E-mail and search engine marketing. Social media and Web site optimization. Even big data and developing patient personas. More than just independent marketing functions, these activities and more, collectively, are part of the patient-centric—as opposed to brand-centric—marketing approach that’s not only favored, but expected by today’s healthcare consumers.
For perspective, think of it this way: The top-rated hospital and physician websites no longer feature sections entitled “Our Team,” “Our Specialties,” or “Our Services.” Instead, these once-prominent site sections have evolved into “Meet Your Physician,” “Learn about Your Diagnosis,” or “Explore Personalized Medical Solutions.” And the reason for this? Well, it’s all about informing and empowering the patient, and placing them and their needs at the forefront of every marketing interaction.
That’s patient-centric marketing, and it should now determine how your organization’s marketing strategy is being planned and executed. But for those at various stages of this complex and often challenging transition, here’s where and how to start, and four patient-centric marketing functions to make your top priorities right from the beginning.
First, Here’s Why Brand-Centric Marketing Is Being Phased Out
The old, brand-centric approach was one that was largely necessitated by mass marketing, where a singular message—maybe one big idea—was delivered to consumers to quickly “tell a story” about why one particular brand was superior to the rest.
But today’s marketers are moving quickly away from the brand-centric approach, encouraged in large part by the Internet and technology, which have enabled marketers from every industry, including healthcare, to initiate and strengthen relationships with consumers based not on the brand’s “story,” but on its willingness to pay unique attention to each individual consumer’s specific needs.
|“[Brands] have to move themselves away from the center of the message and use digital marketing technologies to put the customer at the center of the story.” |
– Natalie Staines, Director of Marketing
And, amid changing times, patients don’t just prefer consumer-centric marketing, but empowered by the ultra-smart, digitally driven, and consumer-first experiences cultivated by industry leaders in other facets of their lives—think the Apples, Amazons, and Wayfairs of the world—they expect it from physicians and healthcare practitioners as well.
4 Patient-Centric Features to Master First
The transition towards more patient-centric marketing is a sea change that affects all aspects of your strategy, from your web site and content, to the in-person interactions that occur in your office during (and even after) appointments.
So, much like transitioning from traditional marketing to digital, this is yet another important and sometimes complex shift that some healthcare marketers have yet to fully embrace. And that’s why we might recommend removing some of the complexity by instead focusing your patient-centric efforts in these four targeted areas first and foremost:
Web site: A robust and patient-facing web site (see this cool infographic) will form the foundation for any effective digital marketing strategy, which makes this a fine starting point for (re-)focusing your attention and marketing efforts on current and prospective patients. Among the foremost considerations for ensuring your web site is patient-centric are:
- Searchable Medical & Treatment Information: More than a digital marketing tool, the modern-day healthcare web site is a destination for becoming educated on key medical issues, learning more about diagnoses and treatment options, and finding the information patients need to make more informed decisions. And make no mistake, patients everywhere crave this information. One recent study, in fact, reported that in the last 12 months alone, 72% of all adult Internet users have searched online for health-related information.
- Convenient Tools & Patient Resources: Online appointment scheduling, prescription refills, bill pay, and the ability to securely access, download, and/or submit patient forms and documentation are all considered integral functions of a patient-centric healthcare web site. Each can improve operational efficiency, shorten wait times, and make for a better overall “patient experience,” which we’ll examine later.Consistent with its use as an effective inbound marketing tool, however, a patient-centric web site should also have lead-generation functionality to promote engagement with site visitors and prospective patients.
- SEO & Mobile Optimization: Even the best-designed and most informative web sites are ineffective if they can’t be found or used by patients. So while devoting resources to your web site, don’t overlook important SEO considerations, as well as ensuring that it’s optimized for use on mobile devices and tablets as well, since more than half of all patients may be viewing on those devices instead of PCs and laptop computers.
Data & Analytics: One of the biggest advantages afforded by digital marketing technologies is the ability to measure specific user interests and behaviors, as well as track patient engagement and acquisition. But these insights and countless others are often trapped inside a complex universe of “Big Data,” which many healthcare marketers especially have yet to fully explore.
