Hospital Marketing Strategies: Addressing the Fundamental Issue of Choice
June 22, 2023
Today’s hospitals face a fundamental challenge: how to differentiate themselves and effectively market their services to attract patients in an increasingly competitive environment. Put another way, the issue is choice, and the challenge is ensuring that when someone needs to go to the hospital, they choose your hospital.
To address this challenge, hospitals must explore new marketing strategies and create more compelling marketing plans capable of addressing the fundamental concern of patient choice. This will include optimizing the unique opportunities digital marketing presents with unsurpassed access to data, more finite targeted audiences, and stronger engagement potential.
By better understanding the dynamics influencing patient decision-making, hospitals can implement targeted marketing approaches to enhance their brand reputation, engage with their target audience, and ultimately increase patient volume.
Understanding Key Factors in the Patient Decision-Making Process
As patients continue to take more control of their care – demanding better options, better access, and better flexibility in the way they receive services (telehealth, user experience, personalization, etc.) – truly understanding their decision process is critical to hospitals in winning patients.
The best hospital marketing campaigns effectively address patient’s questions and concerns, ensuring that patients have all the information needed to make informed decisions about their healthcare options.
When designing your hospital marketing strategy, it is important to remember that patients consider various factors that influence their choice of where to receive care, including factors like:
- Proximity: Prioritizing convenience in terms of location and transportation plays a crucial role when selecting a hospital.
- Insurance: The availability of networks and coverage significantly impacts a patient's decision.
- Quality of Care: Superior patient safety, clinical outcomes (data on mortality rates, infection rates, readmission rates, and patient satisfaction scores), advanced technology, and reviews (patients) in achieving positive health outcomes are critical to choice.
- Physician Expertise: Skilled and renowned physicians in their areas of expertise are top influences of patient decision-making.
- Certifications: 3rd Party support of specialized areas (rankings), such as stroke or cancer care, enhance a hospital's reputation and instill trust in patients.
- Physician Referrals: Primary care physicians and specialists’ opinion carries substantial weight in a patients' decision-making process.
- Word-of-Mouth: Positive experiences shared by friends, family, or acquaintances influence patients' decisions.
- Accreditation: The support of reputable organizations that a hospital meets certain quality and safety standards.
- Transparency: Hospitals with clear, consistent communications, including sharing information on treatment options, outcomes, and costs, builds trust and enhances reputation.
Building a Foundation on the Patient Experience
The patient experience is a critical factor in hospital choice. Effective hospital marketers know that a positive patient experience can lead to patient loyalty, word-of-mouth referrals, and a strong reputation. Key elements of a positive patient experience include:
- Communication and Empathy: Patients value healthcare professionals who listen, discuss, and take time to understand their concerns, explain treatment plans, and address their questions and anxieties.
- Personalization: Tailoring treatment plans, addressing cultural and personal preferences, and involving patients in shared decision-making contribute to patient satisfaction.
- Timeliness: Minimizing wait times, streamlining appointment scheduling, and ensuring smooth transitions between different care settings can enhance the patient experience.
- Facilities: Modern, comfortable, and patient-friendly facilities with amenities like private rooms, family accommodations, Wi-Fi access, and entertainment contribute to a positive patient experience.
- Continuity: Seamless coordination of care between different healthcare providers, departments, and care settings is crucial to patient satisfaction and trust.
- Follow Up: Care, access to resources, and clear instructions, helps patients manage their health post-visit and contributes to long-term satisfaction.
Addressing the Increase in Patient Empowerment
Patients today have more information and resources at their fingertips, empowering them to take an active role in their healthcare decisions. This shift in patient dynamics necessitates effective hospital marketing strategies that align with patient empowerment:
- Informed Decision-Making: Patients are now more likely to research healthcare providers, treatment options, and outcomes before making decisions.
- Patient-Centered Care: Patients desire care that is tailored to their unique needs, preferences, and that ultimately includes them in the decision-making process.
- Circle of Care: Direct, personal influencers, a patient’s Circle of Care, broadens marketing focus to include the patient’s influencers – from their PCP (primary care provider) to specialists, pharmacies, therapy and rehabilitative providers, and everyone in between. Many hospitals and healthcare systems have already started integrating a connected care team feature in their patient portals and apps, but it’s going to continue to demand more attention as time goes on.
- Engagement and Communication: Patients want to be informed via social media, patient portals, email campaigns, and educational materials, so hospitals not participating in these spaces are likely to lose out on potential business.
- Patient Advocacy: Patients want Hospitals to provide support groups and avenues for patient feedback which will, in turn, build trust, foster loyalty, and enhance their reputation.
