Why lifetime costs need to be considered in NHS purchasing
How much will it cost? It’s the key question for any procurement manager, but a particularly pertinent one for those working in the healthcare sector. The NHS is under inordinate pressure to do more with less and to position itself as strategically as possible in order to cope with the challenges of a growing and ageing population.
As such, when a hospital, NHS Trust or commissioning group needs to invest in new technology, whether hardware or software, it is hardly surprising that cost tends to top the list of factors considered when making a purchasing decision. Individual pieces of equipment such as sophisticated scanning machines can be among the most expensive single purchases made within the NHS, whilst even smaller pieces of kit, like touchscreens and mobile carts, quickly rack up because so many are required. Headline prices might vary by hundreds or thousands of pounds, and the obvious procurement move is to go to the lowest end of the scale.
The trouble, however, is that cost can be measured in multiple different ways. Relying on the headline price alone can quickly prove to be a costly mistake.
First, there may be additional costs layered on top of the headline price that have not been considered. Think about an online shopper making their way through a website’s checkout, only to be presented with an unexpectedly high shipping cost at the end.
In the case of healthcare technology deployments, such additional costs can be diverse – and hefty. Often, they relate to installation. Both hardware and software need to be carefully integrated with existing technology, sometimes using separate interoperability platforms or specialist third parties. Additional costs may also be layered on for staff training, particularly when a new operating system or vendor has been selected. Or, in the instance of software, there may be a need for additional modules which are not part of the core, basic deployment.
Predicting these costs accurately can be difficult, but healthcare organisations can go a long way by asking their supplier to talk them through every stage of deployment, from preparation, through installation to ongoing operation.
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All in one
Consumers purchasing a new home are rightly reminded to consider the overall cost as a whole set of smaller costs. The cost of the mortgage itself consists of both upfront fees and an ongoing interest rate, whilst additional costs are required for stamp duty, legal fees, surveys and insurance. Then there are the costs of actually moving from one property to the next, and any essential maintenance or repair work that has to take place at the outset.
Technology can work similarly. Software, for example, may incorporate ongoing subscription or licensing charges for a certain number of users. Hardware may be tied to very specific ongoing maintenance, tests and upgrade charges in order to remain compliant.
Whilst these costs should, of course, be clarified as part of the initial proposal, they can all too easily be hidden away in the small print, or not accurately modelled as part of the organisation’s ongoing growth plan. A software platform with a high cost per user license, for example, might quickly become cost-prohibitive if the organisation knows that the relevant team is going to double in size over the coming year. A piece of hardware that requires routine maintenance after performing a certain number of operations might be cost-effective at current levels of demand, but if the hospital’s catchment area is set to grow dramatically, it might quickly become a drain.
Buying to last
This draws us directly to the importance of considering the expected lifespan of each proposed technology deployment, and comparing what might be a higher upfront cost with the saving of replacing it further down the line.
For example, many pieces of hospital equipment, including mobile screens and carts, rely on an internal battery in order to operate. The useful lifespan of the equipment relates directly to the battery life. A higher-grade piece of equipment, like those produced by Howard Medical might be more expensive upfront, but if it lasts for years longer than a cheaper alternative, then ultimately it is likely to prove a cheaper choice. Just as consumers are advised to invest in one or two top-quality, long-lasting investment pieces of clothing, so healthcare organisations are advised to remember that short-term purchases may rapidly become costlier in the long-term.
A day or a lifetime?
All of these different cost models are a reminder that the price of something today is very different from the cost of something over a lifetime. In the world of healthcare technology, the contrast between the two can be particularly striking, because there are so many additional considerations beyond the standalone price of a piece of equipment. Installation and integration costs, required upgrades, repairs and maintenance, subscriptions or licenses and predicted lifespan are all essential pieces of the overall procurement puzzle.
How can the healthcare industry build trust with consumers?
One of the many ways the pandemic has impacted society is that it has firmly cast the healthcare industry in the public spotlight. From producing ventilators and PPE to developing life-saving vaccines, consumers have looked to pharmaceutical and healthcare companies to keep us safe and find a way out of the Covid-19 crisis.
