One of the most underutilized tools today for developing hearing healthcare strategy is the consumer-patient journey. Mapping the journey, with its hidden barriers and accelerants to care, helps identify priorities for market development and go-to-market strategies. Considering the structural changes facing hearing healthcare – the new OTC hearing aid category, the growing importance of genetic testing for diagnostics, and the nascent trials for gene therapy treatments for a rare form of pediatric deafness – nailing strategic priorities is more important than ever.
The current, systemic lack of understanding of the consumer-patient journey contributes to low adoption rates across hearing healthcare. Less than 15 percent of adults who would benefit from a hearing aid regularly wear one, while less than 5 percent of adults indicated for cochlear implantation undergo the procedure. Moreover, one study showed that less than 20% of children who receive a hearing aid or cochlear implant for hearing loss or deafness undergo genetic testing, even though a genetic test is part of the standard of care, according to 2022 EHDI poster by Sana Charania, Scott Grosse, and Kelly Dundon entitled “Estimating the prevalence of genetic testing among children who are deaf or hard of hearing using MarketScan claims data.”
In 2017, I founded a strategy consultancy focused on hearing healthcare. I live my work, since I have a genetic, progressive hearing loss, diagnosed when I was six years old. Powerful hearing aids enable me to run my disability-owned company. Moreover, outside of work, I pursue my passion for classical piano, including performing, by relying on specialized in-ear monitors programmed for my unique hearing loss. The fact that hearing healthcare has been transformative in my life underscores my professional conviction that all of us in the industry face important opportunities to improve the accessibility and quality of care for those with hearing loss.
I believe that an important way to identify and prioritize strategic opportunities comes from a thorough understanding of the consumer-patient journey. Below are seven best practices that should be followed;
- Anchor the process with a framework. We recommend governing the process of mapping the consumer-patient journey with a comprehensive framework indicating the main journey stages. For each stage, the framework should contain behavioral, structural, and psychological dimensions for characterizing the consumer-patient’s experience. For example, when examining the patient journey with cochlear implants, we recommend that one dimension should be outcome expectations, since adult patients experience significant variability in hearing outcomes post implantation and rehabilitation. During interviews, you should probe for patients’ expectations for hearing outcomes at each stage of the journey.
- Speak to consumers directly. In our interactions with companies across the sector, from hearing aids to cochlear implants to gene and drug therapy, we have noted a reliance on clinicians, especially audiologists, to report on the essence of patients’ journey. While clinicians’ perspective is important, their understanding generally only yields part of the story. The consumer-patient is a separate stakeholder in the healthcare market ecosystem, with their unique set of assumptions, beliefs, motivators, and barriers. Hence, direct conversations are crucial.
- Focus on lived experiences. The journey should map consumer-patients’ actual experiences across the stages. The research process needs to probe what actually happened in the patients’ lives, even if that journey is messy and difficult to summarize. Seek to understand patients’ procrastination, misconceptions, and lack of compliance as much as their motivators to seek treatment. The instinct for some executives is to begin the strategy development process with the ideal consumer-patient journey. While at first appealing as a way to save time, that short cut eliminates the very insight that helps break strategy logjams. Instead, map the actual consumer journey and use conclusions from that journey to develop strategic priorities.
- Design the research for quantification. Structuring the research process, in terms of designing the interview guide or survey, recruiting interview subjects, and analyzing the results, maximizes return on the project investment. We code each interview along hundreds of variables and then create a database of the journey. This process enables us to quantify the extent of trends emerging even from open-ended, qualitative questions in the interview guide. For example, when analyzing the adult journey with prescription hearing aids, we discovered that a segment of consumers cycles through multiple ENTs and audiologists, sometimes for years, before receiving a diagnosis.
- Integrate with other market stakeholders. Adding the perspectives of other market stakeholders such as audiologists and ENTs to the journey analysis is particularly useful when consumer behavior appears entrenched. We recommend comparing consumer-patients’ descriptions of their experiences with clinicians’ assessment of those same interactions. In a recent study, we outlined the genetic testing experiences of caregivers of infants with severe to profound hearing loss. Separately, we interviewed the clinicians – audiologists, neurotologists, genetic counselors, and geneticists – who treated them. We discovered that clinicians’ predominant narrative for genetic testing caused caregivers to shut down almost half of the time, immediately refusing the recommendation. The insight became an important foundation in creating a market development strategy for genetic testing.
- Summarize the journey on one page. A presentation summarizing the journey typically numbers 50 to 100 slides of key findings and strategic implications. One of the most important slides in the deck is the “summary of truth,” that encapsulates the journey across all stages and dimensions. The slide serves as a reference point across the company. People working on teams from clinical trial design and new product development, to branding strategy to human resources are now able to incorporate the consumer-patient perspective into hundreds of decisions.
- Translate the journey to market strategy. Translating the journey into a market development or go-to-market strategy is a process that is as much art as science. Creating a hierarchy of unmet needs, ranking those that are most prevalent at the top, is one way to help make that translation. We often find that analyzing the consumer-patient journey generates more initiatives that an organization could implement in a one or two-year time horizon. In those cases, prioritizing the initiatives becomes essential. Often a quantitative survey or follow-up discussions with the qualitative sample can aid with prioritization.
Understanding the consumer-patient journey is a crucial vehicle to develop strategic priorities for companies across hearing healthcare, from hearing aids to cochlear implants to gene/drug therapy. These seven best practices of utilizing a framework, interacting directly with consumer-patients, focusing on their lived experiences, designing the research to quantify the results, comparing consumers’ perspectives with those of the clinicians who treat them, summarizing the journey on a single slide, and translating the journey into an actionable marketing strategy are seven tried and true best practices.
Photo by Flickr user Katie Tegtmeyer