The year is 2020 - I’m a new patient, looking for a provider, undergoing information overload: what services are offered, what is the cost of those services, what is the provider’s reputation? In a sea of differentiators, what incites the choosing of a provider, and what can you do to make your practice stand out so that the provider is you?
The answer can be different for primary care providers and specialty providers. Regardless, your practice’s marketing efforts should not only hook the patient, but also facilitate a seamless patient journey. By taking the time now to plan your healthcare marketing strategy for 2020, you can help your hospital or practice stay ahead of the competition. We asked some of the industry’s best healthcare marketers to tell us about their obstacles and objectives for 2020. Here is what we learned.
First, a quick recap...
Stating the obvious here: the healthcare industry is changing. It is always changing; but, in recent years there has been a dramatic shift from volume-based care to value-based care. This zeitgeist of healthcare consumerism has quickened patients to become more involved with their own health, prioritizing quality patient experience, care, and ongoing health outcomes. Accordingly, healthcare marketing has evolved to become more reflective of other consumer-centric industries.
“Health care has historically had a reputation for being the last one to the table when it comes to the latest and greatest in marketing,’” says Kristy Parker, Director of Communications & Business Development at Tennessee Orthopaedic Clinics. “So just keeping an eye on what’s going on with other industries, and trying to think of ways we can take ideas that have worked for them and roll those into what we’re doing, is advantageous.”
Providers look to improve patient access, attract desirable patients, engage them through omnichannel, strategic outreach, and nurture them throughout the entire patient journey in order to form lasting relationships. So how do they attract and retain desirable patients; and more importantly, how do they turn that one-time visit into a patient for life? This blog is broken up into two sections: existing and evolving digital trends, and often overlooked traditional marketing tactics. It takes you through key stages in the patient journey. By employing some, if not all, of these suggestions, you can be at the forefront of an age of digital health transformation.
Make sure your content is up to par.
The consumer journey begins at a patient pain-point. For slight illness or injury, the patient will likely continue with their current provider. However, there are also many irregular circumstances that could lead to a patient searching for a new provider. That could be negative sentiment towards their former provider, a geographical move and the need to find a new provider, new insurance that is not covered by their former provider, referral from their primary care for a specialist appointment - the list goes on. However, the next step in the journey is not selecting a provider. Most patients will research services offered, procedures, and content in general before making a decision. Even then, they may shop around. However, if your content stands out they might not.
So what is good content? Well, it depends. In brainstorming what good content could be for your practice, I'd offer that you should think about what patients you are targeting and what the target market wants. A good experience for an obstetric patient may be entirely different than that of an orthopaedic patient. We suggest starting with content basics, then branching out to experiment with opportunities specific to your practice.
Blogging - Blogging is a great way to provide potential patients with educational material on the services and procedures your practice offers, business development updates, and industry trends. If your practice has extensive specialty experience in healthcare, show it. If you decide blogging is a good source of content generation for your practice, a word of caution - don’t leave it up to your marketing intern. Be prepared to provide input to ensure it reads in the voice of an expert.
Keywords & Elevating Old Content - Make sure your content includes key terms that are relevant to what potential patients could be searching for. This not only facilitates a positive user experience, but it also helps you to show up in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). Updating old content to include keywords is a great idea too! It ensures your messaging is consistent, and search engines recognize your content as new, pushing you up in the rankings.
Customize, Customize, Customize - It’s always great to have a section on the website that highlights the services and procedures your practice offers. Patients are always interested in things like what is the procedure, why is it needed, what does recovery look like, are there side effects, etc. Work with the providers on your team to put together information specific to your practice.
Visual Content - Healthcare materials are notorious for cringe-worthy stock photography. Make the experience personal, and invest in great photography. Pictures of the providers, office staff, and location personalize the experience for the consumer on both the website and social platforms. OrthoCincy Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine has done this is in their marketing strategy. Eric Reed, their Director of Marketing, calls it humanizing their physicians. “People sometimes see doctors in this elevated light, and for us and our strategy, we wanted people to see we all share the same community, our kids play on the same soccer field, we shop at the same grocery stores, etc.”
