Paul Holmes 19 Jan 2015 // 10:13AM GMT
There was a time when growth in healthcare was a sure thing, a great hedge against the cyclical nature of consumer and tech, with the spend increasing steadily regardless of events in the broader economy. But the past few years have changed all that, with increasing pressure from big buyers on prices, regulatory restrictions on marketing activities, and relatively few big blockbuster drugs in the pharma pipeline.
Is 2015 going to see a change in all that?
1. Health economics
Not so much, the experts say.
“Healthcare will be increasingly influenced, if not dominated, by discussions surrounding cost and value,” says Michael Rinaldo, managing director at dna communications. “Affordable healthcare is an issue that’s been around nearly as long as the Hippocratic Oath. But concerns about price, value and access are taking on momentum and urgency as a result of multiple market dynamics. Nearly all governments have stepped up their efforts to contain spending.”
In the US, he says, “patient co-pays are on the rise and physician sensitivity to pricing has never been more pronounced. In some categories like oncology, it’s rare to see a discussion about treatment that doesn’t include tough questions on cost and value. The battle lines are being drawn along the communications front.
“For healthcare communicators, it means there’s a need to be as proficient in economics as we’ve always been in reputation and marketing. Building a case for value is critical. Challenging short-sighted pricing arguments is essential. For public relations, strong data, regulatory approval and brand visibility have always been the essential building blocks for a successful brand. Today, you can add economic case-building and value storytelling to the list.”
2. Consumers in control
Healthcare communications has always struck a balance between the professional audience—information gatekeepers, in the traditional model—and consumers, with industry critics often uncomfortable with any effort to provide information directly to the end-users of their products. But marketing to consumers is clearly a big part of the future—because patients are demanding it.
“The trend of consumers taking charge of their healthcare is going to accelerate,” says Lisa Stockman, president of global public relations and medical communications at inVentiv Health, who cites the HealthKit software platform and health app for Apple’s newest devices, developed with input from the Mayo Clinic.
“The first generation of Fitbits and other trackers helped users see the links between activity and health, inspiring at least a portion of them to modify their behavior in positive ways,” Stockman says. “As users start to interact with the new generation of software and devices in 2015, their conversations with physicians will change in important ways. Suddenly, the provider who is caring for someone with a condition will have information beyond what the lab results show or the patient reports.
“Now, with your consent and active participation, your care team will see what your day looks like, your levels of stress, your pulse, even your blood sugar. Conversations will be more transparent and perhaps more effective in improving outcomes. This will alter the dynamic among patients, providers and payers in fundamental ways.”