Reflecting the Evolving Healthcare Landscape
The healthcare industry is experiencing growing competition, with hospitals vying for the attention and patronage of patients. Factors contributing to this competitive environment include:
- Market Consolidation: Mergers and partnerships to enhance market position, expand service offerings, and gain a competitive edge are increasing to counteract competition among providers.
- Non-Traditional Players: Retail clinics, urgent care centers, and telehealth providers, have entered the healthcare market, with alternative avenues for patient care.
- Consumerization: Patients are now empowered to compare options, seek transparency, and demand personalized experiences.
- Care Coordination: Highlight the hospital's commitment to seamless care coordination and collaboration among healthcare providers. Emphasize the convenience and continuity of care for patients as they navigate different specialties, departments, or care settings.
- Telehealth and Virtual Care: Providing new avenues for healthcare delivery and patient access to attract patients seeking remote consultations and virtual care.
- Price Transparency: Allowing patients to compare costs and make informed decisions based on value propositions, quality of care, outcomes, and patient experience.
Step 1: Developing a Strong Brand Identity
Brand identity is crucial for hospitals that want to stand out in a competitive market. Creating a distinct image and reputation that resonates with patients requires:
- Defining Core Values and Mission: Clearly articulating the core values, mission, and unique selling propositions sets the foundation for effective branding.
- Consistent Visual Identity: A cohesive identity includes a compelling logo, color palette, and typography that reflects the hospital's values and resonates with targets.
- Brand Messaging: Compelling and consistent messaging that communicates the hospital's value proposition, key differentiators, and commitment to patient care.
- Brand Voice: A distinct brand voice that aligns with the hospital's identity and resonates with patients that will guide all communication channels, from marketing materials to social media interactions.
- Employee Brand Advocacy: Engage employees as brand ambassadors to espouse the hospital's values both internally and externally.
Step 2: Make it Personal
Personalization and targeted messaging enable hospitals to deliver tailored experiences that better resonate with potential patients. Key strategies to implement personalization and targeted messaging include:
- Patient Segmentation: Analyze patient data to identify distinct segments based on demographics, health conditions, or preferences. Develop specific messaging and campaigns for each segment, addressing their unique needs and concerns.
- User Journey Mapping: Map the patient's journey from initial contact with the hospital to conversion or treatment. Analyze touchpoints and interactions to identify areas of friction or improvement and optimize the patient experience.
- Behavioral Tracking: Utilize tracking tools to monitor patient behavior and engagement with digital channels. Leverage this data to deliver personalized content, recommend relevant services, and follow up with patients based on their actions.
- Marketing Automation: Implement marketing automation tools to streamline and personalize communication with patients. Automate email campaigns, appointment reminders, and personalized follow-ups to nurture relationships and enhance patient satisfaction.
- Data Analytics: Leverage data analytics to measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, track patient acquisition and retention, and identify areas for improvement. Use data-driven insights to refine marketing strategies and allocate resources effectively.
- Personalized Communication: Tailor marketing messages and content to address the specific needs, preferences, and demographics of target patient segments. Use patient data to create personalized experiences and demonstrate understanding and empathy.
- Emotional Connection: Build an emotional connection with patients by showcasing compassionate care and sharing patient success stories. Highlight the positive impact the hospital has had on patients' lives, emphasizing empathy, trust, and the human side of healthcare.
- Privacy Compliance: As patients take more control of their healthcare, they are also pushing for better rights of access, such as being able to take notes or photos of their personal health information (PHI), electronic health record (EHR), Electronic Medical Record Systems (EMRs), Patient Care Management Portals, and Patient Care Management Apps. It is essential to have a plan for keeping up with these changes and then delivering the message to patients that your facility is compliant and offers all the access and solutions they need for a single solution for their care.
Step 3: Engage with Patients and Caregivers
Active engagement with patients and caregivers fosters trust, strengthens relationships, and enhances the hospital's reputation. Suggested strategies for engaging with patients and caregivers include:
- Patient Advisory Boards: Establish patient advisory boards or councils comprising patients, caregivers, and community representatives. Seek their input and feedback on hospital policies, services, and initiatives to demonstrate a patient-centered approach.
- Support Groups and Community Events: Organize support groups and community events that address specific health conditions or provide educational resources. These activities create a sense of community, offer support, and showcase the hospital's commitment to patient well-being.
- Patient and Family-Centered Rounds: Implement patient and family-centered rounds, where healthcare providers involve patients and their families in care discussions and decisions. This approach improves communication, builds trust, and ensures a patient-centric approach.
- Preventive Care Campaigns: Launch targeted campaigns to promote preventive care practices and raise awareness about the importance of regular check-ups, vaccinations, and screenings. Emphasize the hospital's commitment to disease prevention and early intervention.