As a result, healthcare companies have an opportunity to build upon this and utilise their marketing to drive greater engagement and trust with consumers. When it comes to effective marketing, it’s vital to remember the important role which visuals play. Consumers increasingly engage with brands through the visual communications and storytelling they absorb while online or browsing through media channels. These visual communications can have a huge impact not only on consumer purchasing decisions but also the relationship between brands and customers.
At Getty Images, we work with healthcare companies throughout Europe to advise them on their visual content. This study forms part of the research for our insight platform Visual GPS, which looks at the key factors affecting consumer decision making and how that impacts their visual choices.
In partnership with YouGov, we surveyed 10,000 consumers globally and have been tracking this consumer sentiment for the past two years. This latest deep-dive into the healthcare industry is part of our wider on-going research, and aims to better understand how consumers in different regions are interacting with the healthcare sector and what motivates their visual preferences.
Our research revealed that many companies are not using visuals as effectively as they could. In the UK, for instance, the vast majority of consumers do not feel represented by the visual communications which businesses are producing – only 7% of British respondents to our global Visual GPS survey say they felt represented. That is even lower than the global average of 14%.
This latest deep dive into the healthcare industry has uncovered some important insights that can help us better understand how consumers in different regions are interacting with the healthcare sector.
Mental health should be centre stage
A key finding shows that mental health remains a highly relevant issue for consumers. Over nine in ten British consumers think it is important to talk about mental health and put it on an equal footing with physical and emotional health. Not surprisingly, 55% of British consumers believe that more people are being diagnosed with depression due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
There is a growing awareness of the importance of mental health across Europe. Health and pharmaceutical companies should acknowledge this in their visual communications but do so in an empathetic and compassionate way. Only five years ago, visuals around mental health often depicted people alone, isolated and expressing feelings of shame, whereas now we are seeing a more empathetic and supportive approach to visualising mental health - with an increasing number of positive visuals showing support groups, or individuals proactively seeking and finding support.
Visual communications that show support for mental well-being in a meaningful way will resonate deeply with consumers.
A more holistic approach
Another key finding is that consumers want to focus more on holistic health. Our survey found that the majority of UK consumers place an almost equal importance on emotional, physical and mental health, and almost three quarters (73%) placed the health and well-being of family as a top priority.
It’s important that healthcare companies reflect this. Our research paired with ongoing image testing revealed that consumers want to see visuals that humanise healthcare, so companies should consider visualising inclusive care across intersecting factors such as age, ethnicity and gender. Brands can help establish trust with their customers by highlighting a collaborative relationship between medical professional and patient, as well as ensuring that their visual choices feel genuine.
Technology and innovation in healthcare are gaining traction
Thirdly, eHealth and purposeful innovation was another key finding. Consumers want innovation that will meaningfully support their care. Particularly in Europe, the older generation will pay more for brands that use technology to provide advice and recommendations, while Gen Z & Millennials are willing to pay for self-service capabilities. It’s important therefore for healthcare companies to incorporate purposeful innovation in their visual communication and demonstrate consumers at the centre of accessible eHealth.
Given these insights, what visual content do consumers expect to see from pharmaceutical brands? Our research highlighted three key themes.
- Consumers want to see how healthcare companies fit into people’s lives. Accessible health services are a key factor here. Decision makers should build trust by showing consumers at the centre of a holistic healthcare ecosystem.
- Consumers want to see the emotional rewards others get from using a healthcare company. This can be achieved by building brand loyalty through empathetic and inclusive visual storytelling.
- Finally, consumers want to see people who are similar to them and their lives. British consumers want to see people that look like them and reflect their lived experiences in advertising and brand communication. Decision-makers should ensure that their visual communication is inclusive and authentic and represents the diverse population of the market in which they’re operating.
Ultimately, the key to successful visual storytelling for pharma and healthcare businesses is to ensure that they understand what matters to their audience while establishing trust of care. An important element of this is authentically representing the full spectrum of the population. That means representing all ethnicities, ages, abilities, body shapes, sexuality, religion and genders, to ensure patients of all backgrounds feel included and represented.
Healthcare brands should bear in mind that, as a result of the pandemic’s impact on healthcare systems around the world, consumers may be feeling anxious about whether they will be able to access care if they need it. The healthcare industry has an opportunity to reassure customers and build greater engagement and trust by showing them that they matter through inclusive visuals that represents them authentically at the heart of brand storytelling.