The COVID-19 pandemic did not at all diminish the importance of brand awareness. In fact, one can argue the pandemic made brand awareness even more important, especially in the healthcare industry. After all, consumers are more likely to trust a brand they are familiar with. A newly-released survey by Savanta reinforces this concept. Savanta’s research found that consumers quickly formed strong opinions about pharmaceutical companies and their COVID-19 vaccines.

In the study released in April, Johnson & Johnson was the #1 pharma brand consumers could cite. 93% of consumers could cite their brand without being prompted or aided. Pfizer follows at 90%, with Moderna in third at 80%. Of Americans surveyed, 74% had a brand name COVID-19 preference. Interestingly, over 1 in 3 Americans say they now think of pharma brands in the same way they think of consumer brands, such as Amazon and Nike. This has major implications for brand awareness in healthcare and how patients perceive healthcare brands.

Brand Awareness for Healthcare Providers

Brand awareness for pharma has increased, thanks to the ongoing vaccine distribution. However, a study released by NRC indicates that brand awareness for healthcare providers is on the decline. Without brand loyalty, a health system’s profitability suffers. More importantly, recurring patient visits drive up the quality of care by improving care continuity.

Yet, “indifference” to healthcare brands among patients increased from 31% in 2018 to 36% in 2020. This means that more than a third of patients currently show no particular preference for a healthcare provider. However, the authors suggest there’s an opportunity for health systems to build brand awareness and capture patient loyalty through improved patient engagement at every stage of the patient journey.

“It cannot be overstated just how dramatically COVID-19 has accelerated the trajectory of consumerism in healthcare,” said Helen Hrdy, Chief Growth Officer, NRC Health. “The onus falls on healthcare leaders to move the industry forward by ensuring patient safety, building consumer trust and bringing more human understanding into every care experience…For years, consumers have made consistent appeals for autonomy, convenience, and freedom of choice.”

Building Brand Loyalty, Rather Than Brand Resentment

Patients especially want solutions to their concerns about costs. The NRC study found that in just three months – from the end of March to the end of June 2020 – financial anxiety increased deferred care from 22.4% to 30.4%. Patients who defer care develop more severe health issues, accrue higher costs, and often end up in the ER, the most expensive point-of-entry into the healthcare system.

Deferred care does not lend itself to brand awareness and loyalty, but rather brand resentment. Patientco’s soon-to-be-released 2021 State of the Patient Financial Experience Report, which includes survey responses from over 3,000 patients, reiterates this.

The report reveals:

  • Nearly three-quarters of patients think providers should take affordability into account when recommending treatment.
  • More than a quarter of patients have not received financial assistance to pay an unaffordable bill.
  • About a third of respondents have never received a cost estimate for care.
  • Over half of patients – including those with a PhD – have felt confused about what they owe when paying for healthcare treatment.

Cross-reference these findings with those from the 2020 MedData survey, and the power of positive brand awareness as it relates to the patient financial experience is apparent. The survey found that consumers would favor health systems that provide accurate online, digital cost estimates. Of those surveyed, 62% said knowing their out-of-pocket obligation in advance impacts their likelihood of seeking care. Also, 49% said “clear” information impacts their decision to choose a healthcare provider.

Implications for Health Systems

In the past, health systems have relied on traditional channels – such as advertising and brand-building strategies – to foster patient engagement. However, strong evidence suggests that personalized communication and a tailored financial experience contributes to a patient’s perception of their health system’s brand. If you want to learn more about how brand awareness, patient loyalty and the financial experience impact each other – check out our post on how we use Net Promoter Scores to measure patient loyalty.

Patients want to understand what they are paying for and why. They want empathy and support from their health system in response to their cost concerns. This is how health systems can build brand awareness and foster trust with their patient population. Health systems can no longer rely solely on clinical interactions to drive brand awareness and patient trust. Trust and loyalty is also built through better interactions with patients throughout their care journey – from scheduling their first visit to accepting their payment after treatment.  

Meet the Author: John W. Mitchell’s job titles have ranged from sailor in the U.S. Navy (broadcast-journalist aboard an aircraft carrier) to COO and CEO for several hospitals. In 2009, HealthLeaders Media named John and his senior executive team the Top Leadership Team in Healthcare for turning around a 90-bed, regional Washington hospital. In 2012, he started his own business, SnowPack Public Relations. John is widely published as a freelance reporter and writer in the hospital, healthcare, and medical sectors. More recently, his projects include writing content on behalf of Patientco. John is also the author of the novel Medical Necessity (four stars on Amazon), and he is a commercially successful landscape and wildlife photographer.