Marketers provide simple healthcare solutions

Healthcare marketers are devising educational campaigns that rely on plain and simple language in order to reach their customers. Knowing that consumers are gathering medical information not only from physicians but also various web and TV sources, marketers are using a range of channels, including direct mail and social media, to deliver their message and answer customer questions.

“With direct marketing and healthcare, simple is best,” says Sylvia Morrison, director of database marketing at the Cleveland Clinic. “It’s very personal – even more personal than finance because it crosses all spectrums, rich and poor – so you try to keep it simple out of respect for the patient.”

The educational aspect of integrated campaigns will only become more important as recent healthcare reform legislation brings tens of millions of new consumers into the healthcare market, notes Katy Thorbahn, GM of Razorfish Health.

“Now we have millions of Americans who have always had health issues, but didn’t have the means to address them, so you’re going to have an influx of patients coming into the market who need to make decisions,” she said. “We do see an increased focus on education, and making sure that people have that information at their fingertips, in whatever medium they choose to find it.”

Marketing services agency Epsilon found in a March survey that online users rank drug/health websites nearly equal to the opinions of their healthcare providers in terms of finding health information. In addition, 40% of online consumers use social media to find health information.

As new education channels emerge and gain importance to consumers, including social media, Andrew Bast, SVP of [email protected], a marketing services agency within Epsilon, notes that some marketers trim the amount of direct mail they send, opting for a more targeted approach.

“They’re cutting back on the volume, but not the number of touches,” he says. “They are saying, ‘Why am I mailing out to 1.5 million prospects, when I can mail out to 750,000 more targeted prospects and hit them twice?'”

Still, healthcare direct mail generally held steady during the recession. Mintel Comperemedia, a mail intelligence company, found that health insurance offers were up 4% during 2009. In comparison, credit mail fell by a third.

Acquisition: Blue Shield of California

Medicare coverage can be a confusing topic for consumers approaching age 65. With that in mind, Blue Shield of California revamped its direct mail strategy for targeting consumers about to become Medicare-eligible.

Moving away from the “active senior” approach of its previous “Defy” campaign, the insurer sought to educate consumers with its “We’ll get you there” direct mail effort. The company sent timed mailings to consumers nearing their 65th birthdays with checklists of important tasks to complete, such as researching Medicare online or enrolling in the program.

“It really was a move to a more informational, educational and helpful approach to folks as they are approaching age 65 and Medicare eligibility,” says Seth Berman, director of direct marketing at Blue Shield of California. “It was really shifting from, “You’re the new, vibrant 65,’ to, ‘We get that this is complicated and we are going to help you get through what could be a daunting proposition.'”

Richard Bumgarner, creative director at marketing firm Rauxa Direct, which worked with Blue Shield of California on the campaign, says that the company wanted to focus on creating a relationship with consumers, rather than painting aspirational pictures.

“For a while, we saw the active senior portrayed by the industry, and we chose to step away from that and make it about the normal presentation of seniors — not seniors surfing or seniors riding motorcycles, but seniors sitting down to learn,” says Bumgarner. “One thing we know from research and focus groups is that seniors want to deal with individuals with whom they have rapport. If you can be the one to establish a relationship, you have a better chance of making a stronger impression.”

In the first quarter of this year, the campaign generated about 1,600 responses from consumers, outperforming the response rate for its earlier Defy campaign by 86%. Berman attributed the significant response increase to a shift in message.

Retention: Cleveland Clinic

The Cleveland Clinic, a nonprofit medical center that schedules more than 4.2 million patient visits a year, is conducting an ongoing retention program targeting nonresponsive past patients. The organization is using direct mail tactics often employed by for-profit businesses in the push.

The medical center first created the campaign with its direct mail agency-of-record Wyse to reach past patients with chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, arthritis and pain. The push encouraged these consumers to schedule return appointments.

“What we did here was to make it simple, and let them know about access,” says Sylvia Morrison, director of database marketing at the Cleveland Clinic. “We are very large, and people think it will take too long to get an appointment. We wanted to let them know that we would get them in quickly after they make an appointment.”

The mailpieces, which encourage past patients to call a toll-free number to schedule an appointment, emphasize the medical center’s long hours and doctor availability. They also feature a doctor’s signature.

“It was just a gentle message: ‘We care about you,'” says Morrison.

She added that the nonprofit selects the message’s recipients according to their condition from its own patient database.

“We built a database that is listed by the individual patient level and by household level,” Morrison adds. “It is very much like a retail database in that the hospital can select people with certain conditions, see when they were in and see how they met certain criteria during a time period.”

The campaign elicited 5,542 patient responses. It was credited with creating a revenue stream of 36 times the amount the Cleveland Clinic spent on it.

The Cleveland Clinic saw a 65% response rate when it first used the program from April to November 2009. It has since extended the initiative to reach patients suffering from heart, pediatric and urology conditions, among others, adds Morrison.

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