Your organization may be embracing a popular concept among healthcare providers: patient-centered care. As the name implies, it’s about delivering care that responds to the needs and goals of each individual patient.
Putting the patient front-and-center is a smart strategy for marketing communications, too.
That means standing in the shoes of the patient or potential customer, understanding what’s most important to them, and communicating in ways that engage and respect them.
Sounds logical, right? Yet the healthcare industry overall still tends to market from the point of view of the organization and not from the patient or community perspective. Providers still tend to talk more about the services offered and the professionals delivering them than about the real-world impact on health and lives.
The short answer to this question is: Because it’s been done this way for a long time. Marketing in the healthcare field is a bit behind the times compared to consumer-goods companies, for example, which do a great job of building intimate relationships with their audiences. Community-based nonprofits are better at addressing their prospective clients’ personal interests, but hospitals and healthcare systems generally peg their messaging to their services, surgeries, and doctors, not to patient outcomes.
This kind of one-way communication has its roots in medicine itself: For generations, society has placed doctors in a position of authority; conversation between physician and patient has been paternalistic and one-directional. Because doctors have decision-making influence in healthcare organizations, over time this communication model became baked into marketing. When you’re working within that organization, it’s easy to adopt the institution’s lingo and jargon — and just as easy to lose that outside, patient-centric perspective.
It’s never been more important for marketers to build campaigns that resonate personally with current and prospective patients, for a few reasons.
First, we’re all surrounded by brands we love — not only do we buy their products, but we follow them on social media and welcome them into our email inboxes. We feel personal connections with these companies and believe in their values. We expect that same kind of relationship with organizations that help keep us well.
Too, the communications landscape — both online and in the real world — is extremely cluttered. The messages that break through are those that speak to people individually and directly.
Finally, thanks to a growing emphasis on value-based care, which focuses on outcomes (reduced ER visits, improved recovery times, and the like), patients have to become greater participants in their own wellness. That means that healthcare organizations have to enlist and educate them, which requires a supportive, positive, two-way mode of communication.
Marketing professionals, then, are the translators between medical providers and the communities they serve. It’s like Method acting: You have to stand in the shoes of the people you’re speaking to and develop messaging they can understand and relate to.
There are two parts to that equation: understanding your audience and creating messages that they respond to.
Understanding your audience leans on old-school market research such as patient satisfaction scores and community surveys. For deeper perspective, talk to your people on the front lines of patient interaction: nurses, receptionists, and care coordinators who see things first-hand and can identify needs. Check in with your counterparts in community-based organizations that provide other types of support to ask what trends they’re seeing and what strategies are working.
Creating messages that they respond to involves tapping into your emotional intelligence to blend facts with feelings. Patients — and also folks who are currently well but who may need your services in the future — want somebody who understands their pain and who authentically speaks to them.
(Here’s a quick diagnostic tool: Scan your current marketing copy and count the words ‘you’ and ‘we.’)
Yes, it’s important for them to know that you have the best physicians in the region. But what does that mean for your audience? People expect that you have great doctors; that’s a given. Help them see how losing weight or getting that knee replacement will improve their lives.
Healthcare marketing today is about building relationships over time, establishing trust, and telling people you’re here with them and not just for them. When all healthcare systems talk about their talented surgeons and compassionate nurses, patient-focused communications can be a differentiator.
If your team needs a fresh perspective on what your audience wants and needs, let’s talk. We have deep expertise in healthcare, and we can help you find kernels of insight you might not see.