Healthcare Digital Marketing Basics

In Digital Marketing, ThinkPod by ThinkPod


Healthcare digital marketing is a complicated field. The healthcare industry is process-driven, heavily regulated and slow to change. However, health care marketers are now adjusting their tactics in order to avoid missing opportunities. Switching gears also helps healthcare marketers maximize their digital media-based inbound marketing efforts. Health care marketers who still use print magazines and newsletters for content marketing are less likely to blog, use social media or create mobile-friendly websites. This means that they are less likely to directly engage health care consumers.  

Digital vs. Traditional Marketing

Forbes magazine states that modern marketing efforts must be more agile, engaging and participatory. Health care systems that want to remain competitive must adopt digital marketing solutions in order to remain profitable. Digital channels are taking over traditional marketing channels, especially in the healthcare system. For example, research by Google shows that:

  • Over 80 percent of patients use online and offline resources to research local hospitals.
  • Over 40 percent of patients who use their mobile device to research hospitals will schedule an appointment.
  • During the time of conversion, potential patients may search conditions and symptoms.
  • Online searches drive three times more traffic to hospital websites.

Consumers are Empowered Researchers

Modern health care consumers are empowered through Internet-based research. Why should they blindly accept what a random doctor says when they can instantly access valid and comprehensive information from WebMD and the Mayo Clinic? More and more health care consumers are doing their medical homework before visiting a doctor. They are often familiar with their conditions and the recommended treatment options. Physician visits are becoming a collaboration between health care consumers and providers. Research shows that:

  • 33 percent of Internet users go online to analyze a medical condition.
  • 38 percent of all Internet users search for medical facility information online.
  • 47 percent of Internet users will research health care professionals’ backgrounds.
  • 72 percent of Internet users will look for health information online.

Changing Marketing Targets

Health care marketers (much like consumers) are also being affected by health care system and regulatory changes. MM&M states that health care marketing and advertising budgets are increasing because of repatriation, drug pricing, regulatory pressure, public perceptions and R&D challenges. Although doctors are still the primary target of biotech, pharmaceutical and medical devices companies, health care consumers are now an important target group.

As mentioned above, doctor control and decision-making is shifting to health care payers. One marketing report claims that over two-thirds of health care systems predict that their marketing units will spend more time and money on influencing patient behavior. Both parties need to be equally informed in order to understand and agree upon appropriate products and services.

Doctor-buying Binges

Many years ago, there were waves of hospital mergers and the formation of hospital groups. Recently, there have been vertical consolidations of health care players because of how the ACA rewards health plans with narrow networks. The ACA’s Medicare Shared Savings Program has established Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) that strive to reduce costs through fewer services like doctor referrals.

Forbes magazine facetiously states that hospitals are going on “doctor-buying binges.” Although these worker monopolies lead to higher costs, they are creating integrated systems that offer better coordinated care to patients. When doctors become health care system employees, they lose their ability to be the ultimate decision makers regarding medical services and products. Instead, they are important advocates and members of collective purchasing groups.

Designing Digital Marketing Content

Both digital and traditional marketing campaigns use similar tools to plan, research, create and execute projects. The most common digital marketing tactics for health care organizations include e-newsletters, website articles, case studies, white papers, social media, digital videos, research reports, digital magazines, mobile content, and guest blog posts. Digital ads, social media and mobile/tablet apps are replacing print materials, so health care organizations must shift to digital channels and solutions.

The first step is to create clear goals and strategies for social media, consumer engagement, website interactions and financial objectives. For example, the marketing team must develop a thorough understanding of the audience demographics. Each market segment will respond to different types of content, platforms and design elements. Each piece of content, media, and CTA should speak directly to specific people.


Developing Personas

Some of the most common groups the marketing team will be communicating with are physicians, executives and purchasing leaders. While all three groups are technically on the same team, they have different priorities and responsibilities. This means they will seek different types and quality of information. For instance, doctors are more interested in scientific data and evidence-based practices, while hospital executives look for data regarding patient satisfaction and cost-effectiveness.

Ideally, market research will reveal key demographic information, such as age, gender and career level, as well as which persona responds best to print, video, graphs, raw data, viral shares and combinations. It’s important to know what type of information is most interesting and beneficial to which persona as well as which type is looking for quick assessments and in-depth research. Medical marketing content may require writers with strong scientific and technical backgrounds.

The healthcare industry’s ongoing internal transformation and external regulatory changes create both challenges and opportunities for digital marketing professionals.  Healthcare delivery models must focus on transparency, patient satisfaction and quality outcomes. Empowered healthcare consumers require updated medical marketing strategies. 


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