Pitanje: What do you suggest as an appropriate approach to effective marketing of a typical Nigerian Health Maintenance Organisation (HMO)? I belong to a major HMO, and have come to realise that there is stagnation in the growth of this sub-sector. I ascribe this to mainly complacence towards adequate marketing of HMOs in the country. – B.O.
It is not really a case of stagnation in the growth of this sub-sector as such. Health Maintenance Organisations (HMOs), like in any other sector, are also affected by now well recognized unfavourable economic climate in Nigeria. Despite the concept of HMO comprising part of an emerging healthcare market in the country, let it be known that patronage in this regard is made up of mainly operatives in the corporate world or private sector (companies involved in the manufacturing of goods, and rendition of services), non-governmental organisations, then agencies of the government (the public sector). Typically, the HMO in Nigeria operates via collecting premiums from employers and contracting with healthcare providers, who then render healthcare services to deserving employees. Even where the extent of HMOs’ functions in the country is yet to cater for subscriptions by individuals directly (npr. the elderly), the informal sector, and rural communities (as obtainable in other climes), there is no doubt that the HMO is indeed an option for financing and providing healthcare through purchasing healthcare services for defined populations.
HMOs in Nigeria must wake up from ‘business as usual’ to embrace intensive marketing. The focus of investors have now shifted towards Africa (with a market of almost a billion people, huge resources and a young population), and Nigeria occupies a centre stage in this regard. Current government’s efforts towards luring foreign investors are clearly yielding positive results, as there is fast growing expression of interest by foreign concerns. I was informed that large HMOs such as Kaiser Permanente (America”s largest not-for-profit HMO), Sanford Health, i United Health Group are showing signs of establishing presence here shortly. A source has it that Sanford Health may be considering having its initial presence in Abuja. With this development, and the obvious resultant competition, any of the 50 (or so) Nigerian HMOs that opts for brushing marketing aside at this time does so at its peril.
For the benefit of other readers, a health maintenance organisation is an organisation which provides or arranges managed care for health insurance, self-funded health care benefit plans, individuals and other entities as a liaison with health care providers (hospitals, doctors, etc.) on a prepaid basis. An HMO covers care rendered by those doctors and other professionals who have agreed by contract to treat patients in accordance with its guidelines and restrictions in exchange for a steady stream of customers – Inclusive of emergency care regardless of the health care provider”s contracted status. HMO maintains a specific list of physicians and facilities, and has a fixed fee structure for all services.
The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) established under Act 35 of 1999 by the Federal Government of Nigeria, is aimed at providing easy access to healthcare for all Nigerians at an affordable cost through various prepayment systems. HMOs licensed by the NHIS facilitate the interface between the governmental organizations, the delivery system, and eligible contributors. HMOs work with providers under the supervision of the central government to determine provider payment. Only about five million of Nigeria’s population, of more than 160 million people, has been enrolled for the NHIS programs. This calls for lots of marketing activities on the part of HMOs.
Even where many agree that rendition of services in healthcare are classified as essential services, often associated with humanitarianism, tools of marketing are quite relevant. Kotler and Clarke’s definition of marketing is quite relevant here: “Analysis, planning, implementation, and control of carefully formulated programs designed to bring about voluntary exchanges of values with target markets for the purpose of achieving organizational objectives”. As applicable to online casino HMO, it relies heavily on designing the organisation’s offerings in terms of the target markets’ needs and desires, and on using effective pricing, communication, and distribution to inform, motivate, and service the markets
For the HMO, the prime purpose of marketing is to increase membership so that profits can be generated. Here marketing also plays the role of aiding image creation, boosting corporation, credibility, perceived reliability, financial stability, and convey the notion that standards of care are to subscribers’ (or enrollees’) satisfaction in clinical and personal services. Satisfaction in this regard depicts continued enrollment, positive influence on potential enrollees, patients keeping appointments, and compliance with schedule.
To effectively market a typical HMO, these are vital components, especially for adequate propagation of Medicare plans:
1. Education. An HMO can adopt this as a tool of promoting products, attract prospective clients away from competitors, and encourage claim reduction through a healthier lifestyle.
2. Product Development. Assorted products should be introduced to facilitate service delivery. This could take the form of a breakthrough product, modification of existing one, or even copying competitor’s product all in the name of service enhancement.
3. Brand Communications. This should encompass image-advertising programmes, public relations input, new media platform (web site, društveni mediji, mobile), and even elements of internal communication to influence employees’ decision to join the HMO’s health plan (npr. personal relationship with physicians, favourable choice of location, and clientele loyalty).
4. Software. The effective operations of any HMO worthy of note this 21st century require the application of appropriate software to meet critical business requirements. This could take the form of computer programmes (as components of its Marketing Information System or MIS) that cater for reports (npr. number of subscribers, effective sales, number of groups sold, broker commission, consolidated pipeline, and even customer relations management or CRM system).
Finally, in order to thrive at these trying times, HMOs in Nigeria should imbibe as part of their operation principle, the resolve to have major marketing issues resting chiefly on the will to change ways businesses carry-on and then adopting an effective marketing orientation.
Image credit: openingstohealth.com
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