Navigating Healthcare Marketing: The Quadruple Aim As a Compass

Andrew Moravick

What is the “Quadruple Aim” in healthcare? To be successful in healthcare marketing, it’s a concept marketers must understand. For one, admittedly from a cynical marketer’s perspective, it’s a bit of a dinner-bell phrase that grabs healthcare professionals’ attention. Genuinely, though, healthcare professionals rally around the Quadruple Aim because it’s arguably among the highest ideals toward which healthcare organizations and professionals can aspire.

Healthcare Marketing Cliff Notes for the Quadruple Aim Story:

Like any self-respecting industry term, the Quadruple Aim came to be as a refreshed iteration of an earlier concept. Originally, it was the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) which coined the Triple Aim, defined as: “simultaneously deliver[ing] excellent quality of care, at optimized costs, while improving the health of [the] population.”

The Quadruple Aim, with its introduction most frequently traced back to an Annals of Family Medicine article by Thomas Bodenheimer, MD and Christine Sinsky, MD maintains the original three tenets of the Triple Aim, but adds, “the goal of improving the work life of health care providers, including clinicians and staff.”

The reasoning for this addition, interestingly enough, was a bit of an unintended consequence of fervent adoption of the Triple Aim by healthcare organizations. Healthcare leaders and organizations so enthusiastically prioritized improving patient experience, population health, and cost-reduction / profitability that the healthcare professionals themselves suffered significantly increased cases of burnout.

- An important side note for healthcare marketers here… the idea of  appealing to the “What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)” factor that normally works in most marketing scenarios should likely be amended to something like WIIFMPPOOAFMMT – “What’s In It for My Patients, Population, Organization, or Alright, Fine, Maybe Me Too?”  for healthcare audiences.

In short, the four tenets of the Quadruple Aim for healthcare organizations are maximized and mutually achieved effectiveness in:

• Quality of patient care and experience
• Improvement of population health
• Mitigation or optimization of costs
• Work life enhancement for healthcare providers

The overall moral of the Quadruple Aim’s story, from a healthcare marketing perspective is that patient care and experience, population health, and cost control are the three biggest rallying points for healthcare professionals… but healthcare professionals must also be reminded to care for their own work-life health to maintain optimum efficiency.

4 Points in the Quadruple Aim & 4 Primary Directions on a Compass for Healthcare Marketing:

Unapologetically, relating the four directions on a compass to the four points of the Quadruple Aim is not a metaphor originally conceived for this post. Doctors Bodenheimer and Sinsky actually reference “a compass to optimize health system performance” in their introduction of the Quadruple Aim.
We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here. Still, the Quadruple Aim as a compass for healthcare marketing makes for a pretty great metaphorical tool, so we’re rolling with it.

Any good compass helps to orient you on your current course, while also allowing you to course-correct as needed if you end up headed in the wrong direction. With a compass, you also have a finite amount of options for general directions or angles to take. Jump up in the air once, for example, and sure, your elevation changes, but the arrow will point to the same North at peak height as it did before takeoff (despite some likely wobbles in between).

At the highest level, using the Quadruple Aim as a compass for healthcare marketing, you can orient your content, communications, and overall efforts on the primary points that matter to healthcare professionals. Jump up and down as much as you want (figuratively or literally), about a technology platform, a proprietary service, or any other general solution, if it doesn’t align to patient, population health, cost-control, or provider experience topics, you’re not likely to move the needle for a healthcare audience. (It might wobble a bit at best).

In Marketing to Healthcare Professionals, If Anything Could Be True North, It’d Be Patients & Patient Experience:

Compasses point North, healthcare professionals serve patients. That’s the primary purpose of health care – care for the health of patients. Even in niche corners of healthcare like healthcare information and technology, where the targeted healthcare professionals may have more generic business titles like Chief Information Officer, VP of IT & Security, or Chief Technology Officer, there’s still always a direct line to patient concerns. Downtime of a technology solution could impact patient outcomes or even risk lives. Security breaches could deter patients from seeking the care they need at key facilities.

In short, when marketing a product, service or other solution in any sector of healthcare, always look for a line to the impact on – or value for – patients.

