The “Consumerization” of Healthcare (and What It Means for Marketing Med Tech)

When you think of direct-to-consumer healthcare marketing, “med tech” may not be the first thing that comes to mind.

Instead, we’re likely to think of pharmaceutical companies, and with good reason. Big pharma has built a reputation for bombarding traditional and digital media with their high-priced ad campaigns that communicate directly with the people who might use their medication.

But a transformation is occurring. Although med tech might be a few decades behind pharmaceuticals when it comes to communicating directly with patients, they’re doing their best to catch up – with major brands like Boston Scientific and Insulet investing a lot of money to prove it. Dexcom, which produces continuous glucose-monitoring systems, last year spent millions of dollars on a 30-second Super Bowl ad featuring singer Nick Jonas.

This trend has some med tech brands reconsidering how to best reach their audiences. How does a direct-to-consumer approach fit in an increasingly consumerized healthcare space? And what does it mean for your brand moving forward?

Keep reading to find out!

What is the “Consumerization” of Healthcare?

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The consumerization of healthcare is the result of a fundamental shift toward patient empowerment. In a nutshell, the view has narrowed to what’s best for individual patients instead of the market as a whole.

For patients, access to health and wellness information has never been better. Unfortunately, this transparency comes at a time when we’re facing skyrocketing healthcare costs. These forces are driving us to change the way we understand, monitor, and maintain our health.

How?

Gone are the days of simply showing up at a provider’s office whenever something feels a bit “off.” Now we are diligently assessing symptoms and comparing treatment options online beforehand. We are considering more affordable healthcare delivery options like virtual visits or telehealth. Bottom line: we want to know that we are getting a good value for our investment.

It’s just too expensive for patients not to consider value and costs anymore. Seeking healthcare is becoming more akin to making other major purchases like a vehicle or a home. We’re looking for the best health outcomes, of course – but along with a good value.

Is Direct-to-Consumer in Med Tech a Trend? Or Is It Here to Stay?

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Patients are now empowered and playing a more active role in seeking healthcare treatment for their unique needs. Some med tech brands have started communicating with them directly, broadening the traditional approach of focusing on healthcare providers.

Is this just a trend? Or is it here to stay?

We still don’t know, but there are many reasons why a direct-to-consumer approach could work well in med tech for the foreseeable future.

Consider the following:

  • Healthcare costs continue to spike. Deductibles and co-pays are higher, and costs have spiked. Patients are becoming more price-conscious – even for medical devices that are paid for and used just a single time.
  • Aging population. As the population continues to age, the need for monitoring and management of chronic health issues such as hypertension and diabetes also increases. Med tech will play a big part in meeting this need for healthcare services in the future.
  • Increased integration with med tech in our daily lives. Most people don’t understand the technology that makes wearable devices work, but they can appreciate the health insights of monitoring their activity. About 30 percent of adults in the U.S. use wearable healthcare devices. From continuous glucose monitors and insulin pumps to step counters and at-home testing kits, we are becoming more and more comfortable with integrating medical technology into our daily lives.
  • Focus on wellness and prevention. One silver lining of the COVID pandemic is that it forced us to focus more attention on our health, which is neglected all too often. Many people have resolved to be more proactive in their wellness routines in order to prevent health conditions from developing. They’re using med tech to self-monitor and diagnose potential issues before they become more serious.
  • Tech companies entering the medical device space. Massive tech brands like Apple and Samsung are also developing medical devices. These brands already have a huge market share of non-patient business-to-consumer customers and are experts at connecting directly with their target audiences. This places additional pressure on med tech brands to innovate and stand out from the pack.

What This Means for Med Tech Brands

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If by now you’re convinced that a direct-to-consumer approach would benefit your med tech brand, what does this mean? Should you abandon your old marketing strategy or go all out to buy a fancy new consumer-facing ad?

Not necessarily…

Pharma companies advertise directly to consumers in a very different context than med tech brands. Everyone understands what a pill is. When a new drug comes on the market, healthcare providers are comfortable with dosages, indications, and prescriptions. Understanding how a new medical device works, however, might require a great deal of education and training before a clinician feels comfortable enough to use it in practice. Even if a direct-to-consumer campaign has patients clamoring about a new device, there’s no guarantee that their providers will agree that embracing the device is justified. Unlike pharma, it takes more effort to bring patients and providers on board.

The type of med tech being marketed also makes a huge difference. For devices bought or implanted only once per patient, the potential upside of advertising to them is limited. On the contrary, med tech that will integrate into someone’s lifestyle indefinitely (like wearables) offers a great opportunity to reach out directly to people who will be using the products.

This isn’t to say that direct-to-consumer advertising has no place in your strategy. The key is to keep the context in mind. How important is it for patients themselves to know about you and your device? The ideal ratio of consumer to provider messaging will vary depending on the specific med tech you’re marketing.

Even if you don’t advertise to consumers directly, you can still get them involved via content marketing and social media. You can retain your most successful strategies to reach providers and supplement them with cost-effective strategies to acknowledge this separate audience.

Over to You

Appealing to consumers directly might – or might not – have a place in an effective marketing strategy. Every med tech brand and product is unique. A company that develops surgical tools a patient never sees, for instance, might want to focus its efforts on reaching healthcare providers.

Whether or not you decide to advertise a medical device directly to consumers, one thing is for certain – acknowledging their involvement in the process will separate you instantly from the brands who pretend that they don’t exist. Plenty of cost-effective alternatives – content marketing, social media, and more – allow you to appeal to consumers as a separate audience while saving the bulk of your resources for healthcare providers.

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