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5 Marketing Challenges in Healthcare Today

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Doctor standing on ladder writing equations on a giant chalk boardHospitals and practices across the U.S. face unique challenges in healthcare today. People's attitudes toward healthcare have changed, making it more difficult to reach new patients at the right stage of the decision-making process. However, the biggest issue is that healthcare organizations struggle to adapt to the changing needs of patients

Challenges in healthcare today are drastically different than years ago

When I first started in healthcare 20 years ago, “competition” wasn’t a word we really used. For the most part, you needed a good location and an ad in the yellow pages to get started. Similar doctors in your area were "colleagues," not competition. Now, however, there's no denying the competitive landscape of running a hospital or practice.

Today, hospitals and private equity groups are aggressively acquiring physicians and practices. In some markets, the competition has become so aggressive, that it’s hard to get your foot in the door.

Some of the biggest challenges in healthcare today require doctors to shift their thinking to be competitive in the market. While doctors in your area remain your colleagues, you have to market to stay ahead. And with changing patient behaviors and expectations, your marketing should evolve with the times.

#1: Changing consumer behaviors and expectations

Patients today feel empowered as consumers of healthcare. They’re not picking the doctor closest to their location—they’re picking the doctor that can offer the greatest convenience and a level of care that meets their expectations. They’re more and more interested in telehealth, in scheduling online appointments, and in having online access to health information.

The challenges in healthcare today often center around these changing patient/consumer behaviors, especially when practices and hospitals fail to adapt to what patients need. Patients are looking for convenience and care. They want the experience to mirror customer service, and if you can't deliver, then patients will look elsewhere.

#2: HIPAA marketing limitations

Up until the 1970s, marketing for hospitals and practices was mostly illegal, and it still took many years for the boards to decide it was ethical. Today, those attitudes about the ethics of medical marketing can carry over, and it extends to legal limitations as well.

HIPAA is always a concern in healthcare advertising—and it's something Google takes very seriously. Typically, businesses can use Google AdWords remarketing tools to show display ads to people who have visited their website or expressed interest in their products. However, healthcare is different.

Healthcare advertisers can still use pay-per-click advertising to get their website or landing page at the top of the Google search results. However, they cannot retarget those who have visited their websites in the past due to HIPAA concerns. Online pharmacies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and governmental or non-profit health advocacy organizations can apply as an exception to the rule. For most hospitals and practices, though, other advertising routes are necessary. Our healthcare advertising agency has found a lot of success using Facebook ad retargeting as an alternative to AdWords.

#3: Underinvestment in healthcare marketing

While some of the challenges in healthcare today have to do with patient behavior and regulations, most of the challenges we see come from healthcare organizations themselves. Too many doctors and key stakeholders are resistant to adding more dollars into their campaigns--and then they complain when they don't see the results they expect.

As a healthcare agency, we wish we could put $1 into a box and give you $1 million back. But that’s simply not the case. Marketing your organization involves an investment. With the right investment in your brand, a standard ROI could be anywhere from about 3:1 to 5:1--and sometimes we've even seen 100:1--but this involves a long-term strategy with a proper investment.

#4: Reviews from online doctor rating sites

Today’s patients want to know what they are getting into before they visit your practice or hospital. It's nice to believe your credentials matter more than what others are saying about you. But when other doctors in your area have similar backgrounds, a patient will put faith in what others are saying.

Many doctors I talk to are resistant to this trend. They don’t want to focus on online reviews, especially since they feel they have little control over what people are saying. But the truth is that 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a recommendation from a friend.

Using an automated reputation management system makes it a lot easier to get reviews from happy patients on your website and follow up to request reviews on other sites. Investing in review management is another way to invest in your brand.

#5: Your product

All the marketing in the world would be lipstick on a pig without the right product. Your product is your brand: the staff’s phone skills, the state of your facility, and the level of service you provide. You could be at the top of Google's search results for every relevant term in your market--but without a quality product, patients won't keep coming back.

Poor phone skills are a huge factor in keeping patients from ever stepping foot in your office. And many practices don't realize how much something like a dirty utility closet or a broken soap dispenser can hurt their bottom line. Fine-tuning your product by training your staff, changing processes, and even simply redecorating can make a world of difference.

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