How digital marketing is leading the way to the perfect patient experience

In the last two years, 36.4% of patients left their healthcare providers, and even more expressed a lack of confidence in the healthcare community. 8 out of 10 patients attribute this to poor in-person experience and lack of access and communication. Studies have shown that patients tend to trust the internet over their physician and 62% do not trust the information shared by their physicians. If secure access to reliable healthcare information is perceived to be this critical, then healthcare entities cannot afford to neglect their digital presence.

Executives must start by dedicating financial resources to their committed strategy. Both operating and capital funds should be allocated to support the digital strategy and marketing budget. National standards and metrics can be obtained from marcom studies from organizations such as Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD), By The Numbers.

It’s no surprise that with the rising juggernaut of social media and online advertising, marketing professionals working for healthcare systems have upped their digital game. Although a bit of a bewildering landscape of competing voices, more money dedicated to digital marketing can help build patient trust and loyalty and increase overall satisfaction. Patient trust took a hit with COVID. It is more important now than ever before to meet patients where they are most comfortable and keep channels open for communication. In fact, it is not a question of if health system marketers should embrace a digital future, it is how.

NORC at the University of Chicago conducted a study that concluded patient trust decreased during the COVID pandemic. Poor communication due to time and resources fueled this separation in trust and safety for both the patient and the healthcare provider.  Healthcare organizations must be prompt and strategic to strengthen these taxed relationships by supplementing their digital presence by providing an effective outlet for communication, collaboration, awareness, and impact. By providing more than one avenue of communication, health systems can begin to address the issue and provide new ways to communicate and organize patient information for a more holistic experience.

Executives can learn how to improve the marketing presence by improving the storytelling of the patient journey. Opportunities to differentiate in a sea of sameness can be identified and strategies deployed.

A strong website and brand presence make converting users to patients all the more likely. A study from Google found that “83% of users made decisions about scheduling an appointment after visiting the hospital’s website,”.  This statistic is extremely relevant since 84% of patients research hospitals using online and offline resources. Resources include hospital websites, branding, and more traditional means of advertising; making both important channels of relaying information to users before they convert to patients. Furthermore, when it comes to finding a provider, most patients usually visit at least two hospital websites before choosing to make an appointment – more evidence that their journey leads them to the website before they schedule an appointment. Interestingly, evidence continues to show that 1 out of 5 patients utilize web services for managing their healthcare appointments and doing research; making digital marketing an important strategy that organizations cannot afford to neglect.

The reliance on digital technology makes it imperative that healthcare websites are set up to be user-friendly and engaging. A dramatic 86% of young Americans rely on the internet for healthcare information because they feel confused or uncomfortable during a consultation with their provider. Exceeding patient expectations and prioritizing the convenience of the patient journey will set healthcare systems apart from the sea of sameness. Organizations can engage patients with intuitive navigation tools that supplement the healthcare journey by providing patients with information, education, and access to schedule and receive timely results of their healthcare activity. Transparency and access to secure healthcare data is a hallmark of reliable healthcare websites.

The focus should not always be on the website, but on the overall digital presence of the organization, stakeholders and affiliations. Going faster and further in digital impact will be keys to post pandemic leverage and sustainability.

Digital tools continue to influence the patient’s experience. 94% of the public utilizes their smartphone to research local information. Research shows that 9 out of 10 Americans are confident that the information provided online is reliable and they continue to seek out information about specific medical conditions utilizing this resource. The responsive healthcare system will learn to adapt and optimize its website and online presence. This information transparency helps support access and navigation of diagnostic test results, medication management, symptom discovery, and appointment compliance. Long wait times, clinical misinformation, and confusion are often mitigated using these strategies and provide patients with access to care more expeditiously and efficiently.

And, as always, communication should be a two-way street. Giving users the opportunity to post reviews, share branded information, as well as participate in humanizing moments of goodwill where they get to celebrate a health system’s achievements or meet the real humans inside the lab coat. 92% of healthcare marketers believe that their prospects and customers expect personalized experiences. All these tactics help create a community around the health system and engage users in loyalty-building interactions. User interaction also gives marketers valuable data on where and how patients like to be communicated with, how they like to be spoken to, and insights on how they feel about services they are provided, which can help make the patient experience more manageable.

COVID may have complicated patient feelings about healthcare organizations, but a community focused on compassion and easy access to information is the cure. Digital marketing in healthcare is not only the wave of the future and how we engage with each other, but it is also the future of comprehensive patient care and overall satisfaction. The question should be why not digital? The most effective business plan addresses what it is and how the organization will respond.

As the world shifts enterprise focus to workforce management concerns and supply chain disruptions with ongoing pressures from managed care and government payors; organizations need to align both long-term and short team strategies that are devoted to improving access and confidence in healthcare touchpoints.


Sonal Ellison BS, MS

Executive in Residence

Sonal is a goal-oriented, energetic leader and an ambitious, adaptive team builder who is diplomatic in decision making and who optimizes workforce potential to ensure efficient operations. With over 25 years of healthcare experience, Sonal has served in numerous senior executive positions in the hospital and Ambulatory Surgery Center Administration space.

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