What Health Care Providers Should Know About Their Most Important Target Audience

What Health Care Providers Should Know About Their Most Important Target AudienceNever before in history have consumers had the unprecedented opportunity to get limitless information about health and disease. Women, in particular, are seeing this as a way to confirm or deny what their doctors and other health care providers are prescribing and advising. In the United States, women make the majority of health care decisions and buy most health related products and services. A Harris Interactive 2000 Poll showed that 90% of women say they are the primary health care decision-makers. They account for over 60% of all health care dollars and purchase at least 75% of all over-the-counter drugs. And in 2001, women’s health was the most covered media topic in the United States relating to health and nutrition.

Women are more effective today than ever at managing their own health care needs and are the primary health care decision-makers for their families, including children and aging parents. And yet, only 34% of women between 18 and 49 feel “well understood” by health care marketers…. that’s 66% who don’t feel that anyone is “getting it.”

There is an enormous opportunity to tap into the most lucrative consumer market of all time. Smart marketers are now realizing that not only are women making the majority of decisions for their families, but they have a very powerful network of friends and associates with whom they share their experiences and opinions. Understanding how women think about hospital and health related products and services is critical if an organization is interested in targeting and engaging them.

A High Interest for Aging Baby Boomers

While good health is a priority for all women, most women reach a turning point in their lives, at which time they become more conscious of their own health and of how they feel on a daily basis. The average age for this change in awareness is 35.5 years. As women age, they naturally become more interested in sustaining good health and also dealing with health issues. The baby boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) will experience the greatest growth in disease and health issues over the next 20 years….and the female “boomer” audience is substantial. The number of women older than 40 will jump from 63 million to 73 million by 2010, and 80 million by 2020. In the next decade, the number of women age 45 to 54 will increase 25% and those 55 to 64 by 53%. Multi-Sponsor Surveys projects that within the next five years, the 50–64-year-old’s will experience more than a 30% increase in the incidence of stress, lack of energy, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and digestive problems.

The following figures from the Gallup Focus Report on Women’s Changing Health Care Needs, 2001 outlines the projected increase in women’s health problems (2000-2001).

  • Heart Disease 18.9%
  • High Cholesterol 18.2% High Blood Pressure 16.1% Incontinence 15.8% Arthritis 15.2%
  • Dental Problems 15.1% Osteoporosis 14.8% Memory Loss 14.2% Diabetes 13.7%
  • Cancer 12.4%
  • Overweight 12.3%
  • Stress 9.2%
  • Fatigue/Energy Loss 9.0% Headaches 9.0% Depression 8.7%
  • Acne 5.3%
  • PMS 4.8%
  • Menstrual Cramps 3.0% 

Understanding Your Audience      

The new woman consumer is in the health care driver’s seat. She actively seeks information and knowledge about her health and that of her family. She does her homework before she makes her decisions. She’s not afraid of taking responsibility. The days are long gone when patients looked to doctors and hospitals as being omnipotent.

According to a Yankelovich 2001 study, only 42% of all women are extremely or somewhat confident in hospitals and clinics. That means that the majority of women have little confidence in their health care facilities. What an opportunity! How can you, as a health care provider, build the confidence of your patients? What can you do to encourage their respect and loyalty? How can you begin to build a culture that reflects and answers the needs of women patients and family decision-makers? What steps can you start taking today to build “healthy,” long-term relationships with women consumers?

Recommendations for Success

The following suggestions are some of the ways to more effectively compete in the health care category in ways that guarantee building new, longer-term relationships with women as consumers and patients. 

  1. Use technology to build and deepen relationships with womenUse technology to build and deepen relationships with women

Because we are living in the Internet generation, it is essential that providers and supporters of health care services and products use the web as a major tool for communication, information, ordering, billing and real-time monitoring.

The Internet is a powerful way to educate women about their health care questions and communicate with them. According to a PC Data Survey/September 2000, one in three U.S. home Internet users utilizes the Internet as his or her first source of medical advice. And women are leading the way…about 63% of online women have sought health information vs. 46% of online men.