Step 4: Address the Impact of Digital Transformation
Digital has revolutionized the healthcare industry and significantly influenced hospital marketing strategies.
To succeed in an increasingly digital world, hospitals must develop a strong online presence and provide access to reliable, useful information to shape patient’s healthcare decisions and build trust.
Efforts should include:
- Responsive and User-Friendly Website: Ensure your website is mobile-friendly, easy to navigate, provides a seamless user experience, and highlights clear information about services.
- Review Management: Monitor and respond to patient reviews across various platforms. Encourage satisfied patients to leave positive reviews and promptly address any concerns or negative feedback. Use patient testimonials to highlight positive experiences.
- Thought Leadership and Content Sharing: Establish the hospital and its physicians as thought leaders in relevant healthcare areas. Publish informative content, such as white papers, research studies, and expert opinions, to position the hospital as a trusted authority.
- Directory Listings: Ensure accurate and up-to-date information on online directories, review sites, and healthcare provider listings. Consistency in information improves search engine rankings and helps patients find the hospital easily.
- Reputation Monitoring: Utilize online reputation management tools to monitor mentions, reviews, and social media conversations related to the hospital. Address any negative sentiment proactively and engage with patients to resolve issues and demonstrate commitment to patient satisfaction.
- Patient Feedback and Surveys: Implement mechanisms to collect patient feedback and conduct satisfaction surveys. Use the insights gained to identify areas for improvement and enhance the patient experience. Communicate changes made based on patient feedback to showcase responsiveness and dedication to quality care.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Optimize content to ensure visibility in search engine results (a common first step) to increase website traffic, enhance brand visibility, and attract potential patients. Conduct keyword research, create informative and relevant content, and optimize meta tags to enhance search engine rankings
- Content Marketing: Informative and engaging content, such as blog posts, articles, videos, and infographics, to educate and addresses patient needs.
- Digital Advertising: Leverage targeted digital advertising campaigns to reach specific patient populations (demographically and geographically). This includes PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns to increase online visibility and drive traffic to the hospital's website.
- Social Media: Generate significant interest from highly targeted campaigns on sites like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. These platforms can deliver “social proof” (from others that they are working with the best) via influencers, testimonials other content that showcases what kind of services you excel at providing.
- Email Marketing: Implement targeted campaigns to stay connected with patients via valuable content, personalized offers, and timely reminders to nurture relationships and encourage patient loyalty.
- Patient Experience Platforms: Facilitate seamless patient experiences with online appointment scheduling, virtual check-ins, and patient portals for accessing medical records.
- Patient Education: Create and disseminate educational content to empower patients to make informed decisions about their healthcare via blogs, articles, videos, and social media platforms. Provide clear and accessible information about conditions, treatment options, and preventive care. Offer workshops, webinars, or support groups to further patient education.
Step 5: Building Trust and Engaging with the Community
Work with healthcare organizations, community groups, and stakeholders to enhance the hospital's engagement with the community and help position the hospital as a trusted resource. Strategies for collaborations and partnerships include:
- Speaking Engagements and Workshops: Encourage hospital experts to participate in speaking engagements, conferences, and community events. Hosting workshops and seminars allows the hospital to share knowledge, educate the community, and establish credibility.
- Media Relations: Engage with local media outlets to provide expert commentary on healthcare topics. By sharing insights and opinions through media interviews or guest articles, hospitals can increase their visibility and establish themselves as authorities in the field.
- Community Outreach Programs: Partner with local organizations, schools, and community centers to develop and implement health outreach programs. Offer health screenings, educational sessions, and resources to underserved populations to improve access to care.
- Community Health Fairs: Organize community health fairs to provide free or low-cost health screenings, consultations, and educational sessions. These events offer an opportunity to engage with the community, demonstrate the hospital's expertise, and promote healthy living.
- Physician Referral Networks: Establish strong relationships with primary care physicians and specialists in the community. Foster open communication, provide educational opportunities, and collaborate on patient care to build a reliable referral network.
- Corporate Partnerships: Collaborate with businesses and corporations to promote employee wellness programs, provide health screenings, or offer educational sessions. These partnerships not only benefit the community but also enhance the hospital's visibility and reputation.
- Health Literacy Initiatives: Develop educational materials and resources that are easily understandable and accessible to diverse populations. Offer health literacy programs, workshops, and digital resources to improve health knowledge within the community.