Download White Paper: Healthcare Marketing Analytics: Which Ones Matter?
However, today’s data and analytics solutions can allow digital marketers to better “listen” to their patients online, discovering, for example, what type of content (articles/blogs, video, etc.) most appeals to them, and which medical topics are of particular interest.
Then, armed with this knowledge, it becomes possible to focus specific marketing activities, like a new white paper on heart disease for interested patients, or an invitation to a community health forum on back pain for others.
In short, this ability to gain insight into (or diagnose) each patient’s unique needs and provide a timely and personalized solution (treatment) is the key to successfully marketing your services to new and existing patients.
Patient-Centric Messaging: Data and analytics, patient personas, and digital and in-person interactions all help healthcare marketers answer one critical question: “Who are my patients/customers?” From there, the key is to use that knowledge to provide concise, benefit-driven content that speaks directly to your patients and their needs.
And while patient-centric messaging certainly starts by shifting the tone and focus of what you say toward your patients, you mustn’t overlook the importance of how you say it. Message content, structure, and delivery are all critical considerations that help optimize the patient-centric nature of your messaging.
Patient-centric messages must:
- Be targeted: Rather than blasting out generalized e-mails to your entire contact list, use segmentation to create groups and send focused messages to only like-minded patients. For example, healthy lifestyle articles for your Baby Boomer clientele, dedicated women’s health content, or a video on opioid therapies for those being treated for chronic pain or cancers.
- Seem easy to read/understand: Provide simple explanations and avoid complex medical terms, as patients and those conducting online research may have a limited understanding and are relying on your content for their education. Create short paragraphs to make the text seem less daunting and easier to read, then utilize bullet points and numbered lists to isolate key points. Finally, provide clear takeaways to ensure the various benefits of your message are called to the forefront.
- Help further engagement: Perhaps most notably, make sure every marketing message helps create and strengthen your relationship with current and prospective patients. Provide a compelling and conspicuous call to action within e-mails and on the pages of your web site, like buttons or graphics they can click for more info or to download additional resources, or a prompt to call or click to schedule an office visit. This is ultimately how your marketing messages will serve an important dual purpose: Providing educational benefits to patients while also driving the continued growth and success of your brand.
Creating a “Patient-First” Office Experience: It’s known as the “Delivery Gap,” and it’s a metric that shows better than most the challenges being faced by companies large and small as they strive to become more consumer-centric. In fact, one well-known report on the delivery gap stated that a full 80% of companies surveyed believed they delivered a “superior experience” to customers; only 8% of those customers agreed.
In healthcare specifically, patients will look towards such things as interactions with physicians and staff members, wait times, ease of access to data and other pertinent medical information, and follow-up as important determinants of the overall patient experience. And fortunately for smaller healthcare organizations and particularly physicians in private practice, several advantages exist that should help them more nimbly and effectively create an exemplary patient experience and close this infamous delivery gap.
Those advantages are:
- You’re in charge of patient experience: Bigger organizations struggle to even identify who’s in charge of customer experience, a shortfall that has caused some to appoint a formal VP or Director of Customer Experience. For physicians, though, it’s much simpler: You’re in charge of creating a superior patient experience, and must create a culture of customer service throughout your practice in order to do so.
- It’s easier to get company-wide buy-in: Physicians. Nurses. Front-office staff. Aligning those groups in the name of patient experience is considerably easier than the plight of larger corporations, which have many more various departments and stakeholders to unify and keep engaged on the path to customer-centricity. We wrote here how physicians can leverage the power of internal marketing to create a service culture and improve patient experience.
- You can always enlist outside help: For physicians in private practice, who often lack internal marketing departments and resources, the decision to rely on an agency or outside consultants to facilitate these changes is an easier one, and actually, is the same one that’s now benefiting larger companies as well. This from a 2015 Forrester Research report which cited, “Most companies that have transformed their cultures [to be customer-obsessed] had help from outside experts.”