Women are more focused and goal-oriented than men when they are online. A 2000 study found that “women’s approach to the Internet tends to be focused on practicality. They don’t waste much time on a variety of different sites but return to those sites which save them time or money. Women increasingly use the Internet to make everyday life easier.” Women stated in a Harris Interactive Study that their top reasons for going online were shopping, health care research and managing finances. When women go online seeking health information it is likely that they are doing so on behalf of a friend or family member who is ill and/or after a diagnosis, deciding on a course of treatment or when they are feeling ill themselves. Therefore, most of the health information sought online is related to a specific illness. Following close behind is information on diet, nutrition and prescription/OTC drugs.

There are 40,700,000 web pages for “health.” So, as a health care provider you may want to think about rescuing your patients from having to decipher all that information by becoming a comprehensive online resource for her health questions. Those health care brands that think no further than offering an electronic brochure will be left in the dust. Today, if you want to connect and build relationships with consumers, you have to give them real value and comprehensive information.

Work with an expert who can implement these SEO strategies:

– Linking to the most-visited women’s health sites

– Linking to deeper information about all diseases

– Providing an area of your site that is about maintaining a healthy lifestyle

– Providing specific chat rooms or bulletin boards for women to discuss breast cancer, heart disease, motherhood, menopause, etc. (Women love to talk and share information.)

– Providing an “Ask the Expert” or “Ask the Doctor” or Ask A Nurse” area of the site….and make sure you send an automatic response to let the visitor know that the question will be answered within so many hours or days (no longer than 48 hours).

– Providing an area for exercise information, health questions and suggestions for different women’s lifestages. Include information on women with back problems. (More women than men have back issues….in fact one-third of all women have back problems.)

– Providing online support groups for former patients who are cancer survivors or spouses of cancer survivors.

– Providing updates on medical research and new treatments.

Additionally, you will want to…

– Simplify your site. Women don’t have time to search for content. They want information to be clear, concise and easy to find.

– Build an architecture that is intuitive.

– Optimize your site for fast load times.

– Provide a way on your site for users to e-mail information with one click. Women like to pass good information on to friends/relatives

– Ask women what they want. Women love to share. They are very willing to give feedback. This is where you will find out how you’re doing and what else you need to be doing. Don’t be afraid to ask your visitors what else they need from you.

– Send e-newsletters. They are a good way to keep the relationship going. With the ever-increasing price of postage, quarterly e-newsletters are an efficient means of keeping your patients/consumers informed and interested. Be sure to ask them first if they want to subscribe.

– Have an effective PPC advertising plan. PPC advertising is an effective marketing tool to connect to your target audience. Hire the services of a professional who can manage PPC campaigns to improve the search engine rankings of your website.

  1. Zero in on Women Age 55 Plus

Senior women

By 2003, there will be over 63 million Americans aged 55+. Currently they comprise 21% of the entire U.S. population and control almost half of all after-tax income. The following table illustrates the different ages of women and their interest in health.

Most Health Proactive: Age 45-64, College, Working % Change in each Women’s Age Group, 1998-2010

  • Total 10%
  • <14 3%
  • 15-24 16%
  • 25-34 0%
  • 35-44 -13%
  • 45-54 25%
  • 55-64 53%
  • 65+ 12%

By 2010, the over-55-year-old will be far and away the leading women’s segment for interest in health.

Today, the majority of women 55 and over are widowed, divorced or legally separated. They have more time than their younger female sisters, more money and have a higher interest in health and wellness, as well as disease and disorders. Their online habits are growing…up 110% over the past year compared to the average Internet growth of 22.7%.

What kinds of programs make sense for a clinic or hospital to offer to the 55 plus year old woman? How can they meaningfully connect with her so she feels she has a trusted partner who sees her as an informed, health-centric woman who expects to live a long, productive life?

How to Connect…

– Build content in the web site that is relevant to seniors’ lives.

– Offer links on the site that will give them deeper information about topics of interest related to health questions/issues. The most visited health sites by 55+: WebMD, Medscape, eDiets, Drugstore.com, the breastcancersite.com, Biogenesis.com, Mayo Clinic, HealthWatch, Drkoop

– Cross-market products of interest to the 55+ year-old on and off-line.

– Open up a chat room for the over 55 crowd.

– Offer healthy lifestyle/lifestage classes. Women want to know more about foods that boost the immune system. They want to know more about what kinds of exercise are safe and will prolong a healthy life. Yoga? Ti Chi? Aerobics? They’re confused and want to know the clear benefits and hazards.

