Health care information—it's everywhere these days. From magazine articles to Web searches, there is a plethora of health care information that can be obtained quickly and with little effort. As a result, the average consumer has more information available than ever before.
Because of this, information flow in the health care arena is now being dictated by both a "push" and "pull" scenario.
On the push side, consumer-driven health care companies, wellness and disease management programs, and direct-to-consumer advertising are pushing information out to the public. The overall hope is that consumers will become better educated about which health care services they will need, ultimately enhancing awareness and loyalty for both practitioners and their services.
On the pull side, consumers are becoming more proactive, questioning and challenging the judgments, practices, views, and long-held assumptions of members of the health professions.
The common thread of the push and pull methods is that they are driven by consumers—who now wield more power in the decision-making process then ever before.
But there is a risk for those practitioners who do not understand the need for clarity in their communication when educating consumers. For years, experts have argued that consumers are being bombarded with information that is often too wide in scope, but not necessarily deep enough. The fear is that all of this shallow information is making consumers confused and causing poor decision-making.
A more specific problem is the temptation to get so caught up in informing and educating the consumer that you lose sight of your communication objectives. Be aware of the response you want to elicit from the consumer and carefully develop materials that specifically communicate your intended message. Remember, education can be a key marketing tool, but if it isn't strategically implemented, it can do more harm than good.
How can you ensure that your education efforts are soliciting the appropriate response from your target audience? Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Make it believable. The educational component of your communications strategy can enhance your overall credibility, thus establishing you as a trustworthy source of information. Your communication also reinforces the image you have identified for your practice and supports your overall goals and objectives. If you can't tie an educational initiative back into your marketing strategy through a customer need or demand, it probably isn't the best use of your time and resources.
- Make it useful. Your communication should create clarity, not confusion. When planning communication, ask yourself: What is the desired outcome? How can you communicate it clearly to your customers and your referral groups? Do you want to use the communication to build awareness of your practice or to change a certain behavior or belief? Have you included a specific call to action? If questions such as these are not answered properly, an education initiative will leave your consumers confused about which direction to take.
- Involve a variety of creative channels. A recent study by the American Marketing Association showed that while 77% of Americans are getting health information from physicians, 75% are now using the Internet for gathering health-related knowledge. About 38% of consumers turn to family and friends, while 35% use books and journals. Because of this wide variety of information sources, educational initiatives will require numerous channels. So make sure to strike the right balance between communicating directly with consumers and taking the appropriate strides to influence physicians, employers, administrators, policy-makers, and other key decision-makers.
A strategically planned consumer education program can strengthen awareness of your services and grow your business, while positively influencing consumers and their understanding of health-related issues. Through your education efforts, you can set your practice apart and give consumers a beacon to follow.