More than any other industry, the healthcare field depends on empathetic communication.
Potential patients might feel fear, doubt, worry, or frustration throughout their process of making a medical decision. Medical professionals work to ensure they communicate with their patients in an open and nurturing manner.
But connecting with a patient isn’t just the responsibility of nurses, doctors, and administrative workers.
Healthcare marketing managers meet patients on the first step of the medical journey—from search and selection to facilitating the booking of an appointment or procedure. Depending on your approach, the patient journey can start on either a positive or negative foot.
When poor marketing tactics take root in healthcare organization strategies, it can disrupt the patient experience or worse, cause them to disengage altogether.
In other words, the stakes are high—and that’s why it’s such a worthwhile opportunity. By recognizing and repairing pitfalls that healthcare marketers commonly make, your patients—and your organization—stand to benefit.
That’s why it’s important to examine how healthcare marketing differs from other fields, examine ineffective tactics, and empower healthcare marketers by discussing successful healthcare marketing strategies.
Once you’ve learned how to use healthcare marketing properly, you’ll not only help your organization or provider market itself more efficiently, but you’ll enable current and future patients to take control of their healthcare journey.
What Is Healthcare Marketing?
Put simply, healthcare marketing is the methods and tactics used to market the services of a healthcare provider or organization.
When enacted properly, it can benefit the healthcare provider and the patient: keeping patients engaged with the healthcare industry and helping them lead healthier, happier lives. But, when done poorly, healthcare marketing can cause patients undue stress, agitation, and even procrastination.
How are Healthcare Marketing Strategies Different from Other Fields
Each unique customer base requires a unique marketing approach, and healthcare marketing is no different. Proper healthcare marketing emphasizes connecting with the patient, faces legal constraints not seen in other fields, and focuses less on “selling” and more on “change.”
Patient Connection is Paramount
Integrated Marketing Communications is an approach used to stay up-to-date with changing consumer landscapes. At its heart, IMC prioritizes a consumer-first approach— uniting multiple marketing tactics around the single goal of serving the customer.
The goal of IMC? To connect with your clients. The goal of healthcare marketing? To connect with your patients. This connection provides patients with the healthcare journey they deserve.
While many marketing efforts ignore the IMC approach, that mindset is essential for healthcare marketing.
Healthcare marketing requires knowing the wants, needs, and state-of-mind of the potential future patient. Ideally, patients should be engaged every step of the way, from researching their healthcare provider or organization to following up with a doctor’s findings. This level of interaction is impossible without a strong patient-provider connection.
More Restrictions on What You Can (or Cannot) Say
Other marketing fields allow for more flexibility with regard to making creative claims. Healthcare marketing, however, has rules and regulations to ensure that every claim is 100% factual, with little to no room for subjectivity.
Beyond that, all healthcare marketing must adhere to HIPAA regulations and rules set in place by the FDA and the FTC. You must closely watch what you say as well as how you say it. Carefully crafted communication protects you from any legal liability but, more importantly, it protects patients from misleading providers or organizations.
It’s Less About Selling, and More About Encouraging Change
Most marketing is about “making the sale.” You have a product or a service, and you want people to purchase it.
While the “sale” of earning new patients is important, that should not be the only goal you have in mind while running a campaign.
At a minimum, a well-run healthcare marketing campaign should help a patient find a provider. But more importantly, the campaign should make a patient more proactive in maintaining their health.
Healthcare marketing should focus less on persuading the patient, and more on empowering them. With the proper knowledge, they can make choices that benefit both themselves and their providers in the long run.
Common Mistakes in Healthcare Marketing
Not all healthcare marketing techniques are successful. Campaigns that focus too much on “conversion” can cause confusion or even harm to the patient.
The search for a healthcare provider can be a painful and frustrating experience, and it’s your job to reduce stress along that journey . Here are a variety of common mistakes in healthcare marketing you might have slipped into making yourself.
Ineffective External Communication
A huge part of any marketing strategy involves communicating, either actively or passively, with your customers. In the case of healthcare marketing, those “customers” are potential patients. They come from a variety of backgrounds, but all share one common trait: They want to be talked to like people.
Unfortunately, many providers and healthcare marketers fail on this front, leading to the following mistakes that, at best, annoy potential patients, and at worst can take them out of their healthcare journey entirely. Common mistakes include 1) Using jargon, 2) Failing to educate, and 3) Ignoring feedback.
Using Non-Patient-Friendly Terms (AKA—Jargon)
Content full of acronyms and clunky medical terms only confuse and frustrate your potential patient. For instance, doctors, nurses, and administrators might recognize that an AMI refers to an “acute myocardial infarction.” However, everyone outside of medicine would prefer (and understand) the term “heart attack.”
As a rule, avoid these buzzwords.
