How Effective Digital Marketing Can Enhance the Patient Journey

Utilizing Digital Marketing in Healthcare With more and more customers using online sources to obtain information about their health, traditional healthcare marketing tactics are no longer as effective as they once were.

In fact, studies have shown one in twenty Google searches are around health-related information. If marketers want to successfully reach and engage healthcare customers today, they need to leverage digital marketing.

Targeting the right patients with relevant and useful information through online communication channels is possible with dynamic healthcare digital marketing strategies like social media, search engine, and email marketing. With the help of these digital tactics, healthcare marketers can create online campaigns and optimize in real time to improve customer and patient care experiences.

Let’s review how digital marketing can enhance the customer and patient journey:

What Is the Customer and Patient Journey?

Customers and patients follow a multi-stage journey as they interact with healthcare organizations, from pre-clinical to post-clinical stages. The journey begins with the first interaction between a customer and healthcare organization and continues until an ongoing relationship forms between the patient and provider. Every interaction in between is a step along the journey.

This journey is not a linear path and takes more of a unique shape. In this case, we like to think of it as a tree with many stemming branches rather than a straight road.

Below are the typical stages an individual follows on their care journey:

  • Awareness: A potential customer assesses symptoms and conducts research
  • Help: The customer’s initial contact with the health system, usually online or through a call center
  • Care: The customer becomes a patient
  • Treatment: The patient receives on-site follow-up care
  • Behavioral and Lifestyle Change: The patient makes recommended lifestyle or behavioral changes
  • Ongoing Care and Proactive Health: The patient adopts proactive health strategies

Throughout the various customer and patient journey stages, digital marketing tactics can be used to enhance their experiences. Let’s take a closer look to see which digital tactics are most successful to engage customers and patients throughout the care journey.

Achieving Perfect Healthcare Customer Experience

Pre-Clinical Digital Marketing Strategies for the Customer Journey

The entire care journey stems from the point at which a potential customer identifies a health issue. During the awareness stage, they begin researching their condition, typically by searching the Internet or looking on social media for answers. Transitioning into the help stage, the customer may contact the call center or attend a workshop before scheduling an appointment and entering the care stage.

While customers are involved in the initial journey phases, healthcare marketers can take advantage of search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) to increase visibility for keywords and phrases that relevant consumers search for online. Healthcare marketers can develop data-backed advertisements, optimize website content, and create useful blog content to reach target audiences as they search for core keywords and ultimately increase awareness.

Patient using social mediaIn addition, healthcare marketers can take advantage of social media platforms to reach customers either organically or through paid advertising. It is important to note that information available on social media can have a direct influence on prospects’ decisions to seek a second opinion or choose a specific provider, particularly for people who are coping with a chronic condition or managing their diet, exercise, or stress.

For example, Children’s Mercy Hospital uses their Facebook page as way to showcase their reputation as a renowned care center. “Locally, Children’s Mercy wants parents to know their kids are in good hands. Social is a good way to share news and feature CMH doctors and patients,” according to PR Director Jake Jacobson. This sort of social strategy can be an effective one – a recent study found 57 percent of consumers’ decisions to receive treatment at a healthcare facility are strongly influenced by that provider’s social media connections, showing that patients trust health organizations with a social presence.

Another way to reach customers online is through online patient forums and research networks, such as Patients Like Me. Potential customers often use these resources to interact with others struggling with similar conditions by participating in discussions and sharing experiences. Healthcare marketers can productively utilize these platforms to engage in real time by answering questions, connecting people with physicians, and building relationships between prospects and health systems.

Once a customer makes an inquiry, downloads a guide, or books an appointment, healthcare marketers should employ email nurturing to keep them engaged and satisfied until the point of care. With automatic reminders leading up to the appointment, customers are less likely to drop out of the clinical process. Hospital marketers can also push the call center as a resource to have pertinent questions answered before coming in.

After a customers’ first appointment, healthcare marketers should continue deploying digital tactics to ensure patients stay connected with the healthcare organization moving into the future.

Post-Clinical Digital Marketing Strategies for the Patient Journey

Once the customer officially becomes a patient, they enter the patient journey stages, including treatment, behavioral and lifestyle change, and ongoing care and proactive health. Like the pre-clinical stages, these steps on the journey can also be enhanced with digital marketing. The goal during these stages is to ensure the customer receives relevant health information that keeps the healthcare organization top of mind. Ideally, the health system then becomes the de facto choice the next time a health issue arises.

Further digital outreach in the post-clinical stages can be done via email or patient portal, and may include medication or follow-up appointment reminders, satisfaction surveys, or answers to any questions. Healthcare marketers should also send any relevant informational material to help the customer make the lifestyle changes their physicians requested, such as regular exercise or long-term medications.

Using social media, healthcare marketers are able to promote ongoing health for patients and keep them informed of health trends, upcoming events, and crises they should be aware of. Lee Aase of Mayo Clinic and Shannon Dosemagen of Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science emphasize that healthcare “organizations can use social media to distribute time-sensitive health information, promote information sharing to encourage behavioral changes (including corrective changes during potential health crises), be a platform for conversation between agencies and constituents (rather than just as an information provider), and allow the public to provide useful information and feedback.”

In the post-clinical patient journey stages, healthcare marketers can use digital marketing tactics to foster proactive health and boost long-term care outcomes.

Final Thoughts

Customers and patients have higher expectations than ever before for the care and service they receive from healthcare providers. Healthcare marketers can optimize digital marketing tactics based on each stage of the customer and patient journey to improve the care experience and promote long-term health.

Engaging at all stages of the journey delights customers and encourages loyalty, which can have a tremendous impact on revenue: a Deloitte study found that hospitals with “excellent” HCAHPS patient ratings had a net margin of 4.7 percent, on average, as compared to just 1.8 percent for hospitals with “low” ratings. Thus, it is essential that healthcare organizations place importance on creating optimized customer and patient journeys with digital marketing tactics.

Mapping Perfect Customer Experience

Gary Druckenmiller

Gary Druckenmiller

Gary Druckenmiller, Jr. is Vice President, Customer Success at Evariant. He functions as lead strategist, digital marketing thought leader and C-level executive sponsor for all of Evariant’s enterprise clients, primarily focused on advising health system leadership of opportunistic methods to improve their digital presence and interactive growth potential. Prior to Evariant, Gary served as Vice-President for Harte-Hanks, responsible for healthcare digital strategy and deliverables including multi-channel campaigns, paid digital media, social media, CRM and analytics. Gary has been with Evariant for 8 years and can be heard often on the hospital marketing speaking circuit. Gary has a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Bentley University.
Gary Druckenmiller