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Reed Smith

Digital Digest: The Q1 Lowdown on Digital Healthcare Marketing

Up close view of a doctor's chest holding his cellphone

Over the last year, healthcare marketers have run from thing to thing to keep up with the constant changes at their organizations.

There’s been no time to pause for breath and look out past today. But it needs to happen now, especially as the attention returns to the patient experience.

Here’s what I’m tracking as our industry shifts towards consumerism.


Patient acquisition is key. It’s not only important to get patients to come back to bricks-and-mortar facilities, but also time to look at your new telehealth offerings to ensure the patient experience around those is rock solid. While telehealth visits are expected to drop off somewhat, they should stay well above 2019 levels. Providers need to be looking at the patient population who wants to use telehealth and ensure they have access. For example, to get around the issue of lack of broadband access where patients live, providers may consider partnering with community organizations to provide physical facilities where people can have a remote visit.

Marketing the Experience

The other part of telehealth today is ensuring that providers give their staffs and physicians the tools they need to deliver the best possible experience through remote visits. What does bedside manner look like via iPad? Are front desk teams ready to answer questions about remote visits and to direct people to scheduling tools? Are those tools easy to use?

Similarly, marketing teams need to be sure they’re not marketing a bad experience. Providers have been so focused on getting people back for needed care that it’s easy to bypass the “patient journey” and just push people to get something on the books. It’s certainly not a great idea to encourage people to sign up for an appointment when there are no appointments available for six months. Or to push people towards a telehealth system that isn’t user-friendly. Or to providers who aren’t as comfortable with virtual visits. Marketing teams need to dig through those pieces, then inform the operational decisions and create marketing plans that reflect the realities of the telehealth program.

Easy Information

People want information and they want it now. An “I should be able to do everything online” attitude is fueling angst among consumers when it comes to healthcare. Because people want a frictionless experience across their digital lives, they’re steering toward companies and products that deliver consistent, easy-to-use tools. Healthcare providers should be thinking about what that looks like via their website, social channels and visibility on search engines.

We’re seeing a shift towards the use – and success – of chatbots to deliver information. They let people ask a quick question and get a quick answer for basic things like parking, scheduling and billing. The same goes for Twitter help lines: People would rather tweet and get the issue fixed, quickly.

In another area, Google works very hard to keep people on the search results page. Google something about DIY kitchen plumbing and you’ll see knowledge cards with a list of steps, YouTube videos that play right on the page and links to flanges and disposals from local stores. Those results didn’t appear by chance – they’re the result of intentional work by the content creators or marketing teams to optimize their websites. Hospitals should do the same thing…maybe not creating videos for a DIY appendectomy but looking at frequently-asked questions and developing Google-optimized content to answer them.

Internal Comms

The last trend I’m tracking today is the re-envisioning of “internal communications.” When work became virtual for many one year ago, “internal” communications came to mean something different. Healthcare providers have developed more flexible ways to interact with employees no longer physically co-located, especially for things like daily updates or vaccine information. That’s a great start. Now there’s a need to reach employees with important but less-urgent information. Marketing and communications teams need to think about the way their intranets are structured, how regular CEO updates are developed and delivered and what the quarterly townhall meeting looks like.

Providers are interested in connecting with employees through their mobile devices and communicating through text messaging. With many not coming back to the office soon, if ever, providers need to change the way they think about creating two-way communications with employees.

Healthcare is a highly trusted industry. A recent Jarrard Inc. survey showed that doctors, nurses and hospitals all enjoy well over 80 percent trust among the public. Consumers trust doctors more than their insurance company for accurate information on the price of healthcare services, and they’re more likely to call their doctor’s office than their insurance company for that information. Patients want to hear from you.

Beyond that, we know that information related to cost of services is important to consumers. According to our survey, two-thirds reported that the cost of healthcare services impacts where they choose to receive care. Meanwhile, almost four in ten consumers have used a price estimator in the last 12 months.

Here’s the bottom line: Now is a great time to leverage the trust patients and consumers have in providers. It’s an opportunity to connect with patients beyond a single visit or course of treatment. They’re looking for safety, security and transparency. Be the organization that provides it. You have everything to gain.

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Part 2 – The New Healthcare Marketing: Precision-Based Execution

Close-up view of 3 darts wedged into the bullseye of a dart board

In an earlier post, nationally recognized healthcare marketer Reed Smith teased the need for healthcare marketers to drive engagement through precise targeting. Smith is a 20-year veteran of healthcare marketing and digital innovation who serves as Jarrard Inc.’s vice president of digital strategy. We asked him to get deeper into what precision-based execution means and some specific tactics for giving it a go.

Jarrard Inc.: Explain what you mean by precision-based execution

Reed Smith: It’s about avoiding broad digital marketing campaigns. Of course, sometimes you do need to go broad with, say a general brand awareness campaign. But for the most part, when you’re thinking about service line marketing, service line growth or patient acquisition, you need to be going after very specific people. And some of the typical approaches – like running radio ads – may not make sense.

JI: Has the need for or anything about this rifle approach changed over the past few months?

RS: The last eight months have created some interesting nuances. Think about the flu shot. We’re focusing on everyone getting a flu shot going into the winter, so that’s tens, hundreds of millions of people who need it. But providers can still be very specific about the messaging they’re using. It’s not, “Hey, everyone needs to get the flu shot.” It’s differentiating between and speaking directly to moms with kids at homes or empty-nesters or teens.

