By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
Healthcare consumerism has drastically changed the way healthcare professionals need to market and deliver their services. Today’s consumers expect a healthcare experience as innovative and digitally advanced as any other industry.
Hospitals, health systems, and medical practices must evolve to meet these changing needs to remain competitive or risk falling behind.
As more healthcare professionals provide accessible online services and shorten the red tape between physician-patient communications, consumers no longer feel the need to visit the closest option. Instead, they’re empowered to choose a healthcare business offering a consumer experience that meets or exceeds their expectations.
Even if you’re happy with your current patient volumes, healthcare marketing can’t happen without a planned medical marketing strategy to keep your healthcare brand at the forefront of people’s minds. Think of all the reasons someone might decide to switch healthcare providers:
- Providers are no longer accepting their healthcare insurance.
- Higher costs for the same service.
- Limited or no access to same-day appointments.
- Limited or no access to direct communication with their physician.
- Limited or no access to virtual care appointments (e.g., telehealth).
- Limited or no access to secure online appointment scheduling, bill pay, or medical records.
- Dissatisfaction with wait times.
- A negative consumer experience.
- No access to remote patient monitoring capabilities
That’s why it’s so important to have a planned, budgeted healthcare marketing plan to reach new and returning consumers in your area at the right moment.
Planning Your Healthcare Marketing Strategies
Doctors tell patients that an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure. The same holds true for marketing. It’s better to have a marketing strategy in place now than wait until your consumer marketing CRM database is nearly empty.
What is healthcare marketing?
Healthcare marketing is a process of strategic outreach and communications built to bring in new healthcare consumers, shepherd them through their healthcare journey, and keep them engaged with the healthcare system, service, or product.
Today, virtually every type of healthcare business markets, including health systems, hospitals, multilocation providers, solo practices, pharmaceuticals, medical device manufacturers, health plans, consumer brands, and more.
The best healthcare marketing plans integrate multi-channel, highly-targeted, and specific online and offline efforts to drive growth and engagement. All of which are focused on market-specific key performance indicators and return on investment.
When done properly, healthcare marketing can:
- Enhance the patient experience
- Keep healthcare consumers engaged with relevant, personalized, and timely outreach during their journey
- Empower consumers to make smarter, healthier decisions, leading to better outcomes for healthcare brands and consumers
- Increase your consumer base, retain existing consumers long-term, and improve loyalty in your healthcare community
- Drive more qualified leads and generate more revenue
- Increase local physician referrals
- Position your physicians as thought leaders in their market
- Evaluate your productivity and re-align the strategy
- Increase your strategic advantage to attract healthcare consumers in an increasingly competitive marketplace
- Improve your online reputation
- Build your brand
Rapid changes in the healthcare industry markets require agility and focus. You may need to hire a marketing agency and plan for a larger budget than you have in the past. But in the end, it’s worth it for that peace of mind—and to see your bottom line grow faster than ever before.
To help you along, we offer here our always up-to-date 15 strategies to include with any well-planned healthcare marketing plan.
1. Use consistent healthcare branding
You might feel confident your expertise sets you apart from other healthcare providers or businesses. But let’s face it—to a healthcare consumer, one white coat looks just like the next, and consumers are famously unwilling to buy a product or service from someone they don’t know and trust.
When you build a strong and recognizable brand and promote awareness of it, you go a long way towards reducing your overall cost-per-acquisition and growing your ROI.
First, you’ll need to determine what your brand is all about. In other words, what’s unique about your healthcare business? Is it the way you treat healthcare consumers? Your family-friendly office? Your spa-like environment?
There is at least one thing that makes your medical team unique, and that’s what helps consumers remember your healthcare organization’s name. Promoting awards or accolades for this sort of achievement is a terrific way to build trust in your brand, especially because you’re asking consumers to trust you with their health.
It may take time to determine what works best for your brand. But eventually, a sound healthcare marketing strategy with consistent branding and marketing materials will come together and represent your brand in the best possible light.