Video - Visual content includes videos! Create videos that feature your physicians providing their expertise. A great example is Dr. Sandra Lee’s Dr. Pimple Popper videos - you could end up with thousands, if not millions, of hits on YouTube. This is great publicity, and the content is also great for social.
Audio - Another form of immersive content is audio content. “We’re beginning to move into the podcast space on iTunes, SoundCloud, YouTube, etc.” says Eric Reed. However, when we create content, how do we get people to consume it? We’ve moved away from most digital display and click advertising, and we’ve invested in sponsored posts on Facebook and Instagram for that content.” This applies to all immersive content: visual, video, and audio.
FAQ - Fill in the gaps of information you struggle to provide patients with. Survey your patient population on questions they may have. Provide a section with those most frequently asked questions and corresponding answers on the website.
In providing these pre-appointment experiences for your patients, you’re also improving your SEO. Search engines recognize a seamless user experience. How? We wrote an article this past February on Ensuring Your Practice is a Top Google Hit. Although it primarily focuses on identifying technical opportunities where practices can improve their presence in search engine results, it also addresses that a large part of that is content!
But is content alone, enough? Tim Reichert, Director of Marketing & PR at Eagles Landing Family Practice, believes there’s more to successful marketing strategy. “We tried a lot of things like help tips or blog posts where we were trying to create content for the website. Which is good, but if you can’t drive people to your website, it’s pointless. So, we kind of flipped it and said let’s get people in the door using clever marketing campaigns, turn them into active patients, and then keep them engaged.” So what else is needed to get patients in the door? Reputation and digital initiatives to come.
What are they saying about you?
After a potential patient learns what providers specialize in which services/procedures; traditionally, their next step of the consumer journey is taking a deep dive into the background of those providers. This includes education, credentialing, reviews and reputation. However, a concern of many practices and providers is that sometimes negative sentiment may not reflect the service delivered. Things like a bad parking experience, long wait times, and front office staff can have a large impact on the outcome of a patient’s experience. Learn how to manage your practices reputation, leverage reviews, address negative patient experiences, and take advantage of one of the best, free ways to grow your practice.
Optimize Your Local Listings - Where is the first place a patient goes to see where a practice is located? Probably Google. And odds are, if there are reviews there, the patient is looking at them too. Increase your chances of converting new patients before they even visit your site by optimizing your Google My Business listing. Leverage positive reviews by allowing patients to book appointments directly from Google.
Claim Provider Listings - Do you have provider listings in addition to your practice's location listings? This may not be best practice. So if you do, it may be best to claim them. “Only having location listings allows us to have more control,” says Miranda Madar, the Chief Marketing Off at Resurgens Orthopaedics. “Also, the reviews that are left do not cannibalize.” To clarify, when all of your reviews are left in one place, you increase the likelihood of prospective patients seeing it.
Invest in Provider Data Management - Manage the provider information that is visible to patients across various platforms. Inconsistencies can create patient-provider distrust and result in unwanted aversion. Platforms like DASH can ingest data from multiple sources, identifying inconsistencies and aiding in reputation management.
Manage 3rd Party Listings - Driven by healthcare consumerism, patients are becoming more invested in the quality of care they receive. Third-party, healthcare-specific listings are a source of insight to patients looking at outcomes of individuals who are equally as invested in their health. Therefore, it is extremely important to manage listings on platforms such as CareDash, HealthGrades, and RateMDs. Some practices choose to manage each of these sites individually; however, resources like Binary Fountain’s online reputation management solution can be a champion for practices, allowing them to manage it all from one place.
Respond to Online Comments & Reviews - Encourage positive reviews, and get to the bottom of negative ones by responding to online comments and reviews. In an article we wrote in 2017, we again spoke with Miranda Madar, gaining her perspective on Health Care Through a Marketer’s Lens. Her thoughts? “Look at positive and negative comments and try to address all of them, as near to real-time as possible. If there is a negative comment, research the issue and understand it. Figure out exactly what’s happening and how to repair that issue or relationship. But also make sure that other patients recognize that responsiveness.”
