By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
The only constant is change, and that’s never been truer in the world of Healthcare Marketing. This year brought major acquisitions, new consumer priorities, and competitive trends that will only heighten in the New Year.
Hospitals, medical practices, and healthcare organizations will have to stay one step ahead to keep up with both competitors and patient needs. This means investing in best-in-class technologies and resources for your healthcare marketing strategies that put your brand top-of-mind for patients and keeps them engaged and invested.
Here are our top predictions for healthcare organizations and healthcare marketing in 2019 and 2020:
1. Millennials will cause more shockwaves, and demand health services’ convenience
Millennials don’t just want convenience; they’re insisting on it. They cannot imagine being subservient to the old way of doing things. It was once the norm to wait weeks or months for a doctor’s appointment and then hours in the waiting room. But forward-thinking organizations are departing from this model, and millennials are switching to providers that offer a much higher level of convenience.
If hospitals, healthcare networks and physician practices want to evolve to the changing needs of the millennial patient, they will need to update their processes in 2019. Small changes certainly help: like allowing patients to schedule appointments online or offering text updates and appointment reminders. But today’s millennials want more than the basics, including quick access to health records and easy access to a doctor via text message.
2. Online patient reviews will become more important than ever
Whether you like it or not, patients are going to leave reviews of your office online. And whether you like it or not, it’s in your best interest to encourage patients to leave these reviews.
Online reviews are already heavily prioritized by the search engines. It’s often the first thing people look for when searching for a new doctor, and if they can’t find any reviews, they may simply look somewhere else. Even worse—they may only be able to find a negative review of your brand.
Studies show that people trust online reviews nearly as much as a recommendation from a friend. And while you cannot eliminate every negative review that’s already out there, you can offset them with several positive reviews. With an increased emphasis on online reviews in 2019, your best form of protection is to implement a reputation management program and to encourage happy patients to speak out for your brand.
[Closely related healthcare services article: 15 Healthcare Marketing Strategies]
3. Private equity acquisitions will continue to grow, with healthcare treated more like a business
If you’re paying any attention, you know that private equity acquisitions of healthcare organizations have been rampant in the past few years. Healthcare is a business like any other, and these investors are willing to treat it as such, so get ready for some tough competition in the New Year.
In fact, investors and business types will continue to rush into the market in 2019, disrupting the way we think of healthcare. They simply don’t think like doctors and have fewer fears and “sacred cows.” We’re also likely to see more surprise acquisitions, like CVS acquiring Aetna, for market share and distribution.
4. Patients will continue their rapid evolution as healthcare consumers
It’s not just millennials who are changing the game when it comes to healthcare marketing. Today’s patients are more empowered to make decisions about their healthcare than ever before. No longer are they beholden to the nearest local practice or hospital. Even referrals can be thoroughly researched online before a patient ever agrees to an appointment.
Patients have always cared about quality and cost. Now in the age of healthcare consumerism, it’s easier for them to prove it. They thoroughly vet your organization online before coming through the door. They leave honest reviews and avoid organizations with negative ones.
Healthcare providers can respond by cleaning up their organizations (sometimes physically, often internally), becoming more transparent about services and pricing, and training staff members to meet the needs of the modern healthcare consumer.
5. Google’s E-A-T algorithm will grow stronger
Of course, Google is still the number one search engine for those looking for health information or local providers—so you want to be at the top of the search results. In August 2018, Google confirmed that its algorithms now puts a much higher emphasis on E-A-T (EAT):
[2020 Google Healthcare Categories/Algorithms update: Google Patent: Categorizing Healthcare Websites]
This week we released a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. Our guidance about such updates remains the same as in March, as we covered here: https://t.co/uPlEdSLHoX
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) August 1, 2018
Millions of websites saw their search engine rankings drop when this update launched—particularly healthcare websites. In fact, the update was nicknamed the “Medic” update because so many healthcare websites seemed to fall in the search engine rankings at once. And this algorithm is only likely to get stronger.
If Google has no way to verify the legitimacy and trustworthiness of your content, prospective patients may not be able to find your brand online. Healthcare websites will need to step up their content and provide a better overall user experience.
6. People will self-refer on sites beyond Google
In recent years, we’ve seen more patients than ever self-refer through search engines like Google. In 2019, healthcare-specific websites are making it even easier to feel confident about finding a local doctor, and patients are soon to catch on.
Patients can now self-refer through healthcare content giant WebMD, which has been focused on expanding its provider directories in the last several months. Its recent acquisition of Vitals.com reemphasizes this focus, as does its newest push towards digital advertising for doctors. Doctors can now create enhanced WebMD profiles to advertise higher up in the WebMD and Vitals.com results to target self-refferers in their area.
7. More medical practices and hospital groups will try programmatic buying
…And many will retreat as fast as they came in. Programmatic buying makes it much easier to buy advertising that targets the right people with the right message at the right time. Tactics like geofencing, retargeting, search ads, social media advertising, and highly-targeted campaigns combine to ensure messages are uniquely targeted to a prospective patient’s needs at a given time.