– Offer information on cosmetic surgery. In 1992 there were 367,000 cosmetic surgeries, in 1999 there were 1,000,000.

  1. Embrace Alternative Health

Women are the primary drivers of alternative medicine and green pharmaceutical movements. In 1998, 40% of people aged eighteen or older had used some form of alternative medicine in the past twelve months, up from 34% in 1991. Women of all ages frequent alternative health practitioners and follow more preventative health measures than men. According to the Harman Group in Bellevue, Washington, America’s 93 million women supplement users spent $14.3 billion last year. The Consumer Healthcare Products/Roper 2001 “Self Care in the New Millennium” survey confirms that more women use regular dietary supplements than men (96% vs. 46%) and nearly one-third are using them to treat a health condition. As consumers take greater responsibility for their health, they will seek long-term, preventive methods that prolong a healthy life. Alternative health practices are a major means for doing so.

According to HealthFocus, 79 % of women shoppers are interested in learning more about foods that boost the immune system. Additionally, 62% of women want more information about herbal remedies, 68% about vitamins and minerals, 78% about foods that reduce the risk of disease and 77% abut cancer-preventing chemicals in fruits, vegetables and grains.

Hospitals and health care providers should not avoid offering information and advice on the use of alternative health remedies and practices. As we continue to focus on prevention, alternative medicine will grow. Consumers will integrate conventional medicine with these new alternative therapies. Women want to know all the possibilities. They want to weigh all sides and then make an informed decision. Giving a woman choices in how to treat disease and maintain a healthy lifestyle is what she wants…and expects.

Being Open to Alternative Health Care Requires…

– Educating both physicians and patients on alternative practices and combining traditional and alternative methods.

– Providing information on your site and in your marketing materials.

– Offering classes in successful alternative health treatments.

– Asking patients if they are interested in exploring alternative therapies.

– Building a culture that is more “holistic” in its approach.

– Highlighting and positioning services in the context of enhanced lifestyle and improved quality of life.

  1. Understand What Women Want and Need

– Listen to her. Take the time to hear what she wants to ask and say. The majority of women do not feel that they are being heard by doctors or health care providers. Find ways to let her know you are listening.

– Help your patients make sense out of all the information they’ve gathered. Assume your patients are gathering the facts and doing their homework to get many of their questions answered. Be their endorser, acting as a final reference source and information validator.

– Look for ways to simplify and make communication easy. This will help build a strong relationship with women consumers

Build strategies that will create trust. This is a significant issue with women and health care providers. Building relationships and forging new kinds of partnerships between health practitioners and consumers will be key in building a successful, profitable enterprise supported by loyal patient consumers.

– Ask her what she wants. Women will be delighted to share their ideas, their needs and their frustrations with you. Just ask. She will let you know what you’re missing and where you’re off the mark. Do focus groups with women, create women advisory boards, form online women chat groups and send out women-focused surveys.

– Build marketing messages around understanding her. The quickest way to connect with women is to effectively convey that you understand what she’s going through. Emotionally linking with her will help build brand loyalty. She will feel an immediate resonance and believe that you “get it.” It can’t be hallow, however. You must have plenty of substance behind your message.

In short…

Your new target audience is the Empowered Woman Consumer. She is smart, resourceful, insightful and persistent. For those women who don’t get what they want from their health providers, they will find what they are seeking elsewhere. Consumer choices are growing at unprecedented numbers. And health care is not immune any longer. Much of the change that is being experienced by the emerging consumer is motivated by an unsatisfactory relationship with physicians and hospitals and the influence of Western medicine, other cultures and the growth of the Internet. There’s a new kind of consumer out there and health care providers need to understand what it takes to capture her attention and hold it.

Hospitals and all providers of health related services need to consider re-evaluating their brand, their positioning, the types of health care services they promote, how they promote them and the kinds of programs that are being offered. For those of you in the health care industry who are sincerely interested in building a brand that connects with women, it is essential to begin addressing how to overtly support women. Consider how your practice, your hospital or your clinic can be an advocate and an endorser. Get creative and find new, evolved ways to meaningfully resonate with women. Start communicating in ways that let women know that you understand them.

We guarantee that as you begin to focus on women and execute new strategies in targeting them, you will win their loyalty and their enthusiasm. They will appreciate your efforts and will reward you with their business for years to come while telling their world all about you.