiropractic is pretty fuzzy for a number of people, and the lack of clarity doesn’t help our anemic market penetration. While the profession may be challenged to get clear on this, individual providers shouldn’t be. Define the brand of your clinic or practice, and use your patients to make it stronger and more clear.
  • Engagement occurs through multiple channels. In retail, no store expects one marketing, promotional or communication channel to work for every segment of their customer base; they know that some need information delivered through the mail, some through smart phone ads, some through coupons and other incentives, etc. In health care, people are slowly figuring this dynamic out as well, and the new imperative for plans is to create ‘engagement’ for their plan members–both for improving health outcomes but also for keeping plan members happy and re-enrolling year after year.
    • Comment: The political ostracism chiropractic’s suffered from its whole existence has forced DCs to be more entrepreneurial than medical doctors, and so we’ve sort of understood this fact for some time. While some decry spinal screenings, mall kiosks and other representations of the profession that can be interpreted to be demeaning, they also have presaged more ‘established’ efforts by larger mainstream providers such as the Mayo Clinic going into the Mall of America, MinuteClinics in CVS pharmacies, and so on.
  • Consumer education has a lot of ground to make up. Health care consumers historically have not had to know a lot about the health care industry; they just signed up for a plan from their employer, knew what their deductible and co-pays were, and went on from there. It’s much more complicated now, and information about multiple product types, impacts on budgets from high deductible health plans, tax benefits like Health Savings and Spending Accounts, formularies, etc., have created a new awareness that we need to be brought up to speed in a lot of areas to make more effective purchasing decisions.
    • Comment: This too has been a reality for chiropractors for decades, as many patients have sought the profession out after not finding the improvements they sought through mainstream medicine. It won’t get any simpler in the next few years.
  • Business ‘agility’ (flexibility) is required for success in the new marketplace. The needs, interests, expectations and demands of health care consumers are growing more sophisticated and complex every month, and insurance companies can’t rest on any of their laurels. Innovation, experimentation, customer participation in product design and other business requirements that have been normal and expected in retail for decades are now true for health care as well.
    • Comment: This is true for chiropractic as it is for all health care providers, and while we may think we possess the nimbleness required for business agility, there are many providers I talk to who are actually more entrenched in ‘legacy thinking’ than our friends in Western medicine.

Final Comment: Consistent with the material above and in the source article, there three basic questions for any provider who is tracking the evolution of health care should be asking themselves on a regular basis.

  1. Can I define my brand? Do you know what your practice stands for–in terms that consumers understand? Can two or three of your next five patients tell you what your brand is? (Remember: your ‘brand’ isn’t what you think it is, it’s what your customers think it is.)
  2. Do I understand my customers’ segmentations and interests? Segmented by age, stage of life, gender, ethnicity, finances, and other demographic considerations, your customers’ interests are rarely going to be homogeneous. Do you have enough plans (products), engagement strategies (1- and 2-way communications) and other means of capturing the interests of the full spectrum of your customers? Or are you taking any of them for granted–and missing opportunities because of that?
  3. Are my customers part of my business feedback loop? Do you ask your patients (customers) what they expect of their time with you? Their interactions with your staff? In business making ‘CQI’ (continuous quality improvement) a priority forces people to pay attention, be in the present with their customers and to understand that what they think they know doesn’t matter until their customers tell them.

If you can answer ‘yes’ to any of these, you’re already ahead of the game compared to many of your peers. But if you can’t answer ‘yes’ to all three of these, you have some work to do!

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2 Responses to Insurance Companies’ Lessons Can Help Providers

  1. Hit it out of the park

    Do you have suggested dialogue/questions for patient interaction?

    I have been working at developing a 3 choice system
    Relief. Corrective. Corrective plus rehab followed by wellness (monthly care)each with a different financial committment.
    Also prepay with discount option for those who like that.

    There is a growing number of. Medical clinics that have gone together in a national group that is doing a terrific job of transparency in medical and surgical fees
    They even post them in the reception rooms and websites. I have very competitive pricing and thinking of posting my fees in same manner.
    Your thoughts?

    Love the fact you are bringing this front and center!,
    Good for you.


    • Stephen Bolles says:

      Dr. Thatcher asks some very good questions, and I don’t know the answers to most of them–because I don’t know his customers. My counsel to him and others with these types of questions is to simply begin asking your patients how they think of the options in their own words. “Relief care” or “Wellness Care” to a provider may mean something very different–or exactly the same–to a patient/customer. But until they’re asked, frankly no one knows.
      Posting fees is a great idea, along with the benefits of different engagement programs at a clinic. It will make some people squirm, but they are questions that will come up more and more, and it’ll save staff answering them over and over again.
      It’s also an opportunity to create ‘concierge care’ types of programs, where patients pay an additional fee for certain benefits or perks. These can include no-schedule appointments, prioritized scheduling or phone calls, email access, etc. Every practice is different, but in medical circles concierge and subscription care business models are transforming many providers’ practices, moving them out of the world of insurance payments and re-invigorating the personal and relational side of health care.

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