Step 6: Measuring Success and Adapting Strategies
Measuring the success of hospital marketing efforts requires the establishment of key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with the hospital's goals and objectives. KPIs provide measurable benchmarks to assess the effectiveness of marketing strategies and campaigns. Some key KPIs for measuring success in hospital marketing include:
- Patient Acquisition: Monitor the number of new patients acquired through marketing channels to gauge the effectiveness of campaigns in attracting new patients and expanding the hospital's patient base.
- Patient Retention: Measure patient retention rates to evaluate the success of marketing efforts in fostering patient loyalty and encouraging repeat visits. High patient retention indicates a strong connection and satisfaction with the hospital's services.
- Online Engagement: Track website traffic, page views, time spent on site, and bounce rates to assess the effectiveness of digital marketing strategies in driving online engagement. Increased engagement indicates successful user experience and content relevance.
- Conversion Rates: Monitor conversion rates for desired actions such as online appointment requests, newsletter sign-ups, or event registrations. Conversion rates provide insights into the effectiveness of marketing campaigns in generating leads and driving patient actions.
- Brand Perception: Evaluate brand perception through surveys or assessments to measure the hospital's reputation, trustworthiness, and perceived quality of care. Positive brand perception indicates successful brand-building efforts.
- Return on Investment (ROI): Measure the financial impact of marketing initiatives by analyzing the ROI, which compares the cost of marketing efforts to the revenue generated. A positive ROI indicates that marketing activities are driving tangible results
- Conversion Funnel Analysis: Analyze the conversion funnel to understand where potential patients drop off or encounter barriers. This analysis helps identify opportunities for optimization and ensures a smooth and seamless patient journey.
Step 7: Continuous Improvement and Adaptation
To stay competitive and responsive to evolving patient needs, hospitals must embrace a culture of continuous improvement and adaptation in their marketing strategies. Strategies for continuous improvement and adaptation include:
- Performance Evaluation: Regularly review and evaluate the performance of marketing strategies against established KPIs. Identify areas of success and areas that require improvement, and use the insights gained to refine strategies and optimize resource allocation.
- Market Research: Conduct market research to stay updated on industry trends, patient preferences, and competitor analysis. This research provides valuable insights for adapting marketing strategies to align with changing patient expectations and market dynamics.
- Experimentation and Testing: Embrace a culture of experimentation and testing to identify innovative approaches and optimize marketing campaigns. Conduct A/B testing, pilot new initiatives, and leverage data-driven insights to make informed decisions.
- Feedback and Communication: Actively seek feedback from patients, caregivers, and staff to understand their perspectives and identify areas for improvement. Establish open lines of communication to encourage feedback and use it to refine
Future Trends and Considerations
As we look to the future, several trends and considerations will shape the landscape of hospital marketing. Some key trends include:
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Automation: AI-driven technologies and automation will play an increasingly important role in hospital marketing. Chatbots, predictive analytics, and machine learning algorithms can streamline processes, enhance communication, and improve the patient experience.
Ethical and Transparent Marketing: Patients value transparency and ethical practices above virtually all other factors when deciding where to receive care. As such, hospitals should prioritize clear and honest communication, respect patient privacy, and demonstrate social responsibility in their marketing efforts.
Creating Stronger Hospital Marketing Campaigns
We have examined the patient decision-making process, factors influencing hospital choice, the role of reputation and trust, access to information, and the importance of patient experience.
To overcome the new and unique challenges hospitals face in today’s complicated environment, having a nuanced understanding of the factors that influence patient decision-making is critical. Armed with deeper insights you can develop strategies to differentiate yourself from your competitors, build trust with patients, and effectively engage with them across multiple different channels and touchpoints.
To succeed in this increasingly competitive environment, we suggest actively shaping your brand identity, creating a positive patient experience, leveraging digital marketing channels, enhancing your online presence, cultivating a reputation of excellence, and focusing on patient-centric approaches.
Following these guidelines will allow you to establish thought leadership, engage with patients and caregivers, foster collaborations and partnerships, and promote patient education and health promotion.
Finally, don’t forget to closely monitor changes in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Automation, which are certain to play an increasingly important role in hospital marketing as the technology continues to evolve. Chatbots, predictive analytics, and machine learning algorithms will help streamline marketing processes, enhance communications, and improve the patient experience, and ignoring them is likely to leave your organization behind. We’ll explore this topic further in our next white paper.
How Can USIM Reach your Goals?
USIM’s digital team has found success executing campaigns for multiple healthcare facilities. Our team takes into consideration all best practices while applying a nuanced approach for each advertiser based on their budget, flighting, objectives, and assets.
When working with USIM to plan and activate, our team provides high-level direction on creative in addition to recommendations for each campaign.
For more information on how USIM can help optimize your marketing strategy, connect with your individual planning team to discuss next steps.
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