In the previous post, we discussed basic definitions, exploring the rise and history of Accountable Care Organizations (ACO). And while it’s easy to understand how ACOs can lead to better care, they can be hard to sell; these are mainly organizational changes with no immediately visible consumer-facing benefits. Fortunately, Franklin Street has been researching ACO marketing for quite some time. Here are the lessons we learned.
Know Your Population
Currently, if an ACO isn’t part of the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP), then it’s in the process of applying for MSSP inclusion. Consequently, your first primary market likely will be Medicare beneficiaries—which means that you’ll be talking to people who are 65 and over. They may be wary of any legislation that might change Medicare. Even if your program also includes a broader patient base, your communication efforts should be composed with the Medicare population in mind—these are the people who will need the most convincing. Since the Medicare population cuts across a broad swath of social demographics, make sure you keep the language in all marketing materials accessible and legible. Avoid fine print whenever possible, since very tiny type tends to raise suspicions very quickly—and for good reason.
Know Your Goals
After the formation of an ACO under the MSSP structure, Medicare beneficiaries are sent a stock letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that informs them that their primary care providers are now a part of said ACO. They are also informed that they can opt out of sharing their medical information, which essentially means that they can opt out of participating in the ACO altogether.
Chances are good that your initial goal will be to ensure that people do not opt out; after all, it’s hard to deliver coordinated patient-centered care when the patient refuses to share critical medical information. Although the CMS letter is quite informative, it does little to assuage potential patient concerns. Some additional collateral, like a short pamphlet, can go a long way to convince the recipients not to opt out.
If you do include additional collateral, it’s important that you do not include too many details or the minutiae of your operations. You don’t want to scare people away by including too much information; however, you do want to include enough to inform them of an ACO’s potential advantages, and to reassure them that their benefits will not change. Speaking of which…
Consider Patient Concerns
Although we don’t want to be terribly presumptive, there are a few common questions that Medicare beneficiaries will inevitably ask when faced with any potential changes to the Medicare system. This population tends to be wary of change, and especially skeptical of anything that threatens to take away their choices.
Make sure that you address these concerns directly. Start by minimizing the government’s involvement in the program, distancing the ACO from PPACA; for example, in your materials, avoid using words like “healthcare reform.” In addition, we’ve included four very important questions below that must be addressed.
- “Will this change my Medicare benefits?”
- No, this will not affect your Medicare benefits at all.
- “Is an ACO an HMO?”
- An ACO is not an HMO. You are not restricted to seeing a single primary care physician and his or her referrals. You are free to see any healthcare provider who accepts Medicare.
- “Can I still see doctors/go to hospitals who are not part of this ACO?”
- Yes. You are free to see any healthcare provider who accepts Medicare, even if they aren’t a part of this ACO.
- “Who will see my healthcare information?”
- The only people with access to your healthcare information are the specific providers caring for you. Personal information, like private conversations with your physician, will not be shared.
Essentially, you want to assure beneficiaries that everything will remain more or less the same, even if you are undergoing extensive organizational transformations behind the scenes. Emphasize that the beneficiary still has complete control over his or her healthcare.
Don’t Gloss Over the Benefits
Make sure you play up how being part of an ACO will make healthcare easier for the beneficiary. We’ve found that employing an example is especially helpful. By giving beneficiaries a narrative to which they can relate, it’s easier to illustrate how care coordination is going to benefit them in the short and long run. We suggest using a standard but fictional Medicare beneficiary—someone who is 65 or older and juggling multiple chronic conditions, like diabetes and a cardiac condition.
Leave Room to Grow
Although your initial communication efforts will likely revolve around trying to explain how an ACO functions and the benefits it offers, consider adding more resources that assist in living healthier lives. Getting your beneficiaries involved and invested in your ACO can go a long way to having them accept it as a part of their daily lives.
But Seriously Now: Less is More
Overwhelming the population with information can quickly raise unfounded suspicions. Even continually harping on ACO benefits can seem like a dodge, since improvements imply change—often at the cost of something else. At this stage of the game, we don’t need to convince people that ACOs are good or better; instead, we need to convince them that ACOs are not bad or detrimental, which requires a whole different marketing mindset. Keep your marketing materials informative but minimal, and rely on your physician base to truly communicate the benefits. These doctors have often spent years building trust with their patients; they will be the best ambassadors for your ACO, more than any website, video or collateral piece.
Do you have any other thoughts on how to market and explain ACOs? Do you disagree with what we have here? Let us know in the comments!