2. Evaluate the online patient experience
Twenty years ago, simply having a website was enough to impress prospective healthcare consumers and help them find your healthcare brand identity.
Today, consumer engagement has become increasingly complex as the healthcare industry shifts more readily into virtual care experiences, like telehealth and remote monitoring.
A website is your organization’s front door. It’s often the first thing consumers see; if it’s not optimized, it may also be the last time a person considers your hospital or healthcare practices.
Aside from ensuring your site has accurate and easily accessible contact information (e.g., locations, phone numbers, contact form, and primary services), the imagery and wording represent your consumer base.
On top of that, to encourage better engagement, healthcare businesses must include value-add experiences, like easy access to information, timely appointments, and high-quality communication with healthcare providers. It must be baked into every experience they have with your brand, intentional or not. User experience is an essential part of website design. But sometimes, designers are so focused on making the website look good that they forget to focus on the patient experience. We often find that websites need to be completely reimagined. But, we also look for ways to make small but immediate improvements to drive more business, like positioning the “Contact Us” form above the fold.
Creating a positive patient experience also means analyzing how most consumers typically engage with you (e.g., website, social media, paid ads, third-party listing service, etc.).
Consumers want to interact with you on their own terms. Your medical marketing strategy must account for every consumer touchpoint.
Examine the path consumers take after first engaging with your business and whether they call or submit a form (or not). Mapping your consumers’ journey can give you a better understanding of their needs and what can trigger a conversion.
3. Build a responsive healthcare website
A responsive website automatically adjusts to the size of a screen, so the experience is the same whether the site is accessed from a computer, tablet, phone, or another mobile device.
It’s the norm in website design today—but more than that, it’s something search engines look for when crawling any medical website to determine how and where you’ll rank.
Google cares about the user experience. As of September 2020, Google committed to a mobile-first index of all websites, including Healthcare websites. This means it ranks responsive sites higher than non-responsive sites. However, even if your site is responsive, it’s important to confirm that your content and imagery load properly (and promptly) across all mobile device types.
4. Test site speeds
Healthcare marketers who study user (prospective healthcare consumer) behaviors online have proven that consumers are less willing to put up with slow loading times than ever before. It only takes 5 seconds to lose a prospective consumer.
What’s more, poor site speed may cause your medical or healthcare website to fall in the search engine results. You can test your site speed using Google’s PageSpeed Insights. If load times are slow, talk to your web developer about ways to speed it up. I also recommend checking the site speeds of your direct and indirect competitors to see how your site stacks up.
5. Optimize organic search engine results for prospective healthcare consumers
Search engine optimization is a powerful tool for getting your medical practices or hospital network to the top of the search engines. However, it’s a lot more complex than most people realize.
You cannot simply use the term “orthopaedic surgeon” 100 times throughout your website and hope to rank #1 on Google among all doctors, physicians, and surgeons providing healthcare services in your area.
SEO involves using the right optimal phrases and keywords so Google can understand your healthcare organization‘s websites. Focusing on organic SEO tactics helps you rank for the proper, relevant, and pertinent healthcare-related search terms (e.g., medical conditions, healthcare professional treatment of any type). However, you must also use those terms naturally throughout your content because Google cares about readability first and foremost.
This is only the beginning of healthcare marketing best practices for SEO, which also include:
- Developing content pages full of high-quality information and optimized with your keywords.
- Having internal links pointing back to relevant pages on your website.
- Gaining external backlinks from reputable health sites.
- Managing your site index or sitemap (making it easy for search engines to read and rank).
- Claiming your healthcare website on Google Business Profile and complete your business listing with complete, accurate information.
- Fill out every available section for each location
- Incorporate photos and videos
- Optimize local listings and reviews
- Post frequently asked questions in the Q&A section
- Optimizing your site with local SEO tactics (increasing your likelihood of appearing in the Google Local Pack).
- Submitting your website to Google.
6. Use PPC and display ads for healthcare marketing
Search Engine Optimization (i.e., “Healthcare SEO”) is an organic marketing strategy used to earn a healthcare system, hospital, or practice greater visibility online.