Survey Your Patients - Provide valuable feedback and insight into what your practice is doing well and what could improve by administering easily-accessible post-visit surveys. Automate this process by using platforms like DASHconnect that can also help in removing administrative burden.
For a new patient that may still not be ready to book an appointment, providing an omnichannel experience and addressing multiple patient touchpoints may create that ‘aha moment’. Patients seek easy communication, price transparency, and fun and engaging educational opportunities; so how do we deliver? Look to take a very integrated approach to marketing. “Your practice should always be in the conversation at different entry points,” emphasizes Eric Reed. Using as many channels as your practice can manage to reach your target audience, can be extremely impactful. Especially when it takes six or seven times for someone to see your message before they act on it. “We’re just displaying the same message to them in different formats,” says Tim Reichert. “That really works for us, because we become front of mind.”
Social Media - “We want to push messages in content and social syndication to tell a story,” says Eric Reed. “Social media is a great platform to engage, because it is at our fingertips.”
Mobile First - Designing an online experience for mobile before designing it for the desktop or any other device is critical in today’s world. According to an AdWeek study, over 46% of consumers prefer smartphones for the entire purchase process.
Chatbots - HIPAA compliant chatbots are a great way to help patients feel as though they are directly communicating with their practice or provider.
Tools - Tools are the most practical form of content out there. Perceived value is greater than traditional content, because they deliver direct, desired results. Your practice could create custom tools that deliver on patient demands. A great example is an Automated Price Estimator Tool in addressing price transparency. Having the option to add procedures and services to a list, submit it along with contact info, just to receive a quote is near genius, and it could draw a lot of traffic to your site.
Telemedicine - “Telemedicine is going to be big for certain specialty groups,” says Miranda Madar. “We’re going to see a larger shift into new technologies as patients demand more flexible options for choosing care .” If you haven’t already, start looking into telehealth solutions like OneTouch Telehealth to provide additional, desired access channels for your patients, allowing them to connect with your providers in seconds. This could help to keep them in your system and out of urgent care.
Again, “prospective patients want to have answers at their fingertips, and further, they want to have services at their fingertips. We have to be willing to meet those needs,” says Kristy Parker. However, simply displaying your brand message all over the place doesn’t mean you have an omnichannel approach. Omnichannel is integrated. All moving parts need to work in symbiosis. When your practice begins to execute, the next big step in the patient journey is conversions aka scheduling.
On the outside looking in, scheduling a doctor's visit seems simple. A patient finds their provider’s/a new provider’s phone number, calls into the office, and schedules their appointment. However, oftentimes that patient could be seen sooner if preferred. Moving from codified binders to technologies with provider rules built-in seems like a no-brainer for many reasons: it reduces delays in care and lowers costs. Moreover, an Accenture study found that “77 percent of patients think that the ability to book, change, or cancel appointments online is important.” It can be both a patient access and patient experience initiative; therefore, implementing scheduling solutions is something your practice shouldn’t be without.
First & Foremost - If you do have self-scheduling, great! If you don’t, you’re behind the curve and should immediately start making the push for it.
Advertising IT - Self-scheduling is a huge opportunity to increase conversions. Advertise it! Have it plastered all over your online display ads, social promotions, website, Google My Business, and even reach out to media outlets to advertise it. Make it easy for patients to book no matter what platform they are on.
Be Creative - Do what makes sense for your practice, and be creative in your approach. “We decided to try direct digital marketing and geo-fencing, just to get to where we thought our patients would be when they would need us the most - places like trampoline parks and sports fields. We executed a digital campaign for our quick care ortho service and drove patients directly to the online scheduling platform. It’s been hugely successful with most quick care patients choosing to set a priority appointment for themselves or their injured loved one through the online scheduling system” said Kristy Parker at Tennessee Orthopaedic Clinics. An orthopaedic clinic geo-fencing a trampoline park is an incredible example of creative strategy.