All of that is going to weigh into where you get the shot, the message that you hear convincing you to get it, the medium used to deliver that message – is it a video or a photo an ad on the local public radio station?

JI: We also know the messenger is critical. How do you combine the right precision-based message with the right messenger?

RS: With digital tools, we have a true opportunity to bring that message to the right people via the right messenger in fairly straightforward ways.

People want to hear from physicians, nurses, therapists, APPs and other caregivers. Once provider organizations have identified those people, digital channels lend themselves to expertise and thought leadership. Think about all the live content we see on Instagram or Facebook or YouTube. People are already accustomed to these types of environments because they’re already doing webinars and taking to other leaders through Zoom.

JI: But are people going to see that content?

RS: Historically, we’ve seen mediocre organic performance on social channels. Healthcare marketing has had to push pay-for-performance if we wanted anyone to see our content. But a side effect of COVID-19 is that we’ve gotten a lot more traffic to our sites because people are looking for medical information they can trust, and providers have been sharing it. We’re seeing a wave of organic traffic. Now we need to leverage that opportunity.

JI: Whether a provider feels behind or keeping pace with digital, how do they grab the opportunity you just mentioned? For example, do they just start doing Facebook live or take a more measured approach?

RS: Historically I’ve been a heavy proponent of “proceed until apprehended.” But it’s important to put some nuance on that. When it comes to digital marketing there’s value in trying things out, beta testing new approaches to figure out how useful they’ll be. You mentioned Facebook live. It’s hard to understand the ins and outs and how useful it’ll be without just using it.

But ultimately, you need to think through a strategy and a plan before you get too far down the road. Healthcare marketers need to answer the question about what a new tactic means for the organization – both strategically and tactically. The other issue to keep in mind is the politics. “If I do something with one physician, does that affect another physician?” Overall, though, if you have an understand of what’s going on across the organization and have built enough credibility to get permission to test and tinker, it’s great to get into the lab and figure out what works.

JI: What else have providers learned over the past few months?

RS: What I’ve found interesting is the expectations around virtual care and other alternative delivery methods. We’ve talked a lot about telehealth and how people have experienced it and loved it. But think, too, about drive-through testing for COVID-19. That’s all in place so drive-through flu shots wouldn’t be a stretch, right? So, organizations have an opportunity because the baseline has been reset.

If you want figure out how your organization stacks up when it comes to digital maturity, check out our 28-question, 15-minute Digital Maturity Survey. You’ll get a complimentary scorecard and benchmark against industry averages.

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The New Healthcare Marketing: Measure Twice. Improve Once.

Measuring tape displaying 7 inches on a granite countertop

We’ve long said that measurement is one of the consistent deficiencies we observe when it comes to healthcare marketing. We’re typically referring to marketing analytics – reach, engagement, reputation, etc. when we say that. But what really needs to happen is that we measure, well, everything.

Providers today must have a baseline understanding of where they are today so they can either consolidate recent gains or make adjustments based on existing deficiencies (or both). A recent McKinsey study suggests that adoption of digital tools by consumers and businesses has vaulted forward five years in just a few months. It’s happened in healthcare, largely with telehealth. But we have to go deeper. It’s not just spooling up new platforms. It’s ingraining digital thinking into the organization’s psyche, getting buy-in from leadership, making targeted investments in tools and people, and yes, measuring the crap out of everything.

It’s also about setting expectations for what digital thinking can do for healthcare providers. This is where providers are lagging. In our conversations with clients and friends from a variety of healthcare provider organizations, we’re repeatedly hearing that people simply don’t have a great understanding of what the expectations for digital are or should be.

To set those expectations, you have to be able to show what digital can do for your organization. But it’s hard to show what digital can do without having the infrastructure in place to do it.

The fix? Instead of going for the homer, swing for singles and doubles with things like:

  • Listing management
  • Scheduling tools
  • Patient portals
  • Chatbots for frequently asked questions

These are all easy to identify. Not always simple to execute, but manageable. For example, since you want people to find the right information when they search for you online, start with that foundational piece. And if you want people to schedule care at their (and your) convenience, look at online tools.

Let’s be clear: This isn’t optional anymore. Since March, the pandemic has forced providers to get those foundational pieces in place. So much care moved online during the pandemic, and we’re still waiting to see what the new equilibrium looks like. As patient expectations have shifted even more towards digital options, providers desperately need to invest in getting the basics right – even though doing so will take some work.

Aside from being the right thing for patients, it’s important for marketers to think big but act small. You need to know what marketing can do for your organization and what digital tools can do for your marketing. That’s the big thinking. But none of that can happen without the day-to-day execution. Ultimately, it’s about people. It’s too easy to get lost in some of the bigger ideas, which just leads to frustrated consumers, distracted marketing teams and dead ends for everyone. Realistically, we have to focus on connecting with narrow groups of people, driving engagement and helping them find solutions to specific needs.

That’s where precision-based execution comes in. More on that soon.

In the meantime, if you want figure out how your organization stacks up when it comes to digital maturity, check out our new 28-question, 15-minute Digital Maturity Survey. You’ll get a complimentary scorecard and benchmark against industry averages.

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