Building Brand Loyalty through Primary Care: 3 Action Steps for Healthcare Marketers

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National Consumer Insights Study: Findings on Primary Care

Primary care physicians are at the top of your healthcare sales funnel. They get to know your patients better than anyone. And they play a key role in referring patients to other parts of your brand’s network when higher levels of care are required.

Without a trusting PCP/patient relationship serving as an anchor, your audience has no inherent reason to choose your brand’s other providers when surgical, specialty, or acute healthcare needs arise. So what can you do to foster a positive PCP/patient connection — which in turn leads to stronger brand loyalty and helps move patients through the sales funnel?

On a recent episode of the Core Exchange podcast, I sat down with Rob Klein, CEO and founder of Klein & Partners, to discuss key findings from our National Consumer Insights Study (NCIS). Together, we delved into the responses of 1,000 healthcare consumers and uncovered three critical steps you can take to strengthen your audience’s all-important relationship with primary care providers.

1. Change the Primary Care Paradigm to Reach Younger Generations

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the healthcare landscape will experience more disruption in the coming year or two than we’ve faced in the past two decades combined. And of course, much of that disruption is occurring due to generational shifts.

The NCIS study reveals that Gen Z in particular doesn’t look at primary care the same way the Baby Boomer and Silent Generation do. In fact, although 80% of all adults said they have a primary care physician, those who don’t are mostly younger. Digging deeper into the discrepancy, we found that 100% of the Silent Generation reported having a primary care physician, but only 78% of Gen Zers said the same.

Furthermore, when Gen Z does report having access to primary care, they don’t always think of that care as being tied to a specific practitioner or practice. Their notion of primary care is much more fluid. For instance, they’re more likely to:

  • Use virtual healthcare options
  • Skip an annual physical and instead follow advice from a Walgreens or CVS app
  • Look at urgent care as a preferable alternative to a traditional PCP
  • Go to the ER even in non-emergency situations

So how can you reach this up-and-coming consumer group?

First, shift your mindset. Realize you’ll have to invest in them before you can expect them to invest in you. Then meet them where they are. Create flexible channels for primary care that make your brand attractive to Gen Zers (and Millennials for that matter). Consider strategic partnerships with retail or tech providers entering your market who are leveraging their experience and strength appealing to a digital-first audience.

2. Position PCPs as Teammates and Friends

The most successful brands have one obvious element in common: Their customers love them. And since people stay loyal to the brands they love, every organization’s long-term success hinges on its ability to sustain an authentic connection with its audience.

You need your audience to love your brand, too. And in the healthcare arena, the PCP relationship is where positive feelings are most likely to grow. But what should this relationship really look like?

Understanding the Relationship Patients Want to Have With PCPs

As part of the NCIS, respondents were asked what type of relationship they currently have and want to have with a primary caregiver. Specifically, the survey asked if it should it feel like the doctor and patient are:

  • Teammates
  • Equal partners
  • Casual Acquaintances
  • Best friends
  • Boss and employee
  • Business rivals
  • Parent and child
  • In a marriage of convenience
  • Or in no relationship at all?

Again, responses varied by age. Millennials wanted to be best friends, GenXers and Boomers wanted to be teammates, while GenZers preferred to operate like casual acquaintances or without any personal relationship at all.

But despite these varied generational responses, the takeaway here is that the clear majority of respondents want their relationship with their PCP to feel mutually beneficial and supportive. Good teammates, partners, and best friends all have each others’ backs and are not motivated by their own self-interest. Each party is valued and heard.

By contrast, what all groups decidedly do not want is to be treated like a child or employee. In other words, the paternalistic approach doctors took in years past no longer flies today.

So what can you do in response? Make sure your network’s PCPs know the importance of listening. Emphasize that they must approach the doctor/patient relationship from a place of equal footing.

Furthermore, when you are marketing your providers’ expertise on your website and in other channels, look beyond the clinical skills they have to offer. To differentiate your team from those in your competitors’ networks, showcase their soft skills — characteristics like bedside manner, personality traits, and their philosophy on wellness. Short videos are a great way to give people a feel for a physician’s style, and provide clues that will tell prospective patients whether or not the doctor will be a good fit.

3. Design the Primary Care Experience With a Consumer-Based Mindset

Some doctors still bristle when healthcare marketers refer to patients as customers. But in today’s consumer-driven culture, it’s essential to treat patients as though they have infinite choices regarding where they get their care. Because in reality? They do.

Consumer brands listen to their customers. They conduct voice-of-the-customer research to delve into their wants and needs. And then they create products and services that match up with what the research tells them.

To win patient loyalty, healthcare brands need to do the same thing.

For example, consider how your brand can:

  • Increase primary care access. NCIS findings underscored that people go to retail, urgent care or the ER instead of their PCP because these options are more accessible. Crucially, they operate beyond the standard Monday - Friday, 8 to 5 hours. Many patients don’t want to or simply can’t leave work during the day to get to a primary care appointment. And of course, no one knows when sickness will strike. To increase patients’ loyalty to their PCP and your brand, one solution is to expand your access.
  • Reduce wait times for patients trying to get an appointment and when they’re in your waiting room ready to be seen. On the heels of the pandemic, people have come to value their time even more than they value money. If they can’t get a PCP appointment for weeks, it might motivate them to look around. And if they’re stuck in the waiting room for unreasonable amounts of time once they do get an appointment, they just might feel fed up enough to find a new provider.

We put the following statement in front of NCIS respondents and asked them to agree or disagree with it: “Service at my doctor’s office has gotten so bad that I’m considering changing physicians.” Twenty-two percent said they agreed. To put that in context, five years ago only 10% agreed with that statement.

The retail-ization of healthcare is real — and consumer demands are different today than they were five and ten years ago. That means you can’t afford to rest on your laurels. To preserve (or, better, grow) your market share, make it a top priority to listen to your audience and meet their expectations.

Dig Into Additional Consumer Insights for Healthcare

When it comes to positioning your healthcare brand for the demands of the future, the steps we’ve outlined today are a great place to start. But there’s so much more you can do.

The National Consumer Insights Study is full of additional findings that shed light on healthcare’s rapidly changing landscape. Be sure to check out the full study results — and don’t hesitate to reach out if you want to discuss it in more depth.

You’re also invited to:


Laila Waggoner serves as Vice President, Strategic Partnerships for Core Health, Core Creative’s specialized healthcare marketing practice. Laila brings more than 30 years of experience working with regional health systems, community hospitals, academic medical centers, hospices, managed care organizations and B2B healthcare brands in markets across the country. She’s held in-house health system and agency leadership roles, and provides unique insight into how clients can best leverage the strategic branding, marketing and creative resources of an agency partner.

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