February 13, 2017

When Your Docs Repeal and Replace Your Brand

A new president comes to town with some bold changes in mind for our nation’s health care industry. This president has a friendly congress at his back. As the media and lobbyists fan the flames, constituencies are roiled and everyone from Joe the Farmer to Acme the Mega Insurer is weighing in with heaps of rosy projections and doomsday crystal balls alike.

IT FEELS LIKE 2009 ALL OVER AGAIN AT FRANKLIN STREET.

Why?

Because we talk to doctors nearly every day and while the principles have changed dramatically, we’re hearing much of what we heard in 2009 from physicians across the nation.

As health care marketers, we know that physicians tend to have a lot of opinions. In other words, all of their amazing talents aside…doctors are people after all.

As the fate of the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obama care—since many patients are apparently still confused) grows more uncertain, doctors are speaking their minds more than ever. Many doctors are happy to see ACA go—while many of their colleagues are simultaneously sounding the Armageddon alarm.

And all of this noise could be detrimental to your brand.

You can’t really control what your doctors say in the examination room…and that is how it should be. But there are some insights that you can carry with you as the Repeal and Replace saga rolls out. If you keep these in mind when dealing with your physicians, your brand can rise above the conversation.

REMEMBER THAT DOCTORS GET LOUDER WHEN THEY FEEL UNCERTAIN.

Ah yes, the beautiful scientific mind. Like engineers, many doctors just feel better when everything is in order. Certainty and proven methodologies make doctors happy. The messy swamps of politics, mass media, reimbursements and bureaucracy combine with a volatile consumer market to make doctors feel very uncertain. Sometimes uncertainty makes for uneasy docs.

If the obvious headlines are not enough, I’ll add that I have friends on both sides of the aisle that work on Capitol Hill and only one thing is for certain right now: Nobody knows what is going to happen to ACA.

Yet for some reason, one physician has it all figured out, right? And he’s telling everyone about his plan. The next time you catch one of these discussions at a meeting or hospital cocktail event, take note and listen.

I guarantee you that your surgeon’s patients are hearing the same thing.

The reasons for their concerns are very personal. It’s their livelihood at stake.

Key Takeaway: Have empathy. Understand why repeal and replace makes them so nervous and be ready for the volume on the topic to be cranked up from your physicians.

PATIENTS TRUST WHAT THEIR DOCTORS SAY.

In these times of turbulent messaging, it’s important for us to remind ourselves that patients don’t know whether your doctor is employed or just affiliated with you.

Their doctor has your logo on their labcoat…that’s all your patients know. It’s not a long journey for your patients to hear your doctor’s opinion and think that is your health system’s opinion as well.

And that opinion matters. A recent Gallup poll found that nurses, pharmacists and doctors ranked in the top 3 of most trusted professions in terms of honesty and ethics.

Key Takeaway: It matters what your doctors are saying to your patients. They trust them.

AND WHAT THEY ARE SAYING MAY CONFUSE YOUR PATIENTS.

Yup, it’s that whole human nature thing rearing its ugly head again. Physicians have to run a business to stay open and provide care. But there is even more than this nugget of common sense that can help us understand the doctor’s point-of-view when it comes to their attitudes on reform.

The New Yorker characterized doctors as a group very concisely in this December 2016 article.

Over the years, doctors have behaved like a classic political interest group, and they’ve been very successful at it.

Historically, physicians as a group tend to oppose major medical reforms, including the American Medical Association’s attempt to block the creation of Medicare.

Not only do your doctors bring their opinions into the examination room, their politics are a factor as well—certain types of physicians are more likely to feel one way about ACA than another. Consider this massive sampling of more than 34,000 physicians in which we see a clear trend that associates political alignment with specialties.

Key Takeaway: Your doctor’s opinions are often shaped more by their personal experience than anything else. As an audience, be sure you treat them accordingly.

YOU ARE THE CHAMPION OF YOUR BRAND. DEFEND IT.

With all of this potential additional clutter in the marketplace, what is a health care marketer to do?

Identify your most outspoken doctors when it comes to ACA and keep them close to you—check-in with these physicians and listen to them. This will give you a sense of their pulse and you can help shape your brand messaging accordingly.

Keep an eye out on social media channels. Rather than be policeman, this gives you a chance to have productive conversations with that doctor who shared a dubious story on LinkedIn.

Empathy, empathy, empathy. We are all feeling the effects of the turbulence of our industry, but I find it is important to remember that these physicians put years of their young lives and vast amounts of personal wealth on the line…just to be a doctor. Now they are facing down the second major reform in less than a decade.

Most got into medicine with dreams of helping people…and the uncertainty of repeal and replace make these dreams harder to envision.

Remember that brand matters more than ever. Uneasy physicians and the uncertainty that is feeding them (and your patients) are yet another reason to ensure you have a strong, distinctive and prevalent brand in your market place.

A brand with a clear vision and clear points-of-separation from your competitors helps alleviate uncertainty for your patients as well as the doctors that might be whispering in their ears.

Are you making the right promise?

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