- “Innovative” – Instead of claiming to be innovative, describe the ways in which you are innovative.
- “Breakthrough” and “Advanced” – Don’t just blindly claim to provide advances or breakthroughs, describe what those entail.
- “Comprehensive” – Try a more succinct term such as “inclusive.”
- “Qualified” – There are better ways to set apart the benefits of your provider or organization than claiming to adhere to the bare minimum required of you. Speak to the specific qualifications of your employees instead of relying on blanket catch-all terms.
- “Close to home” – Anchor your value in care, relationships, and community, not proximity.
There are many other examples of terms to avoid. Ultimately, the key is to make sure your external communication stays natural and personable. Don’t confuse your patients with jargon, or insult their intelligence by overusing a bunch of flashy buzz words.
Be honest, sincere, and show the value you provide.
Failing to Educate Your Patients (AKA—Not Blogging)
Many healthcare providers don’t include a blog on their website. That’s a wasted opportunity.
Providers or organizations with blogs see an average of 55% in traffic growth, and 11% growth on ROI in their first year. Additionally, a blog gives you a voice in your community that allows you to engage and establish credibility with patients in a different channel.
Ignoring Patient Reviews
We live in a society where reviews drive almost every decision we make, big or small. Before adding that new scarf to your Amazon shopping cart, you’ll probably check the reviews first. Not surprisingly, then, 72% of patients use online reviews as their first step in finding a provider.
And yet, many providers and organizations are missing out on this crucial step when it comes to marketing their provider or organization. Only about half of providers or organizations devote time and effort in responding to feedback. Almost 20% purposely avoid responding to negative feedback.
That’s a huge mistake. 70% of patients claim it’s at least somewhat important that their provider or organization responds to negative reviews online.
Beyond making your services more attractive to prospective patients, responding to reviews supports reputation management. You can control the narrative for truly bad reviews, and, more importantly, discover patterns in mistakes that your organization can correct. This is good for business and better for the health and safety of your patients.
Ineffective Internal Communication
Successful teams require dozens of moving parts to work together in harmony. This requires team cohesion and clear lines of communication internally as well as externally.
When internal communication breaks down, the entire provider or organization is negatively affected. This can manifest in several ways, including:
Lack of Internal Alignment
Coordinated internal communication precedes your external messaging. You want to align within your organization to ensure that every department agrees on the direction of the external messaging you offer.
Many providers or organizations don’t synchronize messaging from department to department, which leads to dissonance between external communications, internal tactics, and overall intentions. This dissonance is not only felt internally, but it impacts the messaging that is meant to inform and comfort a potential patient, which negatively impacts the patient experience.
When it comes to internal content, and specifically the importance of alignment within your organization or provider, the Healthcare Strategy Institute recommends the following:
“Before launching any extensive internal communications plan, executive leadership needs a central, unifying message that explains the organization’s driving purpose, where it’s going, and how it plans to get there. By creating the story that answers those questions, the communications team can then relay a compelling narrative that communicates, contextualizes, and energizes employees as their organization evolves.”
Inconsistent Brand Guidelines
Healthcare organizations face many challenges ensuring their brand guidelines remain consistent. For example, different departments often request conflicting assets from their marketing team without checking in on other departments. This makes maintaining a consistent visual brand a real challenge.
Think of it this way—if you went to the same doctor every year, you would hopefully know what to expect from your appointment. If they suddenly looked, sounded, or behaved like a completely different doctor, offering a wildly different experience each visit, you’d likely stop trusting your physician. It’s not much different with brand identity in healthcare.
No matter how you present your brand, it’s essential to maintain a consistent approach. An inconsistent brand can lead to an inconsistent experience for the patient, which can frustrate and confound his perception of your organization.
Ignoring Insurance Marketing Structures
The patient’s final choice of provider isn’t only informed by your marketing efforts. There’s another important factor in the healthcare cycle that many marketers ignore: insurance companies.
In 2017, over 91% of Americans had health insurance. That insurance provider remains the leading factor in choosing medical providers. Pharmaceutical companies have been building relationships with insurance providers and marketers as part of their strategies for years. Healthcare marketers, on the other hand, sometimes overlook the importance of the collaboration between insurance companies and providers.
When developing your marketing strategy, be sure to consider building strong relationships with insurance companies, their marketers, and other systems that connect patients with your product.
Your Website Isn’t Designed For Your Patient Experience
Many people looking for a doctor can be frustrated, anxious, and scared. That’s why a strategic site provides so much value. “If you make a healthcare site easy to understand, it can give you relief,” said Seeon Kim, UX Lead at Clique Studios.
Unfortunately, far too many healthcare sites fail to offer that relief, often falling into common issues such as: 1) Ignoring mobile experience, 2) Creating an underwhelming patient experience, and 3) Having disparity across portals.