Healthcare Professionals Have Learned Things Go South Without Care for Provider Experience:

As noted early, the primary reason for the Triple Aim becoming the Quadruple Aim, was correcting for healthcare professional burnout.  It’s not just the cost to replace healthcare professionals when the full burnout bill comes due, though, that makes provider experience so pivotal. The burnout process isn’t just a binary, “you’re fine or you’re not” state. Instead, it’s progressive, like an illness. It can be contagious in people without any symptoms. Most significantly, it can cause healthcare professionals to be impaired or have diminished performance on the job – sometimes even without the individuals themselves noticing it.

In healthcare, the biggest rule, for anyone, is do no harm. By being impaired by burnout, or anything else, though, real harm can be done.

This is an important context for reaching healthcare professionals. The inherent level of selflessness in this industry can make things like general productivity, efficiency, or time-management seem trivial compared to patient outcomes. However, when connections are made between improved provider experiences – less burnout, or better work life balance – and care outcomes, things click. When efficiency translates to heightened capacity for care, it’s a winning case.

As Long as the Sun Rises in the East, Healthcare Organizations Will Have Costs to Manage:

It may seem like a cold appeal or hard business logic – the need to cut costs, improve profits, overcome expenses, etc. – but it’s still a critical need for healthcare professionals. Literally and figuratively, if the costs of “keeping the lights on” aren’t well managed at a healthcare facility, that facility fails, and patients end up paying the price.

The easier or more effectively costs are managed, though, the less business operations get in the way of healthcare operations. Healthcare professionals may not have the same pride in seeing profitable quarters or increases in revenue that other business leaders may have, but the implications of profits, or well managed costs mean more stability and capacity for providing care.

Just as a doctor or a nurse needs to be healthy to care for patients, healthcare facilities need to be financially healthy in order to effectively care for a population. The context of appeals to cost-cutting or cost managing value points in healthcare can’t just be about the business. When marketers highlight what cost-savings or efficiencies can unlock, though, those messages are likely to resonate.

Pioneering in Population Health Initiatives Follows a Familiar Westward Path:

The concept of “Population Health” as a defined term is relatively new. The CDC credits the definition of it to David Kindig and Greg Stoddart when, in 2003, they defined it as “the health outcome of a group of individuals, including the distribution of outcomes within the group.” In other words, not just the health of the individual, but the health of the community.

The pursuit of improved population health is what drives initiatives like interoperability whereby relevant, protected data on individuals can also be compiled and analyzed in the context of the local population or community. For dealing with things like colds, the flu, or other contagious diseases, for example, population health helps to better manage the health and preparedness of the community. When populations start to show warning signs, healthcare organizations can both advocated for increased prevention measures like increased caution, hand-washing, vaccinations, etc.  while also proactively ramping up for potentially predictable increases in patients. 

In other words, population health is the big picture. It’s not just caring for singular patients, but communities, and overseeing the health of as many people within those communities collectively. As a newer venture, population health is heavily dependent on data and insights, so for technology or service marketing in the healthcare space, articulating how population health initiatives can be enabled or enhanced can make for strong appeals. Moreover, as a newer concept, of the four points of the Quadruple Aim, it is perhaps the most accommodating for establishing thought leadership positions for brands as well.

Pulling It All Together for Healthcare Marketing:

Rarely, if ever will any piece of technology, solution, or service completely address all four points of the Quadruple Aim all together or all at once. In your own healthcare marketing efforts, you’re likely to find there are strongly aligned appeals, and other elements may be a bit of a stretch. That’s ok.

Sure, it’s not brain surgery (of course, even healthcare facilities that actually do brain surgery haven’t perfected the Quadruple Aim), but the concept of the Quadruple Aim is still fairly nuanced. Just as a compass can tell you where you should go, but mountains, bodies of water, or other obstacles may force you to bend your path, the Quadruple Aim isn’t a straight line to healthcare marketing success. Use it as a tool as best you can, though, and you’ll surly find your way…

To learn about more best practices or options for marketing in the healthcare space, please feel free to contact us today!

About the Author

As a Senior Marketing Manager for HIMSS Media, Andrew Moravick leverages extensive B2B & B2C marketing experience to oversee and optimize HIMSS Media's content marketing and demand generation efforts. In previous roles, Andrew has worked for Aberdeen Group, Snap App, PUMA, and Eloqua.

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