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Unforgiving Healthcare Trends That Can Blow Your Marketing Plan Off Course

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Animated broken brick wall with colorful arrows going through, over, and under itEach year about this time, many healthcare providers are thinking about their marketing plan. Only a few pages remain on the calendar, and some planners are close to the finish line, while others realize they need to begin. Still others have a “rolling” marketing plan that is reviewed and adjusted monthly on near-term items, and quarterly on the longer range items.

But no matter where you find yourself in this healthcare marketing spectrum, there are several dynamic forces at work that needs to be part of your assumptions, strategies and tactics for whatever you think you’re going to do in the New Year. It’s time for some fresh, “big picture” thinking.

The backdrop is a highly familiar canvas. The nation’s uncertain economic climate is—in the kindest of terms—experiencing a sluggish recovery. (We tagged it a “unicorn” recovery in a previous article…often discussed, but seldom seen.)

And as further uncertainty, the national election may or may not drive revisions to what is commonly labeled healthcare reform—or changes in the changes. Clearly, the nation’s provider system has experienced an upheaval, which is likely to continue to reinvent itself during the coming year.

Trending into the New Year…

Your healthcare marketing plan for the coming months, and into the New Year, can be influenced by the circumstances in your immediate area. But there are several significant factors in play everywhere that are likely to influence everyone.

Carefully consider how these factors will influence your next marketing plan:

Empowerment and the patient satisfaction revolution. Unlike many other industry sectors, in healthcare, patient satisfaction is the primary reason for patients to select a doctor or hospital.

Consumers—patients—will increasingly understand this new wave of empowerment in healthcare decisions and adjust their expectations and attitudes about “buying” services as they have seldom done in the past. What’s more, patients and payers demand more value from healthcare organizations, assuring that positive patient experience will become an increasingly critical healthcare success strategy.

Internal marketing and staff training will have added importance. In a patient-centered environment, attracting patients to the doorway is no longer the end of the marketing or advertising effort, and the clinical encounter is only a portion of the service delivery. Achieving the best in patient satisfaction, more than every before, requires organizations to develop a collaborative culture among providers, colleagues and staff. At all stations in the organization require leadership and training as individuals and as a closely functioning team.

Patients will step-up demand for online services. Providers who can differentiate themselves with better digital services will be answering an important consumer demand and acquire a superior market position.

Physicians, hospitals and healthcare providers are familiar with, and often avid users of, online technology. Doctors in particular frequently use the Internet for personal or professional purposes… with one significant exception. Only a small percentage of patients can currently make use of online communications services with their healthcare providers, as confirmed by a recent Harris Poll. Consumer interest outpaces supply, Harris reports, in the availability of services such as online access to medical records, email access to doctors, online appointment setting, and online billing and payments.

The Internet—advertising, social media, website blogs, etc.—is a critically important marketing tool. In addition to online services (item above), nearly universal high-speed Internet access facilitates a patient’s search for medical information, AND it is a platform for patient engagement. Further, advances in software and technology will increasingly join healthcare related services, information and interaction into a single resource.

These trends—patient experience, collaborative culture and the Internet—are likely to have a significant influence on how a marketing plan is assembled and executed. Although the trends are relatively new, the basic structure—and the six ways to market any healthcare organization—have not changed.

For more on this topic, read What Is A Health Care Marketing Plan?

Lonnie Hirsch

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