As more organizations attempt programmatic buying in 2019, some will succeed. But many will see poor results due to a lack of cohesion throughout campaigns or poorly defined patient personas—emphasizing the importance of marketing expertise with any form of advertising buying.
Related: Our Healthcare Marketing Agency
8. Geofencing will become more common
On that note, geofencing is on the rise in healthcare advertising. A person’s location can tell us a lot about their habits, interests, and activities. And these demographics help us to run targeted ads tailored to that individual. That’s the idea behind geofencing, which allows you to essentially draw a boundary around a location to only serve ads to people within that area.
In healthcare, geofencing allows you opportunities to send relevant articles on, say, health and nutrition advice for people at a gym or a fitness conference. You can also use geofencing to more effectively limit mobile ads so that people outside your typical service area are unlikely to encounter your brand.
9. Patients will communicate in changing ways, and healthcare marketing must adapt
In 2019, more customer service will be automated through chatbots. Today’s patients, “modern patients”, have become used to the idea of convenient healthcare scheduling. They’re becoming less likely to call than to fill out a convenient form or message a chatbot their appointment preferences.
This isn’t the only way patient communication is evolving. More and more patients use voice search to find information, which means healthcare organizations must find ways to help patients get accurate, trustworthy information through products like Amazon Echo and Google Home.
Additional technologies like AI are set to change the face of healthcare communications in the coming years. And in 2019, expect more patients to request the integration of data from their wearable devices as part of their health records.
10. Marketing automation will become more prominent
Healthcare, in general, is far behind other industries when it comes to marketing automation, missing out on opportunities for patient engagement and for becoming proactive partners in health. Today, many digital marketing and advertising process can now be automated. Marketing software allows processes like follow-up emails, digital ads, and social media posts to be programmed ahead of time, saving valuable time and effort.
At the most basic level, you can use automation to send automated emails with appointment reminders or health protocols. In the coming year, we’ll see more sophisticated usage in healthcare. Select hospitals and practices will use the technology to nurture prospective patient leads, reminding them of additional service lines and providing valuable content that keeps the brand at top-of-mind.
11. Landing pages will be a primary driver of patient conversions
Many hospitals, health systems, and even smaller groups and practices have found landing pages a highly successful avenue for patient conversions. When patients search for a specific service line or medical specialty, it’s often better to send them to a page that discusses that point-of-interest—rather than the home page of your website.
While your website is still vital for search engine rankings and branding purposes, these individual landing pages work as a primary driver of new patients in combination with paid search advertisements and digital ads. Well-designed landing pages encourage patients to call or fill out a form with clear calls-to-action, targeted messaging, and few on-site distractions.
12. Facebook ad rates will rise considerably
Coming into 2018, we saw Facebook ad prices remain surprisingly low for a platform with over 2 billion active users. But as the year draws to a close, we’ve seen more and more brands big and small move into the social media space, which will continue to drive up the cost of advertising.
Facebook advertising is an excellent way to reach prospective patients, particularly with limitations on display advertising in healthcare through Google. If you’re considering running Facebook ads in 2019, get started ASAP. Keep in mind that this means more than simply “boosting” posts. Running a well-thought-out campaign targeted towards your most qualified potential patients is the best way to see ROI.
13. Consolidation among hospitals and practices will lead to increased competition and, eventually, marketing sophistication
Hospitals will acquire more practices, and others will merge at even higher rates in 2019. This means that incentives and goals among local organizations will align more and more—so the competition will have to stay one step ahead in marketing initiatives.
It’s no longer possible to simply “wait and see” how the market will change as mergers and acquisitions increase in the coming year. Competing organizations will have to step up their marketing plans in anticipation of what’s to come. All in all, this will lead to marketing sophistication in the healthcare space—unlike we’ve ever seen before.
14. Telemedicine will make huge strides as part of the delivery of care
We already know that millennial patients demand convenience, but the importance of telemedicine transcends generations. From older patients with limited mobility who need fast access to prescription refills to busy moms with quick questions, the convenience of telemedicine is in the best interest of your medical practice’s patients. Also good to note: More patients now have video-conferencing devices at their homes, in living rooms or home offices, and the number of such video devices will only grow in 2020.
Providing a telecommunications option lets patients know you care about their time. Drawn in by the prospect of telemedicine, this service can help you win patients for many of your top priority service lines in 2019.
15. Smart marketers will focus on the most important P – product
We’ve talked on this blog about the 5 P’s of marketing: Product, Price, Promotion, Place, and People. While all 5 elements are necessary for a strategic positioning of your business, smart healthcare marketers will place extra emphasis on “Product” in 2019.
More and more healthcare organizations are finding new business models that better suit the changing needs of the modern patient. Practices are implementing “direct primary care” models that offer greater convenience, along with modern environments and features like telemedicine or concierge medicine. Hospitals are paying greater attention to patient advisory councils, making environmental updates, and streamlining processes for a better overall product.