However, even if your site ranks number one organically, for a search term like “surgeon in Tulsa,” there are still 3 or 4 paid advertisements above your organic web page that people will see first.
PPC (pay-per-click), or paid search advertisements, are laser-targeted to appear first on the search engine results page (SERP) for a set of search terms. You can manage your budget with paid search and decide how much you’d like to spend to keep your site at the top of SERPs. Your return on investment is clear and defined with both PPC and display ads that appear on the sidebar or top of other websites.
7. Leverage social media (the right way)
Too many hospitals and healthcare practices rely solely on organic social media for a large part of their digital healthcare marketing strategies. Organic social media means posting photos, updates, events, etc., directly to Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. It’s a valid brand-building strategy and lets healthcare consumers know what’s new.
However, it shouldn’t be your only social strategy. Paid advertising on social media is a better way to reach much larger numbers of the right people who may be looking for your services—even if you’re not already connected. Let’s face it: few people share posts from local healthcare organizations online unless they are already engaged with that group (or better yet) employed by it.
Paid social media is about more than pressing the “Boost Post” button that appears when you post from your business page. Like PPC or display advertising, it involves strategizing and budgeting to target the audience you want.
Related: Topical Social Media and YouTube webinar: COVID-19 and Healthcare Marketing.
8. Ask for reviews from healthcare consumers
Consumers want to see that others like them have had a good experience before scheduling their visit. Online reviews continue to gain credibility for potential and current patients. 86% of 1,124 US-based consumers surveyed trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations and believe they’re a reliable resource when choosing a new physician.
Typically, healthcare consumers only leave reviews when motivated to do so (e.g., if they’ve had an above-average or extremely poor experience). Unless you’re proactively asking for reviews, you’re missing out on opportunities to feature positive consumer feedback.
Keep your finger on the pulse of consumer feedback by incorporating automated, HIPAA-compliant review platforms into your healthcare marketing strategy.
While there are many good options out there, our agency provides clients with a highly scalable platform that offers the three most vital functions:
- Review solicitation. Most review/rating sites allow you to ethically solicit reviews from healthcare consumers and patients, so long as you don’t artificially “stack the deck.” Your platform should allow you to request reviews at scale through text and email or on a one-on-one basis through QR codes, tablets, and individual text messages. Your platform can direct patients to websites like Google and Facebook and generate first-party reviews for your website.
- Review monitoring. While review monitoring for a single location is pretty manageable, it can be a nightmare for multilocation providers. What’s more, without the proper software, you will likely miss both good and bad reviews on dozens of rating sites.
- Review responses. Your platform should also allow you to respond to online reviews easily. (More on this in a moment.)
Note: All client communications need to be empathetic and HIPAA compliant. Also, be sure never to post or buy fake third-party reviews.
9. Follow up with consumer feedback in your marketing efforts
If a healthcare consumer shares a poor opinion of your practice on outside review sites such as Google, Facebook, and Yelp, you need to respond and show that you’re working to resolve the problem. With the proper follow-up, consumers may be motivated to update their reviews to let others know you resolved the issue quickly.
Reputation management should be a part of any healthcare marketing strategy, but this doesn’t mean you should get defensive about negative reviews. Instead, look at them as learning experiences and upgrade processes and equipment as needed to ensure the best possible patient experience moving forward.
10. Look into traditional media options
Many healthcare businesses are reluctant to invest in external media opportunities: traditional advertising sources like radio, television, billboards, and newspapers. These can be significant investments, so you must be careful where you spend your money to see the best, tangible results.
Having unqualified healthcare media buyers make these decisions for you is the best way to make sure your advertisements get seen by the right people at the right time. A billboard in the middle of nowhere does little to bring in healthcare consumers, but a television advertisement that runs on a channel with demographics that represent your average consumer can do wonders for your ROI.
