Considering Comorbidities

When marketing to patient populations, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that many common diseases, disorders and conditions have considerable overlap. Known as comorbidities, these overlaps are important to keep in mind because of three main factors:

  • The costs of treating a patient with a chronic condition rise exponentially as the number of the patient’s chronic conditions increases.
  • It’s rare for a chronic condition to exist as a patient’s sole medical concern. As of 2009, 80 percent of Medicare spending in the U.S. was on patients with four or more chronic conditions.
  • In America’s regimented healthcare system, patients often see different doctors for different conditions and are prescribed drugs to treat one condition that may exacerbate another. If a patient with a heart condition, diabetes and arthritis visits three different doctors for treatment, the drug he’s prescribed to treat his arthritis may have an adverse effect on his heart condition and/or diabetes — and the drugs for those might make him too tired to engage in regular physical activity, thereby exacerbating his arthritis.

So what can healthcare marketers do about this multifaceted problem? Are we in a position to help the millions of people struggling with these issues? Can we influence healthcare systems to improve their processes and communications to alleviate patient suffering?

The answer is a resounding yes. Here are four ways healthcare marketers can effect change:

  • We can inform patients about the potential for comorbid conditions. Letting a patient with diabetes know he might be at elevated risk for heart problems could prompt a screening or a conversation with a doctor that could save his life.
  • We can deliver specific, relevant messaging to patients who suffer from comorbid conditions. The personas we build for specific patient populations often overlap significantly. Cardiovascular disease and diabetes are strongly linked, so personas for these targets are also strongly linked — meaning that when we are trying to attract patients to a specific healthcare provider, we can use this connection to suggest they visit another provider in the same system if they have a comorbid condition. When people visit doctors in the same system, their medical charts are visible to all the doctors in that system. A cardiologist can see how the patient’s rheumatologist is treating him, and avoid prescribing drugs that might have negative interactions with his other medications.
  • We can use marketing platforms to encourage patients to seek early intervention for conditions with frequent comorbidities. While it might not be immediately obvious, periodontitis (an inflammation of the gums) frequently occurs in those suffering from COPD (a lung disease), and vice versa; the two conditions also share risk factors such as age and tobacco smoke exposure. Using personas developed to target those at risk for COPD can help us craft messaging that also reaches those suffering from periodontitis and suggest they seek treatment for both conditions within the same health system.
  • We can help consumers understand the healthcare journey. Since many conditions don’t exist in a vacuum, and since providers are increasingly tasked to treat the whole person as healthcare evolves to a more consumer-focused industry, healthcare marketers can proactively chart long-term communications aimed at guiding consumers to the next likely phase of their healthcare journey. For example, someone who is eligible for bariatric surgery is initially categorized as a bariatric prospect. Once they have the surgery, it’s highly likely they might experience GI issues and/or orthopedic challenges in the long term. Anticipating future needs and guiding patients along the path to appropriate care helps them get the specific care they need, and prepares healthcare systems to treat the patient for the duration of their life.

As an agency focused on lifting our clients, our communities and each other, it’s important to us to find meaningful ways to simultaneously boost our clients’ ROI and help the people our clients serve. By focusing on the factors listed here, we can achieve both objectives — and hopefully make the world a little better along the way.

Do you have a healthcare marketing challenge that could benefit from some fresh thinking? Contact us today.