Leveraging the power of digital marketing in health care – Medical Economics

Physicians Money Digest
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How health care companies – from huge systems down to primary care practices – can launch impactful digital strategies to drive, educate, and engage consumers.
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There are nearly 1 million health care companies in the U.S., making this industry a competitive marketplace where consumers have the advantage. And top of mind for health care consumers is accessibility, convenience, and a heightened patient experience.
Digital marketing can help health care companies and providers stay ahead of the competition and engage, educate, and influence consumers by using effective strategies that target a core audience through digital platforms like social media channels, user-friendly apps, and a company's website. Digital marketing can have a significant impact on the practices of primary care physicians, as a solid online presence can engage existing patients and attract new ones.
Summer Craig, MA
Craig Group
It also allows health care providers to engage with patients on a more personal level. They can access information about their health conditions and treatment options from anywhere at any time using their smartphones or computers. This increased accessibility leads to better patient engagement and satisfaction and has been shown to improve patient outcomes.
By targeting specific patient populations, health care companies can tailor their marketing messages and services to better meet their needs. They can increase their revenue by attracting more patients who are interested in their services, leading to higher profitability and growth. Compared to traditional forms of advertising, like billboards or TV ads that require a significant investment, digital marketing is relatively inexpensive yet highly effective.
The pandemic has pushed the need for digital marketing, as it's put a spotlight on health care accessibility, with more consumers turning to digital platforms to get their medical information, schedule appointments, learn about a practice's service line offerings, and even receive virtual care. It's similar to consumers purchasing goods online. They want their transactions to be fast, knowledgeable, and user-friendly – and that's what patients seek in their health care providers.
With increased health care competition and more consumers turning to digital platforms to get their medical information, whether online or user-friendly apps, it's more important than ever that health care leaders look at how digital health care strategies can help them reach their business goals.
Here, we'll break down those forms of digital marketing that can help health care providers engage and target prospective patients and how to use those specific tools.
Considering that 80% of consumers have used the internet for health care-related research and that 63% of respondents will choose a provider due to a strong online presence, online visibility is crucial for health care organizations to attract potential patients.
The good news is that with some simple, focused tactics, you can make a significant difference in your digital marketing efforts:
Targeted advertising can be very effective, but providers need to consider marketing compliance with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). This means you can share general information about a practice, service line offerings, products, etc. Still, you can only mention a patient by name or disclose identifying information in your marketing materials only if they have signed HIPAA consent documents.
Simple yet important measures should also be taken when developing marketing materials that highlight a practice. For example, be aware of the photos you take of your office. Are there patients who are visible in the pictures? Can you read the name on the vial that a doctor is holding? Any patient-specific information that is used and not approved first by the patient means you are not in compliance with HIPAA regulations.
The best thing you can do to protect your practice and your patients is to retain a HIPAA-compliant digital marketing partner who can help guide you. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides excellent information on HIPAA Privacy Rule and marketing.
While these rules can intimidate a health care organization from utilizing targeted marketing, when done correctly, it allows for focused marketing efforts on the groups of people who are more likely to need specific services or products. This can help to avoid wasting resources marketing to individuals that are unlikely to be seeking help for the advertised health care services.
Social media marketing has emerged as a powerful tool for reaching and engaging with potential patients. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram offer ample opportunities for health care providers to share their expertise and educate people on various health issues.
For instance, a dermatologist can share tips on skin care routines, recommend their preferred precautions for sunburn, and encourage people to visit their clinic for a skin check-up. By sharing content that is relevant and engaging — such as seasonal health messages or the latest innovations and studies — health care providers can establish themselves as thought leaders and foster trust with existing and potential patients.
Moreover, social media marketing allows health care providers to use targeted advertising to reach specific patient demographics. For instance, a fertility clinic can target its ads toward women aged 24-35 who are trying to conceive. This helps ensure that the content reaches the people most likely to benefit from those services.
Whether through educational videos, blog posts, or interactive social media campaigns, health care providers who maximize their social media presence can build a robust online presence that attracts new patients and helps retain existing ones.
Email marketing has emerged as a powerful tool for keeping patients informed about their appointments and new services offered by a practice. Texting has also become a preferred means of communication for appointment reminders, scheduling, and follow-up surveys. By sending personalized emails or even text messages, health care providers can improve the patient care experience and keep patients loyal to the practice or organization.
For example, a pediatrician can use text messaging to send reminders to parents of upcoming appointments for their children and ask about their care for opportunities to improve their next visit.
Similarly, at the hospital level, the organization can use email marketing to inform patients of new procedures, technologies, or treatments they offer. As these updates are typically less frequent, regular communications for timely wellness or service-line specific information, such as tips on nutritional kid-friendly lunch ideas for back to school, or fun developmental activities by age. With additional customization by audience, such as by age group, emails can be tailored to the patient's specific needs to increase patient engagement.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is an effective digital marketing strategy for health care providers to increase their online visibility and attract potential patients. By optimizing their website with keywords related to their areas of expertise, health care providers can improve their search engine rankings and appear higher on search engine results pages.
For example, an orthopedic surgeon may optimize their website for the keyword "knee replacement surgery," so they appear at the top of search engine results for that keyword. This means that when someone searches for "knee replacement surgery," the orthopedic surgeon's website is more likely to appear at the top of the search engine, making it easier for potential patients to find them.
Other SEO tactics involve backlinking strategies to acquire other websites to link to your practice's website. This improves the health care facility's authority and credibility, which ultimately helps to improve the search engine ranking of its website.
Not only does SEO improve a health care provider's online visibility, but it also helps to attract patients who are specifically looking for the services they provide. This ensures health care providers can attract highly targeted website traffic, which is more likely to convert into new patients.
Moreover, SEO is a long-term digital marketing strategy that pays dividends over a more extended period. By continuously optimizing their website, health care providers can maintain their high rankings in search engine results, staying ahead of their competitors and attracting more patients over time.
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, where advertisers pay search engine platforms such as Google or Bing to showcase their ads at the top of search results pages, is a nonorganic way to improve SEO that can pay big dividends.
For medical facilities, PPC advertising can be an effective way to increase website visitors by targeting people searching for keywords related to the facility's services. This marketing tactic can yield immediate results as PPC campaigns generate traffic immediately after launch.
For example, if a facility offers therapy for anxiety and depression, it can create a PPC campaign targeting people searching for "anxiety treatment near me" or "depression therapy." By doing this, the facility can showcase customized ads focusing on its expertise in treating anxiety and depression.
Digital marketing has become an essential tool for health care providers. Its primary goal is to improve patient engagement and increase visibility, which ultimately leads to a boosted revenue stream. To achieve this, health care providers can utilize multiple strategies and combine different digital marketing techniques to enhance overall performance metrics across the board.
Summer Craig, MA, is founder and president of Craig Group, a technology-enabled sales and marketing advisory firm specializing in revenue growth for middle-market, private-equity-backed portfolio companies. She brings a revenue-focused perspective to marketing, with experience leading marketing and digital operations teams responsible for media investments of $100MM+. Before founding Craig Group, she held significant roles with GSD&M, Zenith Optimedia, Travelocity,, and Gulf States Toyota.
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