11. Build physician referrals into your medical marketing plans
How does your practice reach potential referring doctors? If you’re not using a physician liaison, you’re not getting what you need. Doctor referrals are some of the best organic marketing strategies for bringing in new healthcare consumers. To ensure you’re receiving as many doctor referrals as possible, you or your physician liaison must be proactive and exercise best practices in professional communications and relationships. Here are several suggestions to help you get started:
- Meet & greet
Welcome every new healthcare professional to the area with a personal note or in-person visit.
- Build and maintain relationships
If you want doctors to refer their patients to your practice, they must trust your ability to provide exceptional care. Not only that, but they’ve got to like you. Reach out regularly to establish a friendly, professional relationship.
- Get involved
Referring physicians are more likely to take notice of your practice, value your skills, and entrust their patients to your care if you’re actively engaged with your community.
- Follow up regularly
Thank referring physicians with a phone call or handwritten note, and keep them apprised of the referred patient’s condition and the course of treatment you administered or prescribed. They’ll appreciate the information and your attention to detail, which may also help persuade them to refer additional patients to you.
- Keep it simple
Make it easy for doctors to refer their patients to your practice. Keep your contact information on your website, social media accounts, and business cards up-to-date, and have an easy-to-use referral form on your website.
- Scale your outreach.
In decades past, it was easy for solo practice specialists to build relationships with referring doctors one-on-one. Today, hospitals and multilocation groups are far too large, and the competition is too great to contemplate just “dropping by with some business cards.” Instead, larger organizations rely on a team of skilled physician liaisons and the right digital marketing tactics to woo referring physicians.
See also: Doctor Referral Building That Works
12. Check in with your current healthcare consumers
Though it may not compare to digital advertising, word-of-mouth referrals should always be part of your overall medical marketing strategy.
Follow up with your healthcare consumers after an appointment or procedure to see how they’re doing. Ask about their families, or send birthday cards with a personalized touch. You should also send emails and text reminders for follow-up appointments (in-person or via telemedicine) and do whatever you can to maintain a positive relationship.
Consumers will always appreciate you taking the time to reach out and may go out of their way to recommend your business to friends and family.
13. Become an authority in your specific field of medicine
Prospective healthcare consumers are more likely to remember brands that establish themselves as an authority in their medical specialty. Your public relations strategy should involve reaching out to appropriate media outlets when you have something noteworthy to share—it’s almost free advertising for your healthcare brand.
Stay up-to-date with your specific healthcare industry niche through LinkedIn groups and other online forums. Consider following sites like HARO (Help a Reporter Out) to learn about interview opportunities. Submit healthcare community press releases from time to time—and consider hiring outside help to boost your visibility.
14. Track your marketing strategy
You should continuously monitor how your medical marketing strategy pays off in terms of ROI. Each year, your healthcare marketing budget should adjust in terms of what you want to focus on and be based on a careful study of your metrics (performance analytics dashboard). There are many ways to do this type of healthcare consumer marketing tracking:
- Use a CRM (customer relationship management system) like HubSpot to track how healthcare consumers engage with your campaigns via emails, call centers, or targeted landing pages.
- Use Google Analytics to determine which terms you rank for and which terms you’re missing out on.
- Track your PPC campaigns by setting up Google AdWords.
- Use a HIPAA-compliant call-tracking system to see how your paid advertising is paying off and monitor your front desk.
See also: The HHS/CDC’s Gateway to Health Communication.
15. Audit your call center’s response to your healthcare marketing initiatives
You can have the best healthcare marketing strategy for anyone in your area, but you lose money and opportunities if your call center cannot handle calls properly. An audit of your healthcare consumers’ call center experiences may reveal any of the following:
- Long hold times for potential consumers
- Confusion or consumer misinformation
- A slow scheduling system
- An inability (on the part of your staff) to discuss or present your healthcare services
- No strategy in place to get consumers to make a commitment or book an appointment
We strongly believe that no healthcare marketing strategy is complete without adequate training for your call center. This helps you and your team learn how best to represent your brand.
Ready to update your marketing plan? Implement these 15 strategies to gain and keep consumers and grow your business.