Marketing and Healthcare: How Do They Fit Together?

Even though the healthcare world is moving forward in many ways, it tends to lag behind in terms of marketing strategy — especially when compared to other consumer-centric industries. One reason for this is that healthcare’s priority is not marketing but the patient’s outcome – as it well should be. That being said, the role of marketing in healthcare has gained more importance.

A Deloitte study found that 52 percent of consumers search online for information about treatment options and generally to learn about health concerns or care providers. In fact, the same study found that the rate of social media usage for health purposes has risen since 2013.

What this goes to show is that the right marketing (and digital marketing especially) strategy can be extremely influential in a patient’s decision. To quote Margaret Coughlin, chief marketing and communications officer at Mount Sinai Health System in New York, “Get it wrong, and you won’t get another chance. Every touch point is a brand touch point.” Today, clinic leaders are working with marketers to ensure that patients are satisfied with the care they receive. The goal is to satisfy the patient enough to return to a particular medical institution as well as recommend it to others for future needs.

Traditional Marketing in Healthcare

Gone are the days where billboards and radio ads boosting a particular hospital brand were enough to drive a patient to choose that institution. In the past, healthcare marketing relied heavily on traditional marketing methods, such as direct mail and TV commercials, that often did not allow for real-time adjustments.

Today’s healthcare customer, however, is different from those of the past. Customers do extensive research before choosing a healthcare provider, are more knowledgeable about their health, tend to live longer, and rely on healthcare institutions only when absolutely necessary due to the rising costs of medical care. The competition is fierce, and hospitals are not only being judged by the degree of care provided, but also their efforts to promote awareness and combat social conditions that later lead to chronic conditions such as obesity and heart disease.

Big Data Can Help

One of the methods to move forward is using big data to an institution’s advantage. It’s no surprise that retail giants like Walmart and CVS, with their access to large amounts of data, are at the forefront of this market disruption. Big data is especially important in providing personalized care, which elevates the patient experience.

In an article archived in the U.S. National Library of Medicine from February 2015, authors asserted that, “big data allows health care professionals to test the results of therapies, monitor drug usage more closely, and predict the outcomes of medical intervention.” As opposed to a slow trial-and-error method that is often the first step of a medical intervention, big data can provide for more predictable outcomes, thus resulting in quicker and more relevant healthcare. In terms of marketing alone, big data is especially useful when making economic decisions, allowing for more efficient tracking and analysis of campaign outcomes.

The Role of Digital Marketing

Digital marketing is no longer considered an optional aspect of a marketing campaign — with more and more consumers moving online every day, digital marketing is now part of most marketing campaigns, and healthcare marketing should be no different. Evariant suggests some ways to drive success via digital marketing in healthcare, including creating effective inbound content using healthcare CRMs. Once again, this ties into using data aggregated from various sources — but in terms of marketing, this data can be used to increase engagement and determine future strategies.

Secondly, optimizing for search is now necessary to secure a healthcare brand’s digital presence. Considering the results of surveys (such as the Deloitte survey quoted above), it is fair to say that customers regularly use search engines like Google to inquire about their health. Creating content that answers their queries alongside effective optimizing websites will ensure that a healthcare brand shows up as customers search, making their presence known and leaving a mark in the customer’s mind. A great example of this is The Mayo Clinic, whose online database of symptoms and illnesses is often the first to show up when customers search for health-related queries.

Finally, social media works wonders to engage customers who aren’t even patients yet. Often overlooked by hospitals due to being “too informal” of a means of engagement, social media offers a range of possibilities to boost one’s brand. Studies show that 57 percent of consumers’ decisions to receive treatment at a healthcare facility are strongly influenced by a provider’s social media connections. From webinars to healthy lifestyle promotion, live chats with physicians to new discoveries in healthcare, social media provides for an interactive means to reach diverse populations.

Limitations to be Aware Of

One of the biggest limitations to be aware of when it comes to healthcare marketing, and also one of the reasons healthcare lags behind in the marketing realm, is HIPPA: the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. If healthcare marketers even unintentionally reveal personal or sensitive information, they can be slapped with hefty fines, and face a range of legal implications.

HIPPA compliance is especially important when availing of and utilizing big data in marketing strategies. It is integral to only work with agencies and professionals who are familiar with HIPPA regulations, and those who have experience specifically in healthcare marketing.

Hiring external agencies that provide HIPPA compliant call-tracking (for patient phone calls), or hiring a specialized HIPPA compliance officer to safeguard all communication and marketing interests are possible solutions to overcome the HIPPA hurdles in a safe manner.

As customers become more aware and involved in healthcare decisions, the provider’s must evolve to effectively meet their needs. Engaging communities through disruptive marketing tactics, while remaining legally compliant is the only way forward for healthcare brands. Even though healthcare and marketing are perceived as two disparate industries, they can and must fit together in terms of meeting customer satisfaction and providing a better healthcare experience.