There’s no other way to put it: healthcare marketers have their work cut out for them in 2021. Even though agility and adaptability are nothing new to the work of a healthcare marketer, it has never felt quite like this. COVID-19 has created tremendous uncertainty, economic instability, and political volatility. Locally, nationally, and globally, healthcare is both top of mind and totally upturned.
Nonetheless, the drum beats on. At some point, the clock will strike midnight, and 2021 will be upon us. As healthcare marketers, here are the trends that we need to keep our eyes on this coming year—where to invest, where to dial back, and some thoughts on the future of healthcare marketing as we know it.
Effective Communication Will Be Essential
In an environment where even routine visits now look vastly different—from how they’re scheduled to how they’re carried outpatients need information. While authoritative, proactive communication has always been a hallmark of strong healthcare brands, today there are practical and safety considerations unlike ever before.
Patients want to know how to seek care and how safe it is to do so. When it comes to COVID-19, specifically, people want facts—they want information on prevention, symptoms, testing, and treatment. The ability of healthcare marketers to cut through the noise and meet this demand will be essential to building trust and nurturing patient relationships.
What it means for healthcare marketers
Believe it or not, this is a tremendous brand-building opportunity. It’s an opportunity for healthcare marketers to humanize their communication strategies. Any communication coming from a healthcare brand needs to be:
Think about the information that your patients need right now. For example, we’ve been closely monitoring Coronavirus Search Trends from Google. A cursory glance reveals that people are seeking information about symptoms, treatment options, and a vaccine.
To meet this search demand, healthcare marketers can source verified, factual information from subject matter experts within their healthcare organizations and make that content available to their patient communities through various communication channels.
Patient Experience Will Remain a Top Priority
It has to. Have you had any kind of engagement with your primary care provider or dentist lately? Pre-appointment communications, check-in procedures—everything has changed. Our view is that it’s not the patients’ job to “figure it all out.” Instead, healthcare organizations need to audit every touchpoint across the patient journey and, where needed, update and enhance the interaction so that patients feel cared for, understood, and confident in the safety of their care.
What it means for healthcare marketers
Again, communication is essential to shaping the patient experience. Healthcare marketers should focus on a few high-level areas that must be communicated to patients in light of COVID-19:
- Appointment availability and scheduling
- Procedures for in-person and telehealth appointments
- Accommodation of elective vs. non-elective procedures
- New safety procedures and requirements
- General information about COVID-19
Next, it’s important to optimize the experiences themselves. For example:
- Update your website content and navigation to make COVID-19 and telehealth information impossible to miss, ideally, with a dedicated page that’s easy to find and includes FAQs and links/CTAs out to things like appointment scheduling and additional resources.
- Revisit your automated phone system and call routing to include information about updated procedures, policies, and contact information. If patients can get the information they need without proceeding to live phone interaction, it will help ease the increased burden on contact centers.
- Personalize email and text notifications so that they’re bringing value to the patient journey. Do you have dedicated responses for telehealth appointments? Has your appointment confirmation and cancellation policy changed? Are there opportunities in your email and text sequence to include information about COVID-19 or business operation changes?
- Provide a mobile app experience. Mobile healthcare apps now allow patients to send physicians messages without a call, upload documents, check appointments, and see test results. Follow My Health and My Chart are excellent examples. As healthcare further limits in-person interactions, mobile apps will be a key part of giving patients all they need conveniently and effectively.
- Post updates to your business listings. A lot of people use Google Maps to search for healthcare providers nearby, especially for urgent care. Make sure your Google My Business listing is updated so patients can find you! Include safety and health bulletins, too, so patients know what to expect before they come in. Read our article to get more tips on how to optimize your Google My Business listing.
Investment in SEO and Content Marketing Will Evolve
How to optimally direct marketing spend is always top of mind for healthcare marketers. It’s a conversation we have every day. In the immediate aftermath of the global pandemic, the knee-jerk reaction was to hit pause on marketing and SEO budget—at least for the time being.
But that won’t remain the norm. Now, the conversation has evolved into, “how can we redirect our spending to best support our patients—current and future—given the ‘new normal?” Organic search volume hasn’t gone away; people are just searching for different things. Demand for high-value content hasn’t disappeared; people are just interested in different topics.
Telemedicine Will Become More Prevalent
Necessity is a great motivator, and COVID-19 has created the resurgence of telemedicine (also known as “telehealth”) options. While some appointments still require in-person visits, telemedicine appointments are suitable for visits that don’t require a face-to-face examination. This helps limit exposure and spread while keeping both patients and healthcare providers measure safer. Plus, telemedicine gives physicians a way to see and evaluate people with COVID-19 symptoms without direct exposure. While telemedicine won’t replace traditional healthcare, we predict that these types of appointments will become more common and essential for specific market segments.
Healthcare (and Healthcare Marketers) Will Lean into Innovative Services
Medicine is always at the forefront of innovations in treatment and technology. Yet, the pressure on medical practices to develop new ways to treat patients and improve the patient experiences promises to increase in 2021—especially as a COVID-19 vaccination remains an open question.
From 3D modeling in surgery to using artificial intelligence for hearth therapy treatments, the pace of new healthcare innovations is dizzying. On the patient experience side, healthcare providers are rolling out telemedicine, curbside care and diagnostics, new healthcare apps, and AI-powered chatbots.
A unifying theme across all of these 2021 healthcare marketing trends is patient experience. In our view, the call of the hour in 2021 and beyond will be innovating, communicating, advertising, messaging, and marketing with the patient in mind—empathy marketing, if you will. No matter where you focus your energy, the patient experience should always be the starting point. Remember, COVID-19 is just one challenge facing your patient base.
To that end, communication will be essential to connecting patients with the care they need. Isn’t that what healthcare marketing is all about? Marketers who can adapt to changing circumstances, adapt to market volatility, and connect with patients in a way that brings value to their journey, will do wonders for their brand.