CVS’ recent announcement that the company is expanding its reach in chronic care management is the latest sign that the market has never been more competitive or complicated. (Are you asking yourself, “which market?”) CVS isn’t just protecting its PBM business and driving sales for its retail business. The company has plans to provide one-on-one support and coaching — in a store, via phone, or video — to people who have diabetes, asthma, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, or high cholesterol, and depression.
This, of course, follows in the footsteps of other companies encroaching on traditional provider-territory, like Optum. OptumCare, the care delivery arm of the company, has 22,000 physicians in 30 markets and 200 surgery centers in 33 states. The combination of the two presents a formidable continuum that could provide consumers with most of the outpatient services they’ll ever need. In other words, the health system brand defined by superior service lines will continue to be less and less relevant as the “top of the funnel” becomes more competitive and more important.
Despite the fierce competition, many health systems continue to focus a large majority of marketing dollars on down-funnel service line care, such as chronic disease treatments and surgeries. There’s logic to that strategy: market and differentiate the services that are most profitable and keep you in business. The problem is that logic doesn’t work in a digital age when consumers have more choices and less patience. Their healthcare mindshare is occupied by a host of companies — like CVS Health and OptumCare — that are more relevant to their daily life than heart surgery or cancer care.
HEALTH SYSTEMS MUST ESTABLISH (AND MAINTAIN) CONTROL OVER THE TOP OF THE FUNNEL
Therein lies the problem for health systems. When Joe Public interacts with your brand, relevance is king. And as we all know, specialty care isn’t relevant to the vast majority of people most of the time. When the competitive field wasn’t as crowded and consumers weren’t showered with more than 5,000 ads every day, it was easier to make an impression that might not be relevant in the moment but could be recalled later when it mattered. That day has passed. The emphasis must shift from awareness and impressions to real engagement.
Health systems — just like any other brands — must be relevant and provide value as often as possible to stay engaged with consumers. Think about your continuum of services as a funnel (Figure 1). Primary care, urgent care, ER, and health & wellness programs sit at the top as these are the services most often used, and represent the most common entry point into your system.
They are also more subject to cost and convenience scrutiny. To maximize the path to specialty and surgical care in the middle of the funnel, health systems can’t just rely on people who go through the side of the funnel – those who did their research to determine which hospital had the best cardiovascular outcomes in the region. For most health systems, the vast majority of their down-funnel, inpatient service line volume — more than 75% — comes from prior top of the funnel activity, not from out of the blue. Health systems need to get as many people in the top of the funnel to build brand, build engagement, and feed all service lines.
Why? Because this is the best way to engage consumers and build brand loyalty. Brand loyalty develops as consumers repeatedly engage with a service over time, and they become repeat customers if they are satisfied. A good experience at the top of the funnel can lead to more profitable business in the middle of the funnel. In fact, our research and work with hundreds of health systems across the country reveals that most people who receive specialty care at a health system had at least one prior experience. And where does most engagement with the healthcare system occur? At the top of the funnel.
Back to CVS. Health systems run the risk of being expensive specialty factories if they cede control of the top of the funnel to competitors — especially competitors who are not other hospitals. The strongest relevance is at the top of the funnel, which is where prescriptions and chronic care management live along with a host of other more frequently used services. CVS Health, Optum, Walgreens, Amazon, and even Google present formidable, well-resourced companies vying for the top of the funnel in some capacity.
What’s your strategy?