This visionary physician executive has created a roadmap for disruptive change in health care—and his plan has marketing at the forefront of the revolution.
Zeev Neuwirth, MD, chief clinical executive for care transformation and strategic services at Atrium Health, author of Reframing Healthcare, and producer/host of the popular podcast series, “Creating a New Healthcare,” has a unique vantage point on the challenges plaguing the healthcare system.
We spoke with Dr. Neuwirth on the future of the industry and why he considers a marketing mindset essential, along with the disciplines of business development, human-centered design, product development, digital consumerism and advanced analytics.
Q: How concerned should hospital and health system leaders be when facing new entrants like Amazon and Walmart?
Legacy healthcare organizations and provider groups should be very concerned about these new entrants.
Let’s take a look at Walmart. They’re moving into primary care, offering basically free training programs for the company’s 1.5 million employees and piloting a program to bundle healthcare services. As a hospital or health system marketer, think about their line of sight into your patients: Walmart sees more people in one week than all the emergency rooms in the country see in an entire year. People trust Walmart; they deliver good quality at a reasonable cost. Walmart came out swinging, and they’re just getting started.
Beyond that, you have CVS Health partnering with Aetna and building out their HealthHub locations. In fact, they are planning to deploy about 1,500 Health Hubs over the next year or so. Their business model is really robust and I suspect they will iterate and pivot in a way that will be agile and impressive—and surprising to a lot of hospital systems.
In addition, Amazon continues putting the pieces together, targeting employers through its joint venture now called Haven and recently offering employees in Seattle the best of both worlds with Amazon Care, a service offering virtual clinics with in-home follow ups. And if you don’t believe they’re going to turn around and offer this to other employers and payers, just recall that their Amazon Web Services cloud computing platform was initially an internal service and is now their second-largest source of revenue.
We’re also seeing interesting healthcare initiatives coming from Comcast and other telecommunications companies.
As these mega entrants and thousands of others are demonstrating, the barrier wall that has surrounded the healthcare industry is coming down. The barriers to entry are going to become easier to overcome. Whereas it takes the Center for Medicaid Services (CMS) time to write new regulations for healthcare providers, I don’t think it matters to these large employers like Walmart and Amazon as they’re shouldering a significant percentage of the healthcare costs.
Employers have been the sleeping giant of the healthcare market. They’re awake now and they’re hangry—both angry and hungry to solve for the frustrations of our customers and inefficiencies of the system. This is the issue we should be worried about as healthcare providers, as employers know how to work with consumers and historically we have not. They’re going to bring their marketing mindset, which involves understanding people’s needs and pain points, delivering value, convenience, easy navigation, optimal pricing and pricing transparency, and truly engaging people. Not only do the business opportunities make so much sense to them, they have nothing to lose and are willing to take risks to generate multiple revenue streams.
Their business models are more adept than ours, so we really have to up our game both to compete and partner with them.
Q: Given the challenges they’re facing, why are you optimistic about the future of hospitals and health systems?
Hospital systems and provider groups are in a great place. Sure, some of the healthcare market will go to these new entrants, but if we can become more consumer-oriented and learn how to be good partners, there is a real opportunity for us.
The truth is: Even if we get cornered into a limited percentage of the market, we still have to compete for consumers no matter what happens. Our only option is to embrace change as outlined in my book.
What people don’t get is that in this emerging market, it’s not the technology or the digital and medical science that is going to actually be the solution. While those are critically important enablers, the real key is the creation of emerging business models for healthcare delivery.
As traditional healthcare organizations, we are so mired in a provider-centric, technology-centric, clinical-centric medical mindset. We don’t get the joke, which is it’s not about any of that—it’s all about the customer. That isn’t to diminish anyone or anything, it’s just the way the rest of the world works. For example, Amazon doesn’t lead with technology, it leads with customer-centric business models. Jeff Bezos defines “innovation” as customer acquisition.
I can’t underscore enough that in the end, the question is this: “Are you going to do the right thing for the consumer or not?” If you care about your patients, family and community, this is what we need to do: humanize health care. It’s about empathy, dignity, respect, safety and outcomes.
Q: You advocate for a “demand-side” rather than a “supply-side” approach to health care that prioritizes customer needs to drive decisions. How would you advise healthcare marketing leaders to help foster this shift?
Marketing leaders should start by taking this article and showing it to their CEOs so they understand that you have to have marketing leaders at the table.
Why is it that leading healthcare organizations across the country are hiring from other industries? It’s because marketers from other industries have marketing and business experience, and they know these consumer-centric business models. For example:
- Intermountain hired Kevan Mabbutt from Disney and put him on their senior leadership team.
- Providence St. Joseph Health hired Aaron Martin from Amazon who formerly launched and ran Kindle North America.
Marketing is one of the most underutilized assets we have in health care, and it is going to be to the detriment of hospitals and healthcare systems if left unchanged. We’re making a big mistake if we’re not bringing people who know what branding is because these are the people who understand consumerism. You need people and teams with expertise in human-centered design, product development, digital and other modern marketing capabilities at the table.
Also, what’s critically important is that you have to follow the entire Reframe Roadmap. I’ve outlined the seven steps in my book, and if not followed you’ll likely default to what you’ve done before. I’ve spent three or four years putting this together and another 15 years thinking about it. You can talk about these ideas but you need a template. I’ve created a guide designed to be a comprehensive, end-to-end, scalable roadmap for redoing healthcare. This is not about making money. This is an important message, and I could not just stand silently by and watch the current system being maintained.
In summary, you need to have the right people, bringing their marketing mindset, knowing how to segment the market and how to study what people need. Every CEO and board member should understand this. If you want to be responsive and adaptive to the market, I’ve given you a roadmap. If you want to be a contributor to transforming healthcare, or if you want to thrive in the rapidly emerging consumer-oriented healthcare market, you’ll need to follow the Reframe Roadmap.
That’s why I wrote the book.
Want More Expert Perspective?
Get more insights, ideas and best practices for healthcare marketing delivered to your inbox.