How the ACA Is Impacting Healthcare Marketing

by Lud Kimbrough, President and CEO - 11/24/14

The True North team was fortunate to spend time with healthcare marketing’s best and brightest minds during this year’s national conferences, including the recent Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development Annual Conference and the Healthcare Internet Conference. Our conversations illuminated several ways the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is impacting healthcare marketers and their organizations.

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Here are three signs of the times observed during this year’s events. 

Consolidation on every corner. Almost every attendee with whom I spoke was involved in—or planning for—a merger or acquisition. There’s no question the ACA has accelerated the rate of consolidation, with hospitals and health systems joining forces to share resources and spread costs in light of changing reimbursements. In fact, there were 43 combinations in the first six months of 2014. For healthcare marketers charged with positioning and promoting these newly formed entities—not to mention assimilating disparate teams, strategies, and cultures—this poses a unique challenge.

Rebranding is rampant. Consumer perception is more important than ever, and increasing price transparency and HCAHPS data is requiring hospitals to reimagine their brands to differentiate from competitors and reflect a more retail-like experience. This is compelling many hospitals to hire marketing executives from outside of health care, which was evident in several conversations with attendees who had recently joined their organizations from retail, technology, or other sectors. These change agents are leveraging data-driven and digital marketing approaches that will revolutionize how hospitals target, market, and measure their efforts in the years to come.

Population health is here to stay. While fee-for-service still pays the bills, the shift to value-based care is well underway. In fact, a few of the organizations we encountered have created a chief population health officer position to focus on patient engagement and education. We also heard patients referred to as “customers” more this year than at any time in the past, which illustrates the shift from reactive procedures to preventive care that reduces costly hospital visits and creates lifetime value.

Of course, there were several other areas in which the ACA is making an impact. As we look ahead to 2015 and the subsequent election year, it will be interesting to see how many of the ACA-driven initiatives stick. But one thing you can count on: The only constant in both health care and marketing is change.

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