The complexity of marketing accountable care models is perhaps a good problem to have—in the early days, just getting these models standing and financially viable was the ultimate challenge. Today, more and more of these organizations are turning to a medical marketing agency like Activate Health to assist them in everything from patient education materials to physician engagement. In the past several years, payers primarily focused on getting providers up-to-speed on the different avenues for reimbursement and incentives offered by these models—from downside risk to shared savings. While accountable care involves much more than just aligning provider incentives, the shift from value to volume required quite a bit of provider education in order to achieve buy-in, which was foundational to these efforts. So partnering with the right medical marketing agency has become a key piece of the equation driving ACO success.

Provider engagement is essentially at the heart of marketing accountable care. Instead of reaching consumers/potential patients, we’re targeting busy physician practices at the outset, and then shifting the focus to traditional D2C once these models are up and running. Given that cost management was a key component of health care reform’s Triple Aim, much of the marketing done by payers early on involved promotion of more efficient care practices, preventing avoidable utilization and reducing waste. These strategies aimed to educate providers about the structure and key components of value-based care, targeting providers participating in these models and independent practices interested in joining together through a Clinically Integrated Network (CIN). As a leading medical marketing agency, Activate Health’s own involvement in these marketing programs dates back to the early days of accountable care, as we partnered with payers to turn these concepts into reality.

However, we also work with other health care entities across the continuum of care including health systems, hospitals, pharmacies and health technology firms. As a result, we’ve seen the opportunities and challenges tied to these programs from the viewpoint of many different types of organizations. The following analysis brings to light some of what we’ve learned along this journey and the work that has yet to be done in order to ensure the success of all three aspects of the Triple Aim—improving quality, managing costs and increasing patient satisfaction.

Educating providers about structure, advantages and opportunities associated with accountable care
There were many challenges inherent in accountable care marketing to providers. Some physicians considered it just another health care trend that would quickly come and go. Others associated it with the restricted benefit plans and red tape they dealt with during the days of HMOs. Still, others were resistant to participate in these models based on the amount of work they were facing as new government regulations like Meaningful Use added to their already-full plates. For these providers, tracking quality and taking on greater care coordination didn’t seem worth the tradeoff for the modest financial incentives offered through early programs.

However, as more payers enter the accountable care arena, it’s becoming less of an option and more of a requirement for providers to take the leap to value-based care. Most providers require basic education about the aspects of these care models—from health information exchange and quality tracking to evidence-based care practices. Turning to a medical marketing agency that understands how to engage these providers in the language they understand—e.g. clinical and outcomes-focused, and not “business speak”—is imperative.

That’s not to say that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing these models to providers. It’s been said that if you’ve seen one accountable care model, then you’ve seen one accountable care model. Payers all have dramatically different objectives and structures for their programs, depending on their unique population and cost management goals. Given these challenges, ensuring that provider marketing is clear, concise and compelling has been the charge of marketing people—both on the inside of these organizations and within a medical marketing agency like Activate Health.

In fact, Activate Health has worked with a wide variety of health plans across the nation on these efforts. We have collaborated with health insurers nationwide to quantify the benefit of these programs through case studies that document their efforts and their impact on health outcomes and costs. We have also worked with many health systems and hospitals which wanted to “get in on the game” by forming CINs and recruiting independent physicians to join their ranks. Our role in these early efforts, including developing physician recruitment packets, infographics and educational materials, was designed to illustrate why and how clinical integration made sense for these providers, while addressing all of their unique objections to such a dramatic transformation.

Partnering with a medical marketing agency to engage consumers
However, a big part of the accountable care equation was not yet addressed by the earliest marketing efforts. What about the patients impacted by accountable care? Until recently, most of the marketing and engagement done around these efforts has overlooked the role of the consumer (aka patient or member, depending on which organization you are talking to) in improving quality and managing costs. Yet the tide is beginning to turn, especially as some early adopters lead the way. Our recent work on a consumer-focused cost and quality campaign for a leading BlueCross BlueShield plan is a prime example. We’ve also partnered with a health technology firm looking to change the way consumers purchase and shop for health care services. And we work closely with one of the nation’s largest health systems to engage consumers in its ACO, bundled payment and care management programs.

Even our clients on the periphery of these models, such as a leading specialty pharmacy, are working closely with both payers and providers to identify ways they can add value to these models. For example, our specialty pharmacy has developed mobile apps, adherence devices and web portals designed to encourage patients to take their medication on time and as directed. Given the high cost of new drugs used to treat everything from cancer to hepatitis C, the importance of pharmacy involvement in cost control and quality efforts can’t be overlooked. While all of these organizations have different objectives and strategies within the accountable care space, most would agree that without active involvement from the consumer, it’s extremely difficult to move the needle on costs, quality, and of course, patient satisfaction.

Yet communicating with consumers about the impact and benefits of accountable care is especially challenging given the complexity of these models. Employing a “what’s in it for me” traditional marketing approach will allow your medical marketing agency to simplify and streamline consumer messaging while tailoring content to each demographic. They should also take into account the Department of Health and Human Services research which shows that only 12% of consumers have adequate health literacy. In light of this information, marketing to consumers about such a complicated concept requires real thought about the language used and how the key benefits are described. In general, at Activate Health, we aim to keep our marketing messages at a 6th-8th grade level, and even lower when we are reaching populations like Medicaid members, for which reading comprehension and health literacy may be even lower. Better yet, we aim to show and not tell consumers by employing animated videos, friendly infographics and illustrations that help consumers understand their role in accountable care, including the selection of high-quality, affordable care options.

A step in the right direction
While many of our clients have been among the early adopters of patient engagement efforts, even they would admit that there is still a lot of work to be done. Patients are learning more about the advantages of programs like care management in terms of their overall health. And they want to be more empowered to make informed, cost-conscious care decisions. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, more than 56 percent of all consumers have actively searched for cost and quality information before receiving care. While it isn’t up to your medical marketing agency to develop these solutions, we will certainly be on the front lines of promoting them, while making it easier for consumers to understand the options now available to them. Because it’s only when accountable care makes an impact on consumer behavior, preference and satisfaction that the health care industry can truly make headway on achieving the Triple Aim of reform.

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