Every year is full of its own challenges, victories and changes in the healthcare industry. 2013 is certainly no exception, presenting unprecedented challenges for marketers and agencies as well as providers and payers.

The most anticipated, contested and paramount change in the U.S. this year was the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The arrival of the ACA began a fundamental shift in the way healthcare will be delivered and paid for, sparking dialogue, innovation and controversy.

In this uncharted healthcare landscape, marketers were tasked with navigating a rapidly changing system. As the healthcare system prepared for an influx of patients, marketers began to understand that they must communicate the health process, not just brand messages, because patients are now demanding more information and answers.

The ACA will also compel marketers to evaluate their communications with physicians. As more consumers continue to obtain access to healthcare, projections suggest that the country will face a significant shortage of primary care physicians. With less time per patient and flooded offices, physicians need to have easy-to-understand materials that distinguish brands. This challenge is also an opportunity for marketers to develop tools and alternative communications media that make understanding a product or service simple and fast. The key is to help them assess the best solution to meet their patients’ needs.

In the face of access to care, cost and compliance challenges, the healthcare industry was also asked to demonstrate the vital need for products and services to continually add value, improve and potentially save patients’ lives. For the pharmaceutical industry, this poses a momentous opportunity.

As millions of Americans began assessing their health requirements and needs, they began identifying the areas—services and brands—most important to their health. Discussions about preventative care and the concept of wellness went mainstream. Marketers, in turn, jumped at the opportunity to elevate their messages.

With this new healthcare landscape in view for 2014, marketers have shifted strategies, setting a new course for our role in the industry. Communications that inform have never been more important as a way to take on a voice that can and does speak directly to patients who are evaluating their healthcare needs. The ACA will continue to evolve, and the public will continue to adapt. Marketers and agencies have a significant opportunity to educate newcomers to the healthcare system and align themselves as a partner on the wellness journey.

Expect social science to play a larger role in 2014 and the ability to decode patient experiences and determine what drives behavior. This also applies to the social media world where companies such as Toronto-based in-sync can identify behavior patterns and learn about their consumers’ interests in order to laser-target their brand messaging and reach the intended audience. These kinds of insights align with new marketing strategies, and help ensure the right message is reaching the right person at the right time.

The most important takeaway is that healthcare is now more patient-centric than ever before. Marketers must be prepared to address care for the “whole patient.”

Patients, caregivers, physicians, payers and policymakers must ultimately look to the industry as a critical player in the health ecosystem. As marketers, we must evolve our roles alongside the larger healthcare industry to better meet the needs of our key stakeholders. Reflecting on our challenges in 2013 helps guide our movements into 2014 and beyond.

  • Nick Colucci

    Nick Colucci is CEO at Publicis Health. Nick heads Publicis Health, the world’s premier health and wellness communications network. Publicis Health’s vision is to be the indispensable force in health and wellness business transformation through the alchemy of creativity and technology—for good.

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