Ignoring Mobile Experience
This creates headaches for patients. Frustrated patients are likely to select a provider or organization equipped to guide them on their healthcare journey through mobile technology.
Creating an Underwhelming Patient Experience
In healthcare marketing, the patient experience is king. They have the ultimate choice on what organization or provider they choose, and they’ll want to choose someone who provides the best experience possible. Many healthcare sites are illogically organized, next to impossible to navigate, and generally frustrating. Anyone who has spent large chunks of time trying to find a provider in their area with an available appointment time online, only to give up and call the practice or organization directly, can attest to this.
While user experience matters greatly for websites in every field, it is even more important for healthcare sites. It’s essential to craft your healthcare website design around a user-friendly website. From homepage to portal, your medical website has to appease not just the user, but also the various departments who have their own priorities and goals.
This, unfortunately, can lead to the patient receiving less attention than they deserve, creating a littered, confounding user experience. When that happens, your marketing efforts will be dead on arrival.
Many healthcare websites must provide a huge amount of information to properly educate users about their services. Your site should help the user navigate this information easily. It’s a challenge, but it’s one you must tackle to provide value to potential and current patients.
Having Disparity Across Portals
Portals allow patients to securely view and upload personal information and get results from previous medical appointments. They’ve been around for more than twenty years and yet, they’re to blame for some of the worst patient web experiences. Few websites have figured out how to integrate portals into a cohesive user experience.
Remember, healthcare marketing can empower the patient to take control of their health for the long run. But that’s not happening with portals on most sites today.
In a 2018 study, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology found that only 28% of all patients accessed their information through patient portals. The difficulties of navigating between portals caused many patients to fail at checking their own records.
A non-intuitive portal experience hurts the effectiveness of your healthcare marketing tactics. Even worse, a poor portal experience, just like poor internal and external communication, could stop a patient’s healthcare journey before it has a chance to even begin.
What Makes Healthcare Marketing Strategies Successful
A few essential adjustments can improve the patient experience and enhance the effectiveness of your marketing tactics.
An Instinctive, Common-Sense Website
While every digital strategy is elevated through a responsive website with exciting design elements that stand out, the best healthcare websites do much more than merely look and act nice. An easy-to-use hospital website, or website for any medical practice, not only empower the patients. It makes them more likely to follow through with any appointments they booked on the site.
A study by the Dermatology Online Journal found that 6.7% of Dermatologist appointments booked online resulted in no-shows or cancellations by the patients. That number for other methods of booking (over the phone, in person, etc) ranged from 17% to 31% among other providers or organizations. A well-built site informs patients while affording them confidence to go through with their healthcare journey.
An example of a good, easy-to-use website in the field that provides incredible digital experiences is Zocdoc. “Zocdoc is a clean and concise experience. I put in my insurance, availability, and they pull into their appointment schedules. It’s game changing,” said Zoë Reagan, Project Manager at Clique Studios.
A Philosophy of Encouraging Patient Reviews and Testimonials
Responding to patient reviews are important, but a good healthcare marketing strategy does more than that: it leverages them. Reviews and testimonials can provide a lot of information to potential patients who want to make a fully informed decision. The encouragement of, and participation with, these reviews can energize your campaign.
It’s essential to continually reach out for reviews. One 2019 survey found that reviews older than three months are viewed as irrelevant for 85% of consumers. You should encourage patients to share their experience.
Interacting with your community online gives you a voice in that community. It also helps address problems within your organization that may come to light from negative reviews.
Creating and Sharing Content Relevant to the Patient
High-quality, relevant content can position you as a leader in your field (and as an added bonus, well-written, unique content can drive your SEO traffic). Just make sure that content utilizes the proper tone while sharing this content.
“I think it’s really important to have the tone just right. That’s so important in health care and healthcare marketing. Not too light and bright, but not doom and gloom. Use language to differentiate yourself, but also put forth what your institution wants to put forward in their message,” said Reagan.
By providing quality content, you can also answer questions patients might not have thought to ask. It can strengthen your authority, while offering value to the medical field and your local community. The right content affords incredible benefits to your business as well as past, present, and future patients.
Healthcare Marketing and the Patient Experience
Healthcare marketing is driven by patient connection, strategic external communication, and a focus on empowering people to make healthy changes to their life.
A poorly designed website, ineffective internal communication, or ineffective external messaging can lead to a negative patient experience. Irresponsible or inconsiderate marketing experiences can lead to someone deciding to stop looking for the medical help they need. The stakes are high.
To improve your healthcare marketing approach avoid jargon, align your internal communications to maintain a consistent brand, and always keep the patient experience top-of mind.
These healthcare marketing strategies to improve your website, content creation, and outreach, can add true value to your patients’ lives.