Scheduling and patient access efforts should be a major focus of your 2020 marketing strategy. If your practice is, yet again, leading the pack you can either take a step back from the tech or dive into the data to turn first-time patients into patients for life.
Make Marketing Count
Marketing is top of the funnel. “We can only create that awareness, but once they make that purchase, once they schedule an appointment, the journey continues inside,” says Miranda Madar. Customer service and operations should be points of light discussion in your 2020 planning. Marketing is considered successful when marketing dollars yield a return, and even more successful when they yield recurring return. Make marketing count by ensuring patients are offered an exceptional experience. Word of mouth is huge, and the sentiment is often associated with the personal interactions one has on the phone or within the office. Check out our tips on hiring office staff that close the loop on ensuring a positive patient journey at your practice.
After office marketing efforts have a huge impact on retention. Again, can your marketing dollars yield a recurring return? Maybe your practice hasn’t done enough to ensure this, so adding a little bit more to your marketing mix could aid.
Follow-Up - Follow-up patient visits with a text, email, or even a card. Remind them to schedule follow-up care and encourage them to leave positive reviews. If the patient had a complaint, send a follow-up survey to learn more about what exactly went wrong. All of this and more can be done through patient relationship management platforms like DASHconnect.
Affiliate Marketing - Start your very own patient referral program. Incentivize patients to refer friends and family, and reward them for their loyalty.
Data is King - Use patient data to your advantage. Use it to drive not only your aftercare marketing efforts but also your overall marketing strategy. “When you have so much data about current patients, it is so much easier to market to them effectively and efficiently,” says Tim Reichert. “Data is king in marketing. So, if you have good data on someone, there’s no reason why you can’t use that data to help re-engage them. We’ve been doing it for a while now and are always enhancing our methods to tailor what the patients want to see.”
Although, yes, data is king; and, there is obvious consumer favoritism towards digital applications, but let’s not forget about the effectiveness of traditional tactics. Especially in an industry such as healthcare where personalization can mean everything.
ACCEPTING NEW PATIENTS - It should be written all over everything!
Local Physician Referrals - For specialty practices, many patients come through referrals of their primary care doctor. “One avenue that we focus on and take very seriously is our relationship and our outreach with the primary care offices and internists in the area. Knowing that our relationship with them influences where they refer patients with orthopaedic needs, I would say they are still one of the biggest referral sources for us, “ says Kristy Parker. Experience in healthcare can have a huge impact, so work with your providers to leverage that. Primary care practices want the patients they are referring to have exceptional care. Experience can translate into quality, so make it a selling point.
Media Outreach - Attempt to be featured as expertise in local news reports. This is a great, free, way to get your practice name out there. HARO & ProfNet are great resources for finding media contacts that are looking for a specific voice - see if your practice, or any of your providers, can be that voice.
Community Outreach - Another avenue of communication providers should have with their communities is outreach. “We put athletic trainers out on the local football fields for practices and games. All of our sports medicine doctors are committed to joining our ATC’s as well. They each have specific schools they cover. They know the coaches and the players well and they are ready to assist in keeping those young athletes safe. Their time in the clinic is only part of their day; much of it is spent on the field and in the locker rooms” says Kristy Parker. Providers should be involved in local events, showing their patients that they are part of the community. Eric Reed says, “community outreach is a consistent drumbeat.” It’s extremely important to work with patients in a way that resonates with them.
Deciding to go beyond digital comes down to knowing your audience. Traditional advertising isn’t dead! And, for certain types of specialties, it’s extremely important. Eric Reed says that for orthopaedic practices, “knowing that we are still marketing to older generations, sometimes that is what resonates with them.” It all comes down to knowing your audience.
Your healthcare strategy for 2020 should encompass initiatives for patient access and patient experience. With so many trends and tactics clouding the space, it can be difficult to sort through what will be successful for your practice. Put on your patient lens, put on your marketer lens, and consider these areas of digital health transformation and traditional marketing strategy.
Make sure your content is up to par.
Leverage patient feedback.
Invest in digital and omnichannel initiatives.
Invest in self-scheduling technologies.
Follow-up with your patients.
